Afghanistan: Scuffles at Kabul’s airport as thousands attempt to flee, with commercial flights halted

Scenes of chaos have been seen at Kabul’s airport as hundreds of desperate Afghans, foreign diplomats and officials attempt to flee the country.

Scuffles broke out in the terminal among some of those who were unable to get a seat on flights, with commercial departures abruptly halted on Sunday.

As night fell, multiple explosions were heard in Afghanistan’s capital – and local media reported that gunfire could be heard at the airport.

In an alert, the US embassy warned that “the security situation in Kabul is changing quickly” – and American citizens in the city were instructed to shelter in place.

The Pentagon has announced that it plans to deploy another 1,000 soldiers to assist with the evacuation of US citizens and the Afghans who worked for them, with thousands more on standby.

Hamid Karzai International Airport is now the main point of evacuations out of Afghanistan after the Taliban declared victory and seized the presidential palace.

However, a NATO official has said that only military aircraft are now allowed to operate on the runway.

In a joint statement, the US Department of State and the Department of Defence said they were “completing a series of steps” to secure the airport, and this will include taking over air traffic control.

More than 60 countries have also issued a joint statement in which they said Afghans and international citizens who wish to leave the country must be allowed to do so.

Senior US officials believe deployed troops will be able to maintain security at the airport long enough to evacuate Americans and their allies, but the fate of those unable to get to the terminal is far from certain.

US Air Force veteran Sam Lerman has said he is struggling from his home in Virginia to find a way out for an Afghan contractor who had guarded Americans and NATO forces for a decade – and described the situation as “murder by incompetence”.

The contractor he was trying to help was sitting frightened inside his home with the blinds drawn as Taliban fighters patrolled outside.

“Never in my life have I been ashamed to be an American before,” Mr Lerman said. “And I am, deeply.”

Massouma Tajik was among the hundreds of Afghans waiting anxiously at the airport to board an evacuation flight.

She said: “I see people crying, they are not sure whether their flight will happen or not. Neither am I.”

The Pentagon has said that it intends to have enough aircraft to fly out up to 5,000 civilians a day – but tens of thousands of Afghans who have worked for Western forces are seeking to flee with their families.

One Italian journalist described watching columns of smoke rising from Kabul as a helicopter carried her to the airport – captioning her video: “Kabul airport. Evacuation. Game over.”

On Sunday, Kabul was gripped by panic as helicopters raced overhead throughout the day to evacuate personnel from foreign embassies.

Smoke rose near the US compound as staff destroyed important documents and the American flag was lowered.

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