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Kabul airport chaos as Afghans try to flee Taliban

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Scores of Afghans ran alongside a US military plane, some clinging to its side, as it taxied on a runway at Kabul’s airport in a desperate bid to flee the Taliban-controlled capital.

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Vision posted to social media and shared by Afghanistan’s largest private broadcaster, Tolo news, highlighted the chaos at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

Thousands of Afghans have rushed on the airport in a bid to escape the country after Taliban fighters entered Kabul following the withdrawal of foreign forces and declared an end to the 20-year war.

US Embassy staff evacuated to the airport via helicopter.

Local news agency Asvaka reported that some people who had clung to the outside of the plane plunged to their deaths after it took off. Reuters could not verify the report or footage shared by the agency.

Afghans attempt to climb aboard a US Air Force plane as it leaves Kabul airport. Image AAP, vVerified UGC via APUS troops fired warning shots to stop people getting on flights taking out diplomats and embassy employees and two gunmen were also shot at the airport, US officials told Reuters.

There are preliminary indications that one US service member has been wounded, they said.

Videos and photos posted on social media showed hundreds of civilians invading the airport’s runway, jostling to climb stairs onto overhead gangways and sitting on the top of passenger jets in the hope of getting a flight out.

“This is our airport but we are seeing diplomats being evacuated while we wait in complete uncertainty,” said Rakhshanda Jilali, an Afghan human rights activist who was trying to get to Pakistan, told Reuters in a message from the airport.

A US State Department spokesperson said all embassy personnel, including Ambassador Ross Wilson, had been transferred to the airport to await evacuation.

One video showed a military helicopter flying low to pave a path for a plane trying to take off through crowds of people.

A witness said he had seen five bodies piled up in a vehicle. A video posted on social media showed three bodies on the ground near what appeared to be an airport side entrance. Reuters could not verify the footage.

US forces are working with Turkish and other international troops to clear Kabul airport to allow evacuation flights to resume, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Monday.

He told a news briefing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had authorised the deployment of another battalion to Kabul that would bring the number of troops guarding the evacuation to about 6000.

The airport was temporarily closed on Monday, but US forces have control of air traffic control, Kirby said.

Several hundred people had been flown out of the airport so far and the pace of evacuation would depend on the security situation, he added.

“The US military’s focus at the moment is on safety and security at the airport and resuming air operations,” he said.

The Australian military is preparing to assist evacuations from Afghanistan but will not land for now at Kabul airport.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton told Nine News that last week he authorised the Australian Defence Force to make plans to predeploy equipment and troops to assist in evacuating Australians and others “but we won’t be landing into Kabul in these circumstances”.

He said the government had been criticised for previously removing its embassy staff from Kabul but that was the right decision to make.

Dutton said the government would assist Australians working with NGOs or who are contractors, or who might be dual nationals, who had decided to stay in Afghanistan “but that will take some time”.

Australian forces would work form a secure base in the United Arab Emirates with the Americans and others “to make a very difficult, a tragic situation as best as it can be,” he said.

-with AAP

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