US takes control of Kabul airport for evacuations amid chaos; Republicans blast 'botched' pullout

Afghan people sit as they wait to leave the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city's airport trying to flee the group's feared hardline brand of Islamist rule.
Afghan people sit as they wait to leave the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city's airport trying to flee the group's feared hardline brand of Islamist rule. | WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. troops took control of the international airport in Kabul and fired warning shots on Monday, leading to chaos that killed five people as thousands of Afghans and foreign nationals sought to force their way onto planes after the Taliban seized the capital. 

A U.S. official told Reuters Monday that troops fired in the air to prevent people from getting onto a military flight on the runway to evacuate U.S. diplomats and embassy staff. However, it’s not clear whether the five were shot or died in a stampede, a witness was quoted as saying.

The evacuations are taking place in a separate area of the airport that is meant for military use.

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Videos emerging on social media showed people clinging to a U.S. military transport plane while it was taxying on the runway.

The U.S. Embassy has been evacuated, and diplomats have been relocated to the airport to aid with the evacuation, ABC News reported.

The U.S. military took over security of the Kabul airport to evacuate foreign diplomats and citizens after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country following the collapse of the government Sunday. 

Drawing comparisons to the U.S. pullout in Vietnam in 1975, The Wall Street Journal reported that American commandos in Kabul destroyed hard drives carrying classified material.

Taliban militants held a press conference Monday, the day after taking the capital within days and with little resistance —  contrary to the prediction by a U.S. military assessment that it would take them months to seize the capital of Afghanistan.

“Today is a great day for the Afghan people and the mujahideen (Taliban),” Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem told Al Jazeera. “They have witnessed the fruits of their efforts and their sacrifices for 20 years. Thanks to God, the war is over in the country.”

On Sunday, the Biden administration admitted that the fall of Kabul was much quicker than anticipated. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on CNN’s “State of the Union" that Afghanistan’s national security forces were "unable to defend the country."

“And that has happened more quickly than we anticipated," he said.

Members of Congress are seeking more information from the administration on how its intelligence misjudged the situation on the ground and why effective contingency plans for evacuation hadn't been put in place.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the pullout "botched" and said, "the frantic evacuation of Americans and vulnerable Afghans from Kabul is a shameful failure of American leadership."

"The rapid advance of the Taliban was expected after the US abandonment of Afghan security forces. The plight of innocent Afghans was predicted, and the challenges of safely evacuating U.S. personnel and innocent Afghans have been magnified by our inexplicable withdrawal from Bagram Air Base," McConnell said in a statement. "And the likelihood that Al Qaeda will return to plot attacks from Afghanistan is growing."

“Everyone saw this coming except the President, who publicly and confidently dismissed these threats just a few weeks ago," he continued. "The strategic, humanitarian, and moral consequences of this self-inflicted wound will hurt our country and distract from other challenges for years to come."

CNN reports that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, during a briefing for lawmakers on Sunday that “We didn’t give them air cover."

"You say you had this plan. No one would plan out this outcome," McCarthy was quoted as saying. "The ramifications of this for America will go on for decades and it won't just be in Afghanistan."

Former President Trump, who also favored pulling troops from Afghanistan, said the Biden administration did not follow "the plan our Administration left for him." In a statement, Trump said his administration's plan would have "protected our people and our property, and ensured the Taliban would never dream of taking our Embassy or providing a base for new attacks against America."

"The withdrawal would be guided by facts on the ground,” Trump said, according to The Hill.

On Sunday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that Afghanistan must not once again become a “breeding ground for terror.”

He called on the West “collectively” to not establish ties with the Taliban as the new government. Johnson said, “Nobody wants Afghanistan once again to be a breeding ground for terror and we don’t think that it’s in the interests of the people of Afghanistan that it should lapse back into that pre-2001 state,” according to The Times.

More than 2,400 U.S. military personnel have been killed, and more than 20,700 have been wounded in Afghanistan — the highest number of foreign fatalities in that country since 2001, AFP noted. A Pentagon officially estimated the cost of U.S. operations in Afghanistan at $776 billion since 2001until Sept. 30, 2019.

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