On Monday, five people were killed at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in the capital city of Kabul, Afghanistan, as civilians and American forces alike are continuing their hasty withdrawal from the collapsing country, the New York Post reports.
Just the day before, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country as Taliban forces passed through the gates of Kabul, a stunning development that marked the beginning of the end for the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan. He has not disclosed the location to which he fled, but some believe him to be hiding out in neighboring Uzbekistan. The Taliban, which had already taken over the vast majority of the country, entered the city and stormed the empty presidential palace, completing their takeover of the city and declaring themselves in charge of the country once again.
Although American military forces were set to completely withdraw by August 31st, the sudden offensive by the Taliban led to dramatically expedited efforts to evacuate all U.S. personnel, from the military to diplomats, before the capital city was overrun. Videos of speedy evacuations by American helicopters quickly led to widespread comparisons with the infamous imagery out of the Fall of Saigon, which ended the Vietnam War 46 years ago.
Civilians who feared persecution under a revived Taliban regime attempted to flee via the airport, including running onto the runways and chasing American planes that were already taking off; American soldiers were forced to fire warning shots into the air to keep the crowds away from the aircraft. It was unclear if the five who died were killed by a mass stampede or shot by troops, but the airport was ultimately “closed until further notice” the following morning, per an announcement by Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority.
Despite the swift and violent takeover, the Taliban has been calling for a peaceful transition of power, and insisted that they have no interest in mass bloodshed. One Taliban official described the situation as “peaceful,” pointing out that the group now controls 90 percent of government buildings and that they have gone out of their way to cause as little damage as possible.
The Fall of Kabul on Sunday caps off the longest war in American history, and also stands as perhaps the greatest failure yet under the presidency of Joe Biden. Roughly a month earlier, Biden said at a press conference that it was “highly unlikely” that the Taliban would overrun the country after the exit of American forces. As the Taliban forces drew closer to Kabul in recent days, Biden quickly ordered approximately 3,000 American troops to return to the country in order to assist with evacuation efforts.
The original withdrawal plans had first been negotiated under the Trump Administration, following the conditions of a peace agreement signed between the Taliban and the Afghan government in February of 2020, with the full and final withdrawal set for May 2021. After Biden took over, he extended the withdrawal timeline and set a new, symbolic date of September 11th, before revising his own extension to August 31st, 2021. The war lasted nearly 20 years, cost the lives of over 2,400 American troops, and saw the government spend over $2 trillion, making it, along with the Iraq War, the most expensive war in American history.