Thousands of Afghans desperate to leave the country thronged Kabul airport where five people were killed on Monday after Taliban insurgents seized the capital, prompting the United States military to suspend evacuations to clear the airfield.
Crowds converged on the airport seeking to escape, including some clinging to a U.S. military transport plane as it taxied on the runway, according to footage posted online.
Following the development, the United States temporarily halted all evacuation flights from Kabul to clear people who had converged on the airfield.
Taliban officials have earlier declared the 20-year war over and issued statements aimed at calming the panic that has been building in Kabul as the militants, who ruled from 1996 to 2001, routed the U.S.-backed Afghan army as foreign forces withdrew.
The country’s President, Ashraf Ghani, fled the country on Sunday as the bearded Islamist militants entered Kabul virtually unopposed, saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed.
It was not immediately clear how the five people died at the airport. A U.S. official said that troops had fired in the air to deter people trying to force their way on to a military flight that was set to take U.S diplomats and embassy staff out of the city.
One witness, waiting for a flight out for more than 20 hours, said that it was unclear if the five had been shot or killed in a stampede. U.S. officials at the airport were not immediately available for comment.
In a social media video, three bodies could be seen on the ground near what appeared to be an airport side entrance. Though the footage could not be verified, another witness said he had also seen five bodies. People are desperate to flee the country although Taliban officials have said no one would be harmed.
“Everyone is worried,” a former government employee now in hiding in Kabul said. “They’re not targeting people yet but they will, that’s the reality. Maybe in two or three weeks, that’s why people are fighting to get out now.”
On his part,a spokesperson for the Taliban, Suhail Shaheen, said in a post on social media page that their fighters were under strict orders not to harm anyone.
“Life, property, and honor of no one shall be harmed but must be protected by the mujahideen,” he said.
Earlier, spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, Mohammad Naeem, told Al Jazeera TV that the Afghan people and the Taliban had just witnessed the fruits of their efforts and sacrifices over 20 years. “Thanks to God, the war is over,” he said.