The US military is still trying to clear crowds off Kabul airport’s runway, where evacuation flights were halted amid ‘troubling’ incidents

A man pulls a girl to get inside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 16, 2021
A man pulls a girl to get inside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 16, 2021.
  • There are no evacuation flights going in or out of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan right now.
  • The US military is trying to restore order after breaches resulted in large crowds on the tarmac.
  • Chaos at the airport has seen people clinging to airlift planes or trying to force their way onto civilian aircraft.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Evacuation flights out of the Afghan capital have been halted as the US military works to restore order at the Kabul airport.

"We are working to reestablish security at Hamid Karzai International Airport following breaches overnight that emanated from the civilian side of the airfield," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Monday.

"At this time, out of an abundance of caution, there are no flights coming or going, military or civilian, and this is because of large crowds that are still on the tarmac" on the civilian side of the airfield, Kirby added.

Kirby said that the US military is working with Turkish troops and other international partners to "clear the area of people," explaining that "we do not know how long this will take."

As the Taliban's rapid nationwide offensive reached the capital on Sunday, thousands of Afghans converged on the airport, where the US military is attempting to carry out an evacuation effort.

The scenes in and around the airport were captured in photos and on video and showed thousands of people seeking to escape the city as the Taliban asserts control.

In one video, Afghans could be seen climbing the bridge gate to force their way onto a flight out of Kabul.

In another video, Afghans could be seen swarming a C-17 airlift plane, clinging to it in desperation as it moved down the runway.

"The video that we saw this morning of the people on the tarmac running along[side] the C-17, it's extraordinary video, there's no question about that," Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon.

"All the images coming out are of concern and troubling," Kirby added. "We want to do this in a safe and efficient and as orderly way as possible, and that is why right now our troops are focused on making a safe and secure environment at the airport and clearing people and the crowds off of the tarmac and the flight line so that flights can resume."

In response to the swarming of airlift planes, the US military attempted to use low-flying helicopters to clear the airfield of individuals hindering flight operations.

There are also videos emerging of what appears to be people who were hanging onto the US aircraft falling to their deaths, though Kirby said he did not have "further clarity on the validity of that particular piece of video."

Multiple people have been killed during the unrest at the airport, including two armed attackers who were neutralized by US military personnel in two separate incidents.

"There have been security incidents at the field involving armed individuals shooting at US forces," Kirby said, stressing that "while our mission is not offensive, our forces have the inherent right of self-defense, and they will respond accordingly to threats and attacks."

Kirby said the attackers are not believed to have been Taliban fighters.

"The situation is very fluid and dynamic. However, we are laser-focused on the missions that our military men and women do best," Kirby said. 'They are increasing security. They are adjusting to rapidly changing conditions, and they are working hard to ensure the safety and security of all those under our care at the airport."

The US military has roughly 2,500 troops in Kabul right now, which will rise to around 6,000 in the coming days. That includes an additional 1,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne the Pentagon announced Monday would be heading to the capital.

Once air operations resume, the US military "could be able to get 5,000 [people] or maybe even more out per day on literally a couple dozen sorties per day," Kirby said, stressing that the situation will "change day-by-day."

The C-17s doing many of the flights can carry up to 300 people - Kirby said he couldn't confirm reports that one C-17 carried 800 people out on Sunday - but who gets onto those flights and when will be determined by the State Department.

"I don't the details of exactly what the process is like" for people getting onto US aircraft at the airport, Kirby told reporters Monday. "We're working closely with our State Department colleagues at the field to try to process, identify, and manifest people on the plane. I just don't have the details of exactly how that process is going."

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