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Men fall to their death after scrambling on to plane to escape Taliban

Afghanistan
There were chaotic scenes at Kabul airport as people scrambled to flee the Taliban. Photo: Getty
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At least seven people are dead amid harrowing scenes at the airport in Afghanistan’s capital as desperate men scramble to flee the Taliban.

The dead included a Taliban fighter, who died in a shootout between American troops and insurgents that killed three civilians.

Two people, who had held on to a plane flying out of Kabul, fell to their death after the flight took off.

Footage captured by witnesses shows people clinging to the plane before stowaways fall off as the aircraft gains height.

More videos show crowds of desperate residents swarming the airport runway, chasing a taxing US Air Force plane with some huddled on an aircraft wing.

US President Joe Biden said the scenes were “gut-wrenching” but that he stands “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw forces.

In a televised address on Tuesday morning (Australian time), Mr Biden said he was faced with a choice between sticking to a previously negotiated agreement to withdraw US troops this year or sending thousands more service members back into Afghanistan for a “third decade” of war.

“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Mr Biden said from the White House East Room.

“After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces.”

Men clung to a plane and later fell to their deaths. Photo: Twitter

Mirwais Yusufi, an eyewitness, who was at the airport hoping to escape, told EFE that a shootout erupted between Taliban fighters and US forces amid the mayhem.

Some civilians stormed onto the runway, prompting US soldiers to chase them away and secure the tarmac.

“Thousands of people, including women and children, spent their night inside the Kabul airport. The situation got chaotic after a shootout broke out between the Taliban and US soldiers,” Mr Yusufi said.

“I saw three civilians and a Taliban fighter killed in the shootout.”

He said a Taliban fighter instructed the civilians to leave. The gunman fired a shot after the people refused.

The US forces also opened fire, killing the insurgent instantly.

“I do not know if the civilians were killed by US soldiers or by the Taliban fighters,” Mr Yusufi said.

One of those who fell off the plane was Fida Muhammad, 22, a Kabul resident.

Mr Muhammad, a dentist, had married a few months ago.

“He left home today for his work. We learned about his death hours after he fell off the plane,” Ahmad, a close relative, told EFE.

Those who swarmed the airport included Afghans who worked for the US and NATO forces in the past 20 years.

A United States official said troops had fired in the air on Monday to deter people trying to force their way onto a military flight that was set to take US diplomats and embassy staff out of the fallen city.

Evacuation effort

More than 250 Australian defence personnel will be deployed to Afghanistan to support the government’s effort to evacuate citizens and visa holders.

Australia has joined dozens of countries in issuing a joint statement calling on all parties to “respect and facilitate the safe and orderly departure of foreign nationals and Afghans who wish to leave the country”.

“Those in positions of power and authority across Afghanistan bear responsibility, and accountability, for the protection of human life and property, and for the immediate restoration of security and civil order,” the statement said.

“The Afghan people deserve to live in safety, security and dignity. We in the international community stand ready to assist them.”

Rumours circulated on Monday that anyone who made it the airport would be taken out, though there was no confirmation any such thing would happen. The German embassy warned on Twitter that coming to the airport unsummoned could lead to dangerous situations.

Local media reported that the airport said no more commercial flights were coming or going and urged people not to come.

Afghan Collapse

Kabul’s collapse on Sunday signalled the end of a 20-year-long nation-building exercise led by the US with support of NATO allies.

The US kicked the Taliban out of Kabul in 2001, because the Taliban had provided shelter to the al-Qaeda operatives who planned and took part in hijacking the aeroplanes that were used to bomb the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon outside Washington on September 11 of that year.

Former US president Donald Trump’s administration agreed to withdraw in exchange for the Taliban making peace with the Afghan government, and current president Joe Biden stuck to the plan but delayed the time table a few months.

However, as soon as foreign troops began leaving, Taliban troops began their push. Afghan forces gave up multiple key cities without a fight and Western forces are now trying to flee the city weeks earlier than planned.

During their reign, the Taliban enforced a strict version of Islamic society, banning much entertainment, stripping women of most rights and demanding piety of the population.

On Monday, residents reported that Taliban representatives taking over police stations and offices across Kabul, often travelling in official vehicles. There were also new checkpoints in the city, residents reported.

It remained unclear if talk of a reconciliation government would come to anything. There were reports out of the Health Ministry that representatives of the government-run ministry had met officials from the Taliban health ministry. The sides thanked each other for their work, at which point the Taliban’s likely health appointee called on all health officials – men and women – to resume their work around the country.

Call for strikes

Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who negotiated the original deal the Taliban, told Fox News that the Biden administration seemed to have failed in its plans. He called for US air power to be brought in to crush the Taliban forces surrounding Kabul.

“We shouldn’t be begging them to spare the lives of Americans, we should be imposing costs on the Taliban until they allow us to execute our plan in Afghanistan,” Mr Pompeo said.

The White House has been fighting with Mr Pompeo on the topic for months, claiming that the original Trump-era deal left the US with few good options in Afghanistan, a charge Mr Pompeo has denied.

EU foreign ministers are set to discuss Afghanistan in an emergency videoconference on Tuesday.

-with AAP