Australians seeking to flee from Afghanistan have been blocked from boarding rescue flights out of Kabul when Taliban fighters fired into the air, threw smoke bombs and attacked the crowd outside the terminals, according to reports.
“I went to the airport with my kids and family … the Taliban and Americans were shooting,” said one man who until recently had worked for a foreign NGO, news.com.au reported, citing a report in Agence-France Presse.
“Despite that, people were still moving forward (to get in) because they knew a situation worse than death awaited them outside the airport,” he added.
The Australian government — which placed two C-17 military transport planes on standby in the Middle East — issued an alert Thursday telling people holding visas to get to the Kabul airport for a second military flight out of the Taliban-controlled country, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.
Twelve people have been killed in and around the airport since Sunday, when the Taliban toppled the government, according to a NATO official and a Taliban official. The deaths were caused either by gunshots or stampedes, the Taliban official said.
“We don’t want to hurt anyone at the airport,” said the Taliban official, who declined to be identified, news.com.au reported.
The first flight of evacuees is expected to land in Australia early Friday, according to the outlet. Australia reportedly flew only 26 people out of Afghanistan in its first rescue flight, but three additional planes were preparing for missions.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a flight from Dubai to Perth was scheduled to leave Thursday “and it’ll find its way to Australia.”
Stephen Dziedzic, a reporter with Australia’s ABC, said he had spoken to several Australians who said it was impossible to get through as they called on their government to help.
“One Australian says Taliban guards were throwing gas bombs of some kind to disperse crowds near the airport,” Dziedzic said in a tweet.
“He says it was impossible to get through, and he has now given up on getting in. ‘It is unimaginable. Unimaginable. There is too much shooting, people getting beaten up,’” he wrote.
“You’d go forward in a line and all of a sudden they’d throw another smoke bomb at you,” he added.
In another tweet, the Canberra-based reporter wrote that the Australian visa holders “say they can’t get into the terminal because of massive crowds. Gunfire is echoing. They fear they won’t be able to get out.”
Dziedzic said he spoke with an “Australian who is in tears near the airport gate. I can hear gunfire. He says it’s a disaster. They can’t get in. He’s pleading for the Govt to send someone outside the airport gates to assist: ‘Please help. They have to announce our names, bring us in.’”
Another Australian, Muftahudin Babackerkhil, who also was trying to get his family on a flight home, told ABC that the scene outside the airport was a disaster.
“I am close to the gate and it’s a huge crowd, no one will let you get in. The Taliban is here, there is gunfire,” said Babackerkhil, who ripped the Australian government and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, saying it was “crazy” for them to direct people to the airport without providing assistance.
“They send me an email and say go to the airport. There is no one there,” he told the Australian news outlet.
“They have to announce the names and bring us in. There is no proper way to let the people in. They are shooting, kids are crying. Two people have been injured that I saw,” Babackerkhil said.
“The government need to listen and understand what is going on here. It is a disaster here. I am ready for the Taliban to shoot me, because it’s a horrible situation,” he added.
A third Australian also said he fled from airport amid the violence and slammed his government for not providing protection.
“Guards have shot at people at the gate, and some type of gas released,” he wrote, according to ABC. “Suffering hearing loss and difficulty breathing … [have] now left after waiting for over five hours. This is how our ‘government’ is treating Australians!”
But Morrison insisted that the government’s priority was ensuring the safety of its citizens.
“We have over 130 Australians in Afghanistan, working in the UN, NGOs and elsewhere, and we are working to bring them and their families home,” the prime minister said in a statement.
“We are also assisting those who have been granted humanitarian visas, and others who are in the process of applying for protection,” he added.
Australia and several other countries, including the US and UK, have repeatedly pressed the insurgents to ease security checkpoints and provide safe passage to the airfield for those who want to hightail it.
Instead, the evacuations in Kabul have been marked by scenes of violence and chaos as thousands of Americans and allies try to flee the Taliban — only to be met with violence.
On Monday, President Biden said he stood by his decision to withdraw US troops and elaborated in an interview Thursday that he also stood by his strategy for doing so.
Heartbreaking footage has emerged of mothers passing their children over a razor-wire fence to soldiers in attempts to flee the country.
While US officials insist the Taliban have agreed to allow “safe passage” for civilians struggling to get to the airport, Ex-CIA officer Shannon Spann — whose CIA agent husband, Mike Spann, was the first American killed in Afghanistan in 2001 — said the chaotic scenes prove Afghans don’t believe the insurgents.
Biden told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that the US will do “everything in our power” to evacuate Americans and US allies from Afghanistan before the Aug. 31 deadline.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) called on any Americans stranded in the country to contact his office.
“The situation is dire, but we’ll do everything in our power to help keep you informed and to help get you out,” Cotton said in a tweet.
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