Afghanistan: striking image shows 640 people fleeing Kabul in packed US military plane

Hundreds of people crammed into a US carrier in a desperate attempt to escape after Taliban forces took control of the capital

An extraordinary image has emerged showing hundreds of Afghans packed into a US military cargo plane, in a desperate attempt to flee Kabul after the fall of the capital to the Taliban.

The picture obtained by US defence and security news site Defense One shows 640 people crammed into a C-17 Globemaster III, among the highest number of people ever carried in such an aircraft.

A spokesperson for US Central Command said the passengers on the flight – among them women and children – were safely evacuated from Kabul to Qatar on Sunday.

Around 640 Afghans are believed to have travelled in the US military aircraft
Around 640 Afghans are believed to have travelled in the US military aircraft Photograph: Courtesy Of Defense One/Reuters

The flight had not intended to take such a large load but some panicked Afghans pulled themselves on to the C-17’s half-open ramp, Defense One reported.

LTC Karen Roxberry, a Centcom spokesperson, said: “The unusually high number of passengers aboard this aircraft … that evening was the result of a dynamic security environment that necessitated quick decision-making by the crew, which ultimately ensured that these passengers were safely taken outside the country.”

The flight was one of several that was able to take off with hundreds onboard, and others may have carried even more passengers.

The desperation of many other Afghans was seen at Kabul airport on Monday as people clung to the side of moving military planes and at least two apparently fell to their deaths from the undercarriage soon after takeoff.

Video footage showed hundreds of people running alongside a military carrier as it travelled along the runway.

The airport – secured by the US military – was the only feasible route out after the Islamist group took control of the country’s land borders.

But US forces had to shut down the airport on Monday in an effort to contain the chaos and crowds. The airport reopened in the early hours of Tuesday, a US general said, adding that US personnel were now in charge of air traffic control.

Guardian staff

The GuardianTramp

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