A photo has appeared showing a US soldier desperately clutching the US Embassy flag as he loaded it onto a plane to leave Afghanistan, symbolizing the failure of the US campaign in the country.
The United States Embassy was officially closed and evacuated with the flag, Ambassador Ross Wilson and other diplomats moved to the airport in embarrassing scenes reminiscent of the Saigon Embassy evacuation in 1975 .
The diplomats were flown from Kabul via Chinook helicopters on Sunday evening, according to US State Department spokesman Ned Price.
“We can confirm that the safe evacuation of all Embassy staff is now complete. All the embassy staff are in the premises of the Hamid Karzai International Airport, the perimeter of which is secured by the US military, ”he said.
The Taliban invaded the Afghan capital on Sunday after the West-backed government collapsed and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country “to avoid bloodshed”, ending a two-decade effort in which The United States and its allies had tried to transform the country.
Desperate soldier grabs the hastily rolled US Embassy flag as it is loaded onto the US Air Force transport and left Afghanistan
Chinook helicopters landed at the United States Embassy on Sunday to begin evacuations as the Taliban entered Kabul
Almost all of the main checkpoints in Kabul were under Taliban control on Monday morning and The Afghan Civil Aviation Authority issued a notice stating that the “civilian side” of the airport had been “closed until further notice” and that the military was in control of the airspace.
Meanwhile, Taliban officials promised civilians would not be injured and announced that everyone would be allowed to return home from Kabul airport if they decided to stay in the country.
The Taliban had previously said Westerners would be allowed to leave the country, but Afghans would not be allowed to leave.
Kabul airport evacuation flights are expected to resume Tuesday after eight people were killed on Monday amid the chaos on the trail.
Two armed Afghans were shot dead by US troops, while three civilians were crushed by taxiing planes and three others were killed.
Stowaways fell hundreds of feet after climbing onto the fuselage of a US Air Force C-17 plane taking off from Hamid Karzai International Airport, while hundreds of other desperate people ran after the planes as they rolled down the runway.
Taliban fighters quickly occupied territory abandoned by US forces as they made their way to the US Embassy
Taliban fighters stand guard at a checkpoint near the US Embassy which was abandoned by US troops just two days before
Hundreds of desperate Afghans tried to chase after and grab onto the fuselage of the US Air Force C-17 plane as it taxied down the runway in Kabul
Three civilians fell several hundred meters to their deaths as they did not hang onto the plane
A Pentagon official said US troops came under fire at the airfield and ground all flights as soldiers cleared the airfield with Apache helicopters and fired “warning shots” to disperse the crowds.
Flights resumed after 90 minutes but were suspended again after a security breach on the civilian side of the airport, a Pentagon spokesperson said.
A C-17 plane can carry 171,000 pounds of cargo, but its interior is designed to carry less than 150 soldiers.
However, the U.S. aircrew managed to cram 640 Afghan civilians into an evacuation flight on Monday as the refugees – many of them women and young children – ran up the plane’s half-open ramp before takeoff.
“The crew made the decision to leave,” taking them with them, an unnamed defense official said.
A C-17 jet carrying 640 Afghan refugees who climbed the half-open ramp as US forces prepared for take-off, according to an anonymous defense official quoted by Defense One on Monday.
US troops keep watch on the airport Monday amid an airport pandemonium that has seen eight people killed, including three who fell from planes as they took off
It is believed that at least 40,000 people must be evacuated from the country – including 30,000 American diplomats, visa holders and Afghans to whom they have promised sanctuary, 4,000 Britons and an unknown number of other Westerners, including Spaniards, French, Germans and Poles.
India confirmed today that it has closed its embassy in Kabul and moved its diplomatic staff to safety, while Russia and Indonesia have announced partial evacuations – although some diplomatic staff will remain. Nepalese diplomats were also seen boarding buses bound for the border.
America hopes to transport some 5,000 people a day and the UK 1,200 – although the two only handled a few hundred on Monday, meaning the operation is expected to last for weeks, if not months.
Politicians in the US and UK have urged their governments to be ‘generous’ in granting asylum to Afghans who participated in the war effort, but fears thousands may be left behind in chaos.
The success of the operation now depends on the ability of the troops to keep the runway open and the authorities able to locate all those who have been promised a return ticket and bring them to the airport.
Some 6,000 US troops have now surrounded the airport, using barbed wire and armored vehicles to prevent people from accessing the runway, as have the Taliban – who now control 90 percent of the country.