(Kabul and Seoul) A photo that went viral shows more than 600 Afghans – men, women and children – crammed into a large US military aircraft, the scene of a dramatic air evacuation shortly after the Taliban captured Kabul.
Posted on Aug 17, 2021 at 7:53 am
David Fox and Qasim Nauman Agence France-Presse
The image, received and published by Defense One military news site, was captured on a US Air Force Boeing C-17 transport aircraft.
The evacuation of the Afghans, who were forced into the aircraft’s huge hold on Sunday evening, had been approved by the American authorities, according to the website.
The US military announced that there were about 640 Afghans on board.
So many passengers are not to be expected on a single flight, a high-ranking US defense official told Defense One: Many desperate people boarded at the last moment at the still half-open ramp in the rear of the aircraft.
“The crew made the decision to leave,” instead of forcing them back down, the officer said.
This scene happened when Taliban fighters took to the streets in Kabul and panicked residents rushed to the airport to find a flight overseas.
“The unusually high number of passengers on board this aircraft […] was the result of a dynamic security environment that required quick decisions from the crew, ”Karen Roxberry, spokeswoman for US Central Command, the US command center that manages operations in the region, said in a statement. “In the end, these passengers could be safely evacuated from the country.”
The photo shows a baby holding a bottle on a woman’s lap. Several other people appear with young children.
Almost no physical possessions are visible among the passengers, apart from a small suitcase and a backpack in the foreground.
The US military has not specified its target.
Chaos and despair
The flight, which according to Defense One had the area code Reach 871, landed in Qatar early Monday morning, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.
This C-17 isn’t the only plane to have carried so many Afghans out of the country, and several planes have left Kabul with similar numbers, the official quoted by Defense One said.
It’s also not the first time the US Army’s workhorse Boeing C-17 has carried out such a large evacuation.
In 2013, an American C-17 embarked more than 670 people in the eastern Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan.
Kabul Airport was the scene of chaos and despair on Monday. The tarmac and runways were overrun with thousands of people hoping to board a flight out of the country.
Many did not have evacuation flight permits, commercial flight tickets, or even a visa.
In harrowing videos posted on social media, hundreds of people run past an accelerating C-17, some clinging to the sides of the plane.
Another video shows attack helicopters hovering low above the crowd to clear the runway for an aircraft.
The Afghan media reported several dead who fell from planes they were clinging to as they took off.
One person died in the landing gear of a C-17 taking off from Kabul, the Washington Post and the Politico website reported.