‘Saigon on Steroids’: The Desperate Rush to Flee Afghanistan


KABUL—The lucky few were already inside, crowded onto the last patch of government territory that hadn’t fallen to the Taliban. Outside, as thousands of civilians surged to break through the perimeter of Hamid Karzai International Airport, security forces fired gunshots into the air to force them back.

Afghanistan was falling and hundreds of civilians struggled to get on board the few remaining planes waiting to carry people to safety. Afghan security forces and several dozen U.S. Marines rushed through the military terminal to secure the tarmac. A warning boomed in Pashto: “Please go back, please go back.”

“It’s crazy. It is out of control now,” said Shoaib, an Afghan interpreter who had talked his way through several checkpoints.

Inside the terminal, Afghans with small children sat dazed next to European special-forces operators with their sniper rifles and high-tech helmets equipped with night vision and infrared tags. Outside, the engines of helicopters and transport planes provided a steady, almost lulling, hum. Once in awhile, groups of evacuees—the staff of the Indian embassy, or Bulgarian security contractors—donned helmets and body armor and set off toward their plane.

Latif, who worked for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s mission, arrived with his wife and six children late Sunday afternoon. Initially, he was told he would be going to Finland, but then the chartered flight was canceled, he said. “They are telling us we will go somewhere, but where and when, nobody knows,” he sighed as his children huddled together on a hard bench.

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