Monday Oct 3, 2022
Monday Oct 3, 2022

Kabul airport, the only way out

2021 Aug 15, 7:28, KABUL, Afghanistan

As a Taliban offensive encircles the Afghan capital, there’s increasingly only one way out for those fleeing the war, and only one way in for US troops sent to protect American diplomats still on the ground: Kabul’s international airport.

A steady stream of people makes its way first to ticket sale counters set up on the parking lot outside the terminal. They push their luggage, load carts with carpets, television sets and mementos, stuff clothes inside purses to make their weight limit as they slowly inch forward.

The lucky ones, those who managed to get a ticket for a flight out to anywhere, then wait more than three hours to make it inside the terminal, bidding tearful goodbyes to loved ones they are leaving behind.

As the Taliban draw closer, the lines and the panic only grow.

Kabul International Airport — formally known as Hamid Karzai International Airport, after the country’s first president following the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 — sits just northeast of the city. Its single runway is long enough to accommodate military aircraft; the airfield as a whole can accommodate over 100 planes on the ground.

Surrounded by perimeter fencing and secured by multiple checkpoints, the airport is in sight of the mountains ringing the Afghan capital. Those flying out have for years had to trudge with their luggage up to outdoor screening points before getting to the terminal — a precaution meant to prevent insurgent suicide bombings.

On an ordinary day, the terminal would be filled with Afghans in business suits and traditional dress, mingling with tattooed military contractors sporting wraparound sunglasses and aid workers from all corners of the world.

That sedate crowd has been replaced with panicked travelers scrambling to leave Kabul. Afghan airlines Ariana and Kam Air have every seat booked for at least the next week, airport workers said. Those with a plane ticket in hand also have to get a coronavirus test at a clinic amid the pandemic in order to leave.

“I had never see such a rush at the airport before,” said Farid Ahmad Younusi, an Afghan businessman who said he abandoned a contracting firm worth $1 million and fled Kandahar with the Taliban trying to find him. “Now Taliban have everything that I worked for over the past 20 years.”

The airport rush is only expected to get worse — and even more complicated.

“I packed whatever I could to start a new life away from this war,” said Naweed Azimi, who flew to Istanbul with his wife and five children, fearful the Taliban would kill him for working with NATO as a subcontractor.


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