Afghanistan: Danger lies on Kabul's airport road to freedom

By The Visual Journalism Team
BBC News

Published
image source, Getty Images

As thousands of citizens and foreign nationals attempt to flee Afghanistan, scenes outside Kabul airport have become increasingly desperate.

Since the Taliban took control of the country at the weekend and closed land border crossings, the capital's airport has become the only way out of the country for many.

But the militants have said they don't want Afghans to leave the country. They have set up checkpoints on Airport Road - shown in yellow, below - the main route to Hamid Karzai International Airport, and have attacked people.

The violence has left 12 people in the area, dead - killed by gunshots or in stampedes - since Sunday, an anonymous Taliban official told Reuters news agency, meaning the journey to the airport is an increasingly treacherous one.

Inside the walls of the airport compound, more than 4,000 US troops are in temporary control. Outside, heavily-armed Taliban fighters now ring the perimeter, generating an atmosphere of fear.

image source, Reuters
image captionTaliban fighters have control of the exterior of the airport

The militants are reportedly preventing Afghans - including some of those with visas - from getting to the tarmac.

But even before people fleeing reach the edge of the airport, they are being attacked en route, witnesses say.

A correspondent for the LA Times newspaper saw dozens of Taliban firing into the air, aiming weapons at crowds and using sticks and rope to lash civilians as they tried to make their escape. Graphic images captured by Marcus Yam show at least one woman hurt and a young child left bloodied with what appears to be a head injury.

image source, Marcus Yam LA Times/Getty Images
image captionA woman was injured on her way to the airport

Photos published by SBS showed an Afghan interpreter, who appeared to have been attacked, being treated for a gunshot wound.

Crowds have also been gathering along the airport's perimeter to the north of the city - seen in the map above - over the past few days, with reports of a stampede injuring 17 people on Wednesday. Many have been trying to climb over barbed wire fences and there are reports of shots being fired.

image source, EPA
image captionPeople have been scaling the boundary wall of Hamid Karzai International Airport

Among the crowds are families with children, many of whom have not had access to food and drink for days, reporters on the ground say. Footage shared on social media showed children being passed over a wall to foreign soldiers in the hope they might be able to escape.

media captionA child is handed over the wall at Kabul airport, as the chaos continues

One girl in a pink jacket was hoisted aloft to a soldier on a ladder.

image source, Rise to Peace
image captionA number of children have been seen being helped over walls at Kabul airport

The chaotic conditions emerged as European governments rushed to bring home their citizens - as well as Afghan colleagues.

image source, Reuters
image captionAfghan families have been seeking sanctuary with foreign troops

Although the Taliban have said Afghans should stay in the country they have also claimed they are facilitating a safe exit for both foreigners and locals. "We are preventing any form of violent, verbal clash at the airport among Afghans, foreigners and Taliban members," an official said.

The latest reports of Taliban violence and harassment come as a confidential UN document, seen by the BBC, says the militants are intensifying their hunt for people who worked for and collaborated with Nato and US forces.

Traffic jams on key routes

The crush of people heading for the airport can be seen in satellite images of the area, with thousands converging in vehicles as they desperately tried to escape.

Desperate Afghans storm tarmac

Images of the chaos first emerged from Kabul airport on Monday as it was overrun by Afghans terrified at the prospect of Taliban rule.

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