Hundreds of Afghans pack US military plane in desperate effort to escape the Taliban

The fear many Afghans have of Taliban rule has been vividly captured in a photograph taken from inside a US military flight out of Kabul.

The C-17 Globemaster, with a callsign Reach 871, was carrying some 640 Afghans, reportedly more than five times its suggested payload, after hundreds of desperate people flooded onto the plane on Sunday.

According to US defence officials, the plane took off from the international airport in Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul, with what is believed to be the highest number of people ever flown in the C-17, a military cargo aircraft that has been used by the US and its allies for nearly 30 years.

It touched down safely in Qatar.

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The plane in the photo belongs to the 436th Air Wing, which is based at Dover Air Force Base in the US state of Delaware.

A defence official told Defense One that the large load had not been planned but panicked Afghans who had been cleared to leave had pulled themselves onto the plane’s half-open ramp.

Instead of forcing them off, “the crew made the decision to go”, the official said, adding that, while initial reports had the plane carrying around 800 people, it was later confirmed that about 640 was the true number.

They were among thousands of people who descended on the airport in Kabul on Monday, desperate to leave Afghanistan after the Taliban seized Kabul during the weekend.

Some clung to another plane as it taxied and video footage showed at least one person falling from the aircraft during take-off.

At least five people were killed during chaos on the ground, with US troops firing into the air to deter people trying to force their way onto flights evacuating diplomats and embassy staff.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said on Twitter that the group’s fighters were under strict orders not to harm anyone, adding: “Life, property and honour of no one shall be harmed but must be protected by the mujahideen.”

However, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned of “chilling” curbs on human rights and violations against women and girls.

There are also concerns that the Taliban will resume the harsh practices it used during its last rule between 1996 and 2001, with stoning, whipping, hanging and amputation used as punishment.

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Afghans who worked with the US forces and their allies are especially fearful, with reports that Taliban fighters are executing those they can find.

It has prompted calls for the UK and others to do more to help this group, many of whom worked as interpreters for allied military personnel during the 20-year conflict.

Some 150 British nationals will arrive in the UK in the early hours of Tuesday, with a further 350 Britons and Afghan nationals arriving in the coming days.

The first group of evacuees arrived at RAF Brize Norton on Sunday night, the Ministry of Defence confirmed.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden spoke on Monday evening, insisting he had no choice but to implement the withdrawal agreed between his Republican predecessor Donald Trump and the Taliban last year.

Mr Biden said his options were to pull US forces out of Afghanistan or to ask them to fight what he described as the country’s civil war indefinitely.

He said: “After 20 years I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces – that’s why we’re still there.”

Mr Biden criticised the Afghan security forces, which appeared to have put up little resistance in many towns and cities, as the Taliban ripped through most of the country in just over a week.

Most Afghan forces – badly paid and with only erratic supplies – either surrendered or escaped, including hundreds who fled to neighbouring Uzbekistan during the weekend.

Mr Biden also criticised Afghan politicians, following news that Afghan president Ashraf Ghani fled on Sunday, with his whereabouts still unknown.

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