KABUL – Five people were killed in chaos at Kabul airport on Monday, witnesses said, as people tried to flee a day after Taliban insurgents seized the Afghan capital and declared the war against foreign and local forces over.
It was not immediately clear how the victims died. A U.S. official said troops had fired in the air to deter people trying to force their way onto a military flight that was set to take U.S diplomats and embassy staff out of the fallen city.
One witness, waiting for a flight out for more than 20 hours, said it was unclear if the five had been shot or killed in a stampede. U.S. officials at the airport were not immediately available for a comment.
In a social media video, three bodies could be seen on the ground near what appeared to be an airport side entrance. Reuters could not verify the footage. Another witness said he had also seen five bodies.
The frantic disorder included people swarming around and clinging to a U.S. military transport plane as it taxied on the runway, according to footage posted by a media company.
It came as Taliban officials declared a 20-year war over and issued statements aimed at calming the panic that has been building in Kabul as the militants, who ruled from 1996 to 2001, routed the U.S.-backed Afghan army as foreign forces withdrew.
President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on Sunday as the bearded Islamist militants entered Kabul virtually unopposed, saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed.
Suhail Shaheen, a spokesperson for the Taliban, said in a message on Twitter that its fighters were under strict orders not to harm anyone. “Life, property and honour of no one shall be harmed but must be protected by the mujahideen,” he said.
Earlier, Mohammad Naeem, spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, told Al Jazeera TV that the Afghan people and the Taliban had just witnessed the fruits of their efforts and sacrifices over 20 years.
“Thanks to God, the war is over,” he said.
It took the Taliban just over a week to seize control of the whole country after a lightning sweep that ended in Kabul as government forces, trained for years and equipped by the United States and others at a cost of billions of dollars, melted away.
U.S. officers have long worried that corruption would undermine the resolve of badly paid, ill-fed and erratically supplied front-line soldiers.
Al Jazeera broadcast footage of what it said were Taliban commanders in the presidential palace with dozens of fighters.
Naeem said the form of the new regime in Afghanistan would be made clear soon, adding the Taliban did not want to live in isolation and calling for peaceful international relations.
The militants sought to project a more moderate face, promising to respect women’s rights and protect both foreigners and Afghans.
But many Afghans fear the Taliban will return to past harsh practices with their imposition of sharia religious law. During their 1996-2001 rule, women could not work and punishments such as public stoning, whipping and hanging were administered.
Both the United Nations and the United States said last week they had received reports that Taliban fighters were executing surrendering government soldiers.
Taliban officials said they had received no reports of any clashes anywhere in the country: “The situation is peaceful,” one said.
Central Kabul streets were largely deserted early on a sunny Monday as waking residents pondered their future.
“I’m in a complete state of shock,” said Sherzad Karim Stanekzai, who spent the night guarding his carpet shop.
BODY OF STOWAWAY?
People thronged to Kabul airport from late on Sunday, wandering around the runways in the dark, pulling luggage and jostling for a place on one of the last commercial flights to leave before U.S. forces took over air traffic control.
On Monday, dozens of men tried to clamber onto an overhead departure gangway to board a plane while hundreds of others milled about, a social media video showed.
Another post showed men inspecting a body on a roof of a person who had allegedly tried to stow away in the undercarriage of an aircraft and fallen to his death. Reuters could not verify the footage.
U.S. forces gave up their big military base at Bagram, 60 km north of Kabul, several weeks ago, leaving Kabul’s airport their only way out, to the anger of many Afghans.
There was the prospect of chaos in the skies over Afghanistan too. Its civil aviation authority advised transit aircraft to re-route, saying its air space was now uncontrolled.
The Pentagon on Sunday authorized another 1,000 troops to help evacuate U.S. citizens and Afghans who worked for them, expanding its security presence on the ground to almost 6,000 troops within the next 48 hours.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson said on Monday that all embassy personnel, including Ambassador Ross Wilson, had been transferred to Kabul airport, mostly by helicopter, to await evacuation, and the American flag had been lowered and removed from the embassy compound.
Western nations, including France, Germany and New Zealand, said they were working to get citizens as well as some Afghan employees out.