At first mild the subsequent morning, Mujib nervously left the house of his mother and father, who had determined to remain in Kabul, to hitch the remaining of the staff on the airport. He took with him the one meals he might discover — 40 loaves of bread from the one bakery within the neighborhood that had opened.
As crowds started streaming into the airport, Mujib slipped in amongst them. Some carried a change of garments folded into shawls, others carried backpacks. One little woman merely carried a pair of sneakers.
Mujib discovered the Times households, however the group had grown. That morning, our group was joined by greater than 100 others from different Western information shops, searching for assist and route.
All morning, Mujib and his colleagues tried to barter with the Marines to let the group cross to the army facet of the airport, the place planes have been nonetheless in a position to land and take off. But within the rising chaos our unwieldy band managed solely to maneuver from the airport parking zone, which was not secure, to the bottom of a tower guarded by the Marines on the sting of the runway. There, our group waited within the scorching solar.
Times officers in New York have been on the cellphone with high officers in Washington, who mentioned they’d assist get our group to the army facet of the airport. And T.M., from a run-down room in a bunkhouse in Qatar, was involved with the Army and Marines on the Kabul airport, who assured him they’d do what they may.
But their assurances couldn’t change the truth on the gate — even placing senior army leaders from U.S. Central Command on the road with the Marines on the airport wasn’t serving to. The solely individuals the Marines would wave via to the army facet have been individuals with Western passports.
One younger Afghan lady, in tears, begged the Marines to let her cross.
“What passport do you have?” a Marine requested. She opened her passport to point out a visa to the United States.
“I was supposed to fly for my studies, but now there are no flights,” she mentioned.
“But your passport says The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,” the Marine mentioned, smacking the doc’s cowl.
Crouched on the bottom close to the tower the place the Marines stored guard, the youngsters in our group have been fading from dehydration, and panic was etched within the faces of their mother and father.
The Marines wouldn’t allow us to in, however some tried to assist. One exhausted Marine dragged himself to the management tower’s slim shade. When requested for water, he walked again to speak to 1 of his commanders, however the man simply threw up his arms. The younger Marine stored strolling, and 10 minutes later quietly reappeared with eight bottles of water.
“Pretend this didn’t come from me,” he mentioned, and walked away.
For virtually the complete afternoon, the runway was flooded with waves of individuals hoping to achieve the army facet of the airport. Helicopters thundered overhead, and occasional gunfire rang out from the bottom as American Marines and Turkish troopers tried to manage the gang. But because the hours handed, the crowds stopped fearing the bullets, understanding that the troopers wouldn’t shoot straight at them.
When the gang noticed that there have been no flights, individuals began going wild, seizing any piece of the airport they may seize — mattresses, buckets, even empty water bottles.
Our group tried to carry on to a nook of the airfield, constructing a makeshift boundary round us from rolls of barbed wire, at the same time as we labored to be moved to the safe facet of the airport. We knew spending a second night time on the airport could be harmful, not simply because we lacked water and meals, but in addition as a result of the mob had run out of issues to loot. Just a few males lingered, eyeing our group as we tried to maintain collectively.
The fundamental avenue of communication was a WhatsApp group, with Mujib exchanging fast voice or textual content messages with U.S. army and civilian officers on the airport, with Times leaders the world over, and with T.M. in Qatar.
Mujib turned more and more sure that if we couldn’t make it to the army facet by 5 p.m., everybody must disperse to seek out meals, water and safety at residence. The kids have been getting too weak. The Marines advised that we attempt to reduce via the gang and stroll to their facet in a single file, which was unattainable — we’d be rushed by hundreds.
As we waited for some operation which may clear half of the gang, the Taliban made our alternative simpler, in a manner: They got here to clear everybody away, together with us. This was the primary time many of our individuals had come nose to nose with the Taliban. It was chaos and crying because the fighters fired into the air and began beating individuals to get them shifting.
“We are moving toward the Marines,” Mujib wrote, warning the Marines and Times leaders on the joint WhatsApp group because the gunfire continued and the Taliban stored throwing every thing they’d on the crowd. “We have no other choice.”
We reached the sting of the gang, making an attempt to maintain our group collectively — and making an attempt our greatest to maintain others away. We have been about 400 yards away from the column of Marines who might usher us to the army facet. But we have been engulfed by individuals who would rush proper together with us if we moved.
So we devised one other plan: We all sat in a circle, and moved two little ladies who have been wearing brilliant crimson to the entrance of our group. They have been the one visible option to shortly distinguish our group from hundreds of others. The Marines mentioned they’d start an operation to push again the gang on all sides of us, and we might transfer ahead via the opening.
Helicopters dipped low over the runway, however the crowd didn’t even budge. When the Marines moved towards the mass of individuals, the gang did the alternative of what might have helped us: Instead of backing up, they pushed towards the Marines.
And then, simply as we have been making an attempt to determine whether or not to attempt to push our manner via, the Taliban reduce proper into the center of our line.
The fighters began pushing, swinging golf equipment and rifle butts into us. Automatic weapon fireplace hammered out proper beside us because the Taliban started firing into the air. The crowd erupted into random movement.
Our colleagues fell to the bottom, relations and youngsters have been trampled, screaming in terror and ache. One of our longtime bureau drivers, Farid Rahimi, went down with a damaged arm as he tried to assist hold the stampede away. Even some of the youngsters bore deep bruises.
“It’s a mass stampede — we are leaving, we are leaving,” Mujib informed the WhatsApp group in an audio message, his voice hoarse with thirst and exhaustion. “We got beaten by the Taliban — they came in the middle and they started beating everyone.”
FATIMA FAIZI, TIMES REPORTERThe Taliban simply got here out of nowhere, it felt like. My mother had bruises on her again, and my sister was beat up. And the fighters have been simply capturing in all places. In that second, I might see it so clearly, what it could seem like after they shot me, shot my household.
Our escape from the airport was virtually as hazardous as being there: As hundreds of individuals have been being pushed out, hundreds of others have been packed outdoors on the roundabout making an attempt to push their manner in.
In the chaos of the 2 crowds pushing towards one another, virtually all of our suitcases have been misplaced — luggage full of essential belongings for individuals who have been fleeing their properties and nation.
As relations started discovering one another and making an attempt to make it residence, a cry of alarm went out over the group chat: Abdul Salim and Hafiza Samadi’s teenage sons have been nonetheless lacking.
“Please! Please!” Abdul Salim, a longtime workers member, mentioned in a voice be aware. “I don’t know what to do. Can anyone help?”
Frantic calls to Taliban checkpoint guards yielded nothing — the crowds have been too huge, and lights have been out within the neighborhoods across the airport. Hours handed, and Hafiza, the boys’ mom, turned satisfied they’d been shot.
But they’d not been. Separated from their household and one another, every boy discovered a option to straggle residence on his personal. The oldest, Seyar, 17, made it to a faculty the place the watchman knew his father. A cousin was finally in a position to carry him residence. Sohail, 14, had a tougher time. After being chased away by the Taliban, he searched for a very long time earlier than discovering a white-bearded taxi driver who was prepared to take him residence with out paying up entrance.
For a number of hours, we additionally feared that one of our reporters, Najim Rahim, had been detained by the Taliban within the airport chaos, however actually he had fought them off and been taken by the Marines to the safe facet of the airport.
We had made it out of the airport alive. But the airport had turn into near unattainable to get into straight.
The subsequent morning, T.M. boarded a U.S. army transport airplane in Qatar and flew again to the Kabul airport. We wanted somebody there on the army facet dealing straight with American forces. Another Times correspondent, Christina Goldbaum, stayed behind in Qatar to assist in coordinating with officers there and making non permanent housing preparations for the Afghan households.
T.M.I needed to get again. We had left too quickly, and left our individuals and Mujib behind to face the crowds and the Taliban on the tarmac on Monday. We couldn’t do it that manner once more, and I got here again to the army facet of the airport as a liaison, looking for assist for our households from equipment that was already working at 130 % in an effort to get hundreds of foreigners, diplomats and repair members out of the nation in a rush.