Thursday, July 7

‘Saw the panic’: Afghans who fell from the US plane | Global development


When Zaki Anwari climbed the fence at Kabul airport, he was determined to escape. The 17-year-old footballer from the Afghan youth team had taken a break from his math studies for his exams to accompany his brother as he tried to catch a flight. Zaki had always told his family that he was not interested in going abroad, unless he could return to Afghanistan.

But the Taliban takeover had changed things. Zaki did not have a passport, but when night fell in Kabul after the Taliban took control of the city, he told his brother Zakir that he wanted to leave. Zakir did his best to convince him not to, but he didn’t give up on the idea.

Zaki was one of at least a dozen men who boarded a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster transport plane as it rolled on the runway the next day. None of them made it to the plane’s destination, Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

People climbing onto the landing gear of the US Airforce C17
Terrified men run alongside the US transport plane on the Kabul airport runway in a desperate attempt to get on board. Photograph: AP

The plane had landed shortly before to deliver equipment to US forces. The night before, another plane had evacuated 823 people fleeing the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, and Zaki joined the newcomers on the airport runway, hoping for a similar escape.

Monday, August 16, was clear and bright, and the young athlete was supposed to be guarding the family car with Zakir while his older brother, Naser, pushed himself through the crowd outside the airport with papers to leave.

Just before 11 a.m., Zaki called Ahmad, the only brother still at home, to tell him that he had jumped the perimeter wall around the airport. “I am near the plane now, they will register our names after they put us on the plane, and then I will lose [the] Phone signal. I’m going to throw away my phone, ”he said.

Ahmad yelled at him to come home until Zaki hung up. Twenty minutes later, Zaki called his mother to speak with his sister, told her that he felt he had the opportunity to board the plane, and asked her to pray for him. His mother put him on loudspeaker to yell at him to come home, reprimanding him that he had no passport or travel documents.

Seeing the crowd rushing toward the plane, the crew decided they had to take off. The huge gray plane began to roll as a crowd of people ran alongside it. In the midst of the chaos, a small number uploaded to a wide fairing above the wheels and a wide, smooth area above the wheel well.

Video shared by Asvaka, an Afghan news agency, shows the men smiling nervously and waving to others gathered by the runway, with at least 12 on board. Some waved enthusiastically, the wind whipping their hair as the plane picked up speed. Two jumped up and ran into the crowd before the plane took off.

Shocked bystanders looked up at the sky, some filming on their phones, as at least two bodies fell from the plane as it flew south over Kabul. Afghans who commented online drew comparisons to the “Falling Man,” photographed falling from the twin towers on September 11, 2001, a grim bookend of the American presence in Afghanistan. The men who fell were just boys, some not even born, when the United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan 20 years earlier.

Fada Mohammad, 24, was born into a world of civil war and Taliban rule four years before the US invasion in 2001. The young dentist had long dreamed of leaving, but lacked a plan or the financial means. Her father, Payenda Mohammad, said Fada had been looking for ways to find money since she got married last year.

Fada Mohammad, a 24-year-old dentist living on the outskirts of Kabul, was one of the men who fell from the plane as he left Kabul airport on August 16.
Fada Mohammad, a 24-year-old dentist, was one of the men who fell from the plane as he left Kabul airport on August 16. Photography: Family Photo / Family Photo

“Fada had talked about wanting to travel, but financially things were bad here. Anyone looking at the situation in this country would want to be elsewhere, and Fada was no different, ”said Payenda. Fada was the breadwinner of the family and supported 13 other people.

Fada left for work as usual on the morning of August 16. His wife and family had no idea that he was heading to the airport. “He said goodbye to us like any normal day, when he went to work at 8.30 in the morning,” said Payenda. “He didn’t say anything about the airport or the travel.”

Even in his pain, Ahmad tried to understand why Zaki was holding onto the plane. “He saw the panic, he saw the Taliban, anyone would be scared,” he said.

What happened next is the subject of an investigation by the US Air Force. Its spokeswoman, Ann Stefanek, said the plane was surrounded by civilians who had breached the airport walls before it could unload its cargo. “Faced with a rapidly deteriorating security situation around the aircraft, the C-17 crew decided to leave the airfield as quickly as possible,” he said. US helicopters flew in front of the plane to clear space on the runway for take off.

The official account and videos indicate that the pilot was unable to see the men clinging to the plane after takeoff or was unwilling to stop the plane. The skirt the men had used to get on the wheel folds under the plane when the landing gear is retracted. Those who did not fall were probably crushed to death.

“In addition to videos seen online and in press reports, human remains were discovered in the wheelwell of the C-17 after it landed at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The aircraft is currently seized to allow time to collect the wreckage and inspect the aircraft before it returns to flight status, ”said Stefanek.

The Kabul authorities maintain that the American crew could have acted differently. “Those men thought the pilot would stop and transfer them inside the plane,” said an Afghan Health Ministry official, who tried to identify some of the men after they fell and died. The official has not been named for his own safety.

One of the men fell within the perimeter of the airport, while two others hit the rooftops of a neighborhood near the airport. One resident who heard a body land on a roof described it as sounding “like a bomb.”

The Anwaris said that shortly after the plane took off, someone called Zaki’s sister from her phone to tell her that her body had been found. The family believes that Zaki was crushed under the wheels of the plane when it took off, or possibly on the landing gear when it retracted into the wheel well.

Fada’s wife became concerned after her husband did not call as usual at 10 a.m. to say that he had come to work. “Then at 2pm, we got a call from a stranger who asked us if we knew Fada Mohammad,” Payenda said. The stranger said that Fada’s body had been found and thrown from the plane. Payenda rushed to collect his son’s body.

Another victim’s brother, Mateen, 15, told Pajhwok news agency that the family couldn’t find him after seeing Mateen in a video showing the group sitting on a tire on the plane. “There were 21 men sitting on the plane, two jumped before it flew, but we only saw 12 bodies in the hospital,” he said. “We did not know of [Mateen]We couldn’t find her body – we went everywhere. The bodies fell in so many areas. “

The official, whose time at the Health Ministry predates the Taliban, said knowing precisely how many men died when they fell from the plane and identifying them became nearly impossible after the fall of the government.

“Their bodies were so damaged by the fall that it was difficult to identify them. There was no government to investigate the incident, ”he said. “If you knew the Taliban, you would understand why the men did this.”




www.theguardian.com

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