In an area of the Kabul airport guarded by Norwegian troops, there is a man, in his 50s, completely shot down. Next to him, his wife and two children, ages 9 and 10. Around a confusion of thousands of people desperate to enter, moving forward and backward. To access the metal gate at this point, you have to jump over a wire fence and then cross a kind of channel that serves as a pit two meters deep and another two meters wide, through which dirty waters flow. In the middle of the stream there is a barbed wire. On each side of the pit there are hundreds of people waiting. Inside, too.
When this man, after going down to the canal, tried to climb over the wire, a thief stole his travel bag. Here were the three-year savings: $ 7,000 (almost 6,000 euros). All your money. More than 70 minutes after the robbery, the man, sitting on the ground in a somewhat remote area, does not know what to do. He worked for the United States in Kabul for five years as a security guard and had been going to the airport for five days to try to reach a door that would allow him to enter and leave the country. Both he and his family had all the papers in order. “I was saving those $ 7,000 for, if all else failed, trying to escape via land through Iran or Pakistan. Now I have no hope. Hopefully the thieves will find the Taliban and cut off their hands, ”he lamented.
All this happened last Sunday. But similar scenes are repeated every day. Entering Kabul airport remains the recurring nightmare of thousands – perhaps tens of thousands – of Afghans trying to flee their own country, which after the victory of the Taliban has become deadly territory for them. And the struggle to achieve this is already a race against time after a Taliban spokesman assured this Monday in an interview with Sky News that his intention is to take full control of the airport as of September 1. If this is accomplished, there are only eight days left to escape.
To do this, you first have to get to the controlled areas – controlled is saying a lot – by international troops. In a word: get past the Taliban’s street controls.
It’s hard. Armed with a kind of whip made of plastic-lined chains, and with submachine guns, radical Islamists, stationed at checkpoints at intersections that give access to the streets leading to the airport, generally do not allow them to pass. You have to wait for them to be careless, to go to eat or to come, with their vans, to watch another area in which, due to the shots, it seems uncontrolled, to take advantage and run past. Then, thousands of people rush towards that street that has been left free.
These Taliban guard posts are, de facto, a border within the city. Beyond that, the law of international troops governs, but given the chaos, the thousands of people who wander or who hit each other to reach a privileged place near the gates, the only real law that prevails is that of everyone for himself.
Others know shortcuts that lead to the airport, roads that connect with the surroundings of the aerodrome that are reached by entering certain houses or crossing streets escaping through the rooftops. From there, sometimes, you have to walk through open fields, through fields, for about two kilometers, until you reach the perimeter delimited by the concrete fence of the airport. That does not mean that it is possible to gain access inside. There you have to be careful, because for days, there have been gangs of assailants who take advantage of the fact that those who flee leave with everything they have of value to steal from them.
A family that prefers not to identify themselves was waiting on Sunday near the canalization. The grandfather, the grandmother, the mother, the father, two young children and a cousin. They all had a valid US passport. In fact, all but the cousin lived in the United States. They traveled to Afghanistan more than a month ago to spend the holidays, to see the rest of the family. They couldn’t imagine what was going to happen.
They never thought they were going to get caught like this. The woman, who works in a daycare center in the United States, commented indignantly that they had been going to the airport for several days, gambling before the Taliban checkpoints, only to find themselves completely unassisted. “Nobody comes to ask for anyone. We don’t know where we have to go. They sent us an email with a special visa, but it is useless because nobody helps us. Where are the American soldiers? ”He asked desperately.
Beside him, a man in his 40s, alone, was holding an Italian passport. “Where are the Italians?” “Where do we who have an Italian passport have to go?” This man claimed to have worked for several years as a military analyst for the United States, adding that it was the second time he had approached the airport, unsuccessfully.
More than 20 dead
The chaos and danger are unimaginable. On Sunday, near that area, a little girl was killed in an avalanche. More than 20 people have already died near the doors. There are Afghan policemen – interposed as the first barrier between the crowd and the US troops – who, according to several witnesses, have fired at the ground to contain people, wounding several people in the legs.
Camps have been improvised where those who do not want to sleep are coming and going from the airport to Kabul and risking Taliban controls. There are people with all the papers in order who do not know where to go, but also those who do not have them and go there to see if the opportunity arises or, simply, to browse.
Others do not dare to move from the city center. At the Park Star hotel, in Kabul’s 4th district, one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, a manager of a foreign company based in the Afghan capital waits with his family to escape to the United States. He is Afghan, he worked for that company, for a good salary, as a computer analyst. He has three young children. And he has spent more than eight days, together with his wife and children, waiting at the hotel for the situation to be clarified.
At first there were security guards at the entrance and lobby of the hotel. But the Taliban have stripped them of their weapons and the guards have ended up leaving and deserting their post. The computer analyst is afraid to go near the airport because he fears for his children: he thinks they may be crushed or beaten to death. And that is why he waits, with increasing anguish, as time passes and the terror increases that the Americans will definitely leave the airport and leave them alone.
“There are rumors that they will take us out in another way, with appointments in the streets or in the squares of Kabul, with cars controlled by American officials,” he says. But they are just rumors. No one can take it for granted.
While the computer analyst is consumed with waiting without leaving the hotel room, watching on his mobile the images of the crowds trying to escape the Taliban controls or to reach the metal gates of the airport, Yussuf, a street vendor of watermelons and of melons plants his stall on a nearby corner in District 4. Like many other humble vendors, he rejoices at the arrival of the Taliban. He comments that they will bring security and less corruption. These sellers are satisfied despite the fact that, due to the fact that the banks do not work and that the money does not flow through the streets, the business, they say, “is going very badly.”
There is no money in the ATMs either. They are all empty. The missing cash is in the pockets of the thousands of people who crowd the entrances of the airport looking for a crack to sneak in and escape before August 31.