U.S. military flights evacuating diplomats, Americans, and others out of Kabul restarted on Tuesday after the airport runway was cleared, said officials.
“Runway in Kabul international airport is open. I see airplanes landing and taking off,” Stefano Pontecorvo, NATO’s civilian representative, wrote on Twitter Tuesday. In another tweet, Pontecorvo said the “situation [is] under control” at the airport, apparently the only way some will be able to fly out of Afghanistan after the Taliban took over the country and its capital.
Under an accord signed by former President Donald Trump’s administration and the Taliban, the group agreed not to attack foreign forces as they leave the country.
Thousands of American troops deployed to the country took control of the airport on Sunday, coming as the group captured Kabul’s presidential palace and declared victory. Video footage and witnesses said that throngs of people—mostly Afghans—crowded around planes to try and evacuate, prompting delays in the evacuation plan.
At one point, American troops were shot at and were forced to return fire, killing two armed individuals, said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby to reporters on Monday morning. There were also videos of people who were clinging to the bottom of a U.S. military plane and fell hundreds of feet to their deaths after it took off.
In a statement posted to its website, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said that American citizens who are still trapped in the South Asian country should shelter in place.
“U.S. citizens wanting assistance to depart the country should register for any option that might be identified to return to the United States,” the bulletin said.
After days of silence on the Taliban advances, President Joe Biden said Monday he had to decide between asking U.S. forces to fight endlessly or follow through on a withdrawal agreement. The president was harshly criticized by Republicans and members of his own party, who said he botched the withdrawal and delivered the United States a humiliating defeat comparable to the 1975 fall of Saigon that ended the Vietnam War.
“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said. “After 20 years I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces. That’s why we’re still there.”
Biden, meanwhile, heaped blame on the Afghan army and government for not being willing to fight. He also appeared to blame Trump for the deal with the Taliban, although Biden didn’t abide by the terms of the agreement between the Trump White House and the Taliban, pushing the withdrawal date from May 1 to Sept. 11.
Trump and his former advisers sharply criticized the Biden administration for the execution of the plan, saying that any withdrawal would have to be accompanied by military deterrence.
The Afghan army has suffered considerably more losses against the Taliban than the U.S. forces who were deployed to Afghanistan since 2001. Brown University research says that nearly 70,000 Afghan security force members have been killed in the conflict, as compared with 3,500 U.S. coalition forces who were killed in the past 20 years of fighting.