A deadly race against time to get out of Afghanistan

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In an area of ​​Kabul airport guarded by Norwegian troops, is a man, in his fifties, completely shot. Next to him, his wife and two children, aged 9 and 10. Around a confusion of thousands of people desperate to enter, advancing and retreating. To access the metal grid at this point, you have to jump over a fence and then cross a kind of channel that serves as a pit two meters deep and another two meters wide, through which water flows. dirty. In the middle of the stream there is a barbed wire. Hundreds of people are waiting on either side of the pit. Inside too.

When this man, after going down to the canal, tried to climb the wire, a thief stole his travel bag. Here are the savings over three years: $ 7,000 (nearly 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 to the airport for five days trying to reach a gate that would allow him to enter and exit the country. He and his family had all the papers in order. “I was saving that $ 7,000 for, if all else failed, trying to escape by land through Iran or Pakistan. Now I have no more hope. Hopefully the thieves will find the Taliban and cut off their hands, ”he lamented.

It all happened last Sunday. But similar scenes are repeated every day. Entering Kabul airport remains the recurring nightmare of thousands – if not tens of thousands – of Afghans who try to flee their own country, which has become deadly territory for them after the victory of the Taliban. And the fight to get there is already a race against time after a Taliban spokesman assured Monday in an interview with Sky News that his intention is to take full control of the airport on September 1. days left to escape.

To do this, you first have to go to areas controlled – controlled, that’s to say a lot – by international troops. In short: pass the Taliban street checks.

It’s hard. Armed with a kind of whip made of plastic-lined chains and machine guns, radical Islamists, posted at checkpoints at intersections that give access to the streets leading to the airport, generally do not allow them to pass. It is necessary to wait until they are careless, that they go to eat or that they come, with their vans, to watch another sector where, because of the shots, it seems uncontrolled, to profit from it and to pass by running. . Then, thousands of people rush into this free street.

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These Taliban guard posts are, de facto, a border within the city. Beyond that, it is the law of the international troops which governs, but given the chaos, the thousands of people who wander or who knock to reach a privileged place near the doors, the only true law which prevails is that of saving who may.

Others know of shortcuts that lead to the airport, roads that connect the approaches to the airfield that one reaches by entering certain houses or crossing streets escaping through rooftops. From there, sometimes you have to walk through open fields, across fields, for about two kilometers, until you reach the perimeter delimited by the concrete fence of the airport. This does not mean that it is possible to access the interior. There, we must be careful, because for days there have been bands of assailants who take advantage of the fact that those who flee leave with everything they have of value to steal them.

A family that prefers not to identify themselves was waiting near the pipeline on Sunday. Grandfather, grandmother, mother, father, two young children and a cousin. They all had valid US passports. In fact, all but the cousin lived in the United States. They went 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 at a nursery in the United States, said indignantly that they had been heading to the airport for several days, playing before Taliban checkpoints, only to find themselves completely unattended. “No one comes to ask anyone. We don’t know where we need to go. They sent us an email with a special visa, but it is useless because no one is helping us. Where are the American soldiers? ”He asked desperately.

Beside him, a man in his forties, alone, held an Italian passport. “Where are the Italians? “” Where should we go, we who have an Italian passport? The man claimed to have worked for several years as a military analyst for the United States, adding that this was the second time he had approached the airport, without success.

The chaos and the danger are unimaginable. On Sunday, near this area, a little girl was killed in an avalanche. More than 20 people have already died near the gates. There are Afghan policemen – interposed as the first barrier between the crowd and the American troops – who, according to several witnesses, fired on the ground to contain people, injuring several people in the legs.

Camps have been improvised where those who do not want to sleep come and go from the airport in Kabul and risk Taliban checks. There are people with all the papers in order who do not know where to go, but also those who do not have any and who go there to see if the opportunity arises or, quite simply, to leaf through.

Others do not dare to leave the city center. At the Park Star Hotel in Kabul’s 4th district, one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, an executive of a foreign company based in the Afghan capital waits with his family to flee to the United States . He is Afghan, he worked for this company, for a good salary, as an IT analyst. He has three young children. And he spent more than eight days, with his wife and children, waiting at the hotel for the situation to clear up.

At first there were security guards at the entrance and in the hotel lobby. But the Taliban stripped them of their weapons and the guards eventually left and deserted their posts. The IT analyst is afraid to approach the airport because he fears for his children: he thinks they risk being crushed or beaten to death. And that is why he waits, with more and more anguish, as time passes and as the terror increases, for the Americans to leave the airport for good and to leave them alone.

“There are rumors that they are going to take us out in another way, with meetings in the streets or squares of Kabul, with cars controlled by American officials,” he said. But these are just rumors. No one can take it for granted.

While the computer scientist persists in waiting without leaving the hotel room, looking on his cellphone at the images of the crowd trying to escape Taliban controls or reach the metal gates of the airport, Yussuf, a street vendor of watermelons and melons plants his stand in a nearby corner of District 4. Like many other humble vendors, they are looking forward to the arrival of the Taliban. They say they will bring security and less corruption. They are satisfied despite the fact that, because the banks are not functioning and the money is not flowing in the streets, the business, they say, “is doing very badly”.

There is also no money in ATMs. They are all empty. The missing money is in the pockets of the thousands of people who flock to the airport entrances looking for a crack to squeeze in and escape before August 31.

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