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Escaping Kabul: How New York Occasions Workers Obtained Out of Afghanistan

At first mild the following morning, Mujib nervously left the house of his dad and mom, who had determined to remain in Kabul, to hitch the remainder 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 Occasions households, however the group had grown. That morning, our group was joined by greater than 100 others from different Western information retailers, searching for assist and path.

All morning, Mujib and his colleagues tried to barter with the Marines to let the group cross to the navy aspect of the airport, the place planes have been nonetheless in a position to land and take off. However within the rising chaos our unwieldy band managed solely to maneuver from the airport car 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.

Occasions officers in New York have been on the telephone with high officers in Washington, who stated they might assist get our group to the navy aspect of the airport. And T.M., from a run-down room in a bunkhouse in Qatar, was in touch with the Military and Marines on the Kabul airport, who assured him they might do what they might.

However their assurances couldn’t change the fact on the gate — even placing senior navy leaders from U.S. Central Command on the road with the Marines on the airport wasn’t serving to. The one folks the Marines would wave by to the navy aspect have been folks with Western passports.

One younger Afghan lady, in tears, begged the Marines to let her cross.

“What passport do you’ve got?” a Marine requested. She opened her passport to point out a visa to the USA.

“I used to be presupposed to fly for my research, however now there aren’t any flights,” she stated.

“However your passport says The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,” the Marine stated, smacking the doc’s cowl.

Crouched on the bottom close to the tower the place the Marines saved guard, the kids in our group have been fading from dehydration, and panic was etched within the faces of their dad and mom.

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 one among his commanders, however the man simply threw up his arms. The younger Marine saved strolling, and 10 minutes later quietly reappeared with eight bottles of water.

“Fake this didn’t come from me,” he stated, and walked away.

For nearly your complete afternoon, the runway was flooded with waves of individuals hoping to achieve the navy aspect 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. However because the hours handed, the crowds stopped fearing the bullets, realizing that the troopers wouldn’t shoot straight at them.

When the gang noticed that there have been no flights, folks began going wild, seizing any piece of the airport they might 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 aspect of the airport. We knew spending a second evening 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. A couple of males lingered, eyeing our group as we tried to maintain collectively.

The primary avenue of communication was a WhatsApp group, with Mujib exchanging fast voice or textual content messages with U.S. navy and civilian officers on the airport, with Occasions leaders internationally, and with T.M. in Qatar.

Mujib turned more and more sure that if we couldn’t make it to the navy aspect by 5 p.m., everybody must disperse to seek out meals, water and safety at house. The youngsters have been getting too weak. The Marines prompt that we attempt to reduce by the gang and stroll to their aspect in a single file, which was not possible — we’d be rushed by 1000’s.

As we waited for some operation that may clear a part of the gang, the Taliban made our selection simpler, in a manner: They got here to clear everybody away, together with us. This was the primary time lots of our folks had come head to head with the Taliban. It was chaos and crying because the fighters fired into the air and began beating folks to get them transferring.

“We’re transferring towards the Marines,” Mujib wrote, warning the Marines and Occasions leaders on the joint WhatsApp group because the gunfire continued and the Taliban saved throwing every part they’d on the crowd. “Now we have no different selection.”

We reached the sting of the gang, attempting to maintain our group collectively — and attempting our greatest to maintain others away. We have been about 400 yards away from the column of Marines who might usher us to the navy aspect. However we have been engulfed by individuals who would rush proper together with us if we moved.

So we devised one other plan: All of us sat in a circle, and moved two little ladies who have been wearing shiny purple to the entrance of our group. They have been the one visible technique to shortly distinguish our group from 1000’s of others. The Marines stated they might start an operation to push again the gang on both sides of us, and we might transfer ahead by 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 other of what might have helped us: As a substitute of backing up, they pushed towards the Marines.

After which, simply as we have been attempting to determine whether or not to attempt to push our manner by, the Taliban reduce proper into the center of our line.

The fighters began pushing, swinging golf equipment and rifle butts into us. Computerized weapon fireplace hammered out proper beside us because the Taliban started firing into the air. The group erupted into random movement.

Our colleagues fell to the bottom, relations and kids have been trampled, screaming in terror and ache. One among our longtime bureau drivers, Farid Rahimi, went down with a damaged arm as he tried to assist preserve the stampede away. Even a number of the youngsters bore deep bruises.

“It’s a mass stampede — we’re leaving, we’re leaving,” Mujib instructed the WhatsApp group in an audio message, his voice hoarse with thirst and exhaustion. “We received overwhelmed by the Taliban — they got here within the center they usually began beating everybody.”

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 taking pictures in every single place. In that second, I might see it so clearly, what it could seem like once they shot me, shot my household.

Our escape from the airport was nearly as hazardous as being there: As 1000’s of individuals have been being pushed out, 1000’s of others have been packed exterior on the roundabout attempting to push their manner in.

Within the chaos of the 2 crowds pushing in opposition to one another, nearly all of our suitcases have been misplaced — luggage filled with important belongings for individuals who have been fleeing their houses and nation.

As relations started discovering one another and attempting to make it house, 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 employees member, stated in a voice notice. “I don’t know what to do. Can anybody assist?”

Frantic calls to Taliban checkpoint guards yielded nothing — the crowds have been too large, and lights have been out within the neighborhoods across the airport. Hours handed, and Hafiza, the boys’ mom, turned satisfied they’d been shot.

However they’d not been. Separated from their household and one another, every boy discovered a technique to straggle house on his personal. The oldest, Seyar, 17, made it to a college the place the watchman knew his father. A cousin was ultimately in a position to carry him house. 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 keen to take him house with out paying up entrance.

For a number of hours, we additionally feared that one among our reporters, Najim Rahim, had been detained by the Taliban within the airport chaos, however the truth is he had fought them off and been taken by the Marines to the safe aspect of the airport.

We had made it out of the airport alive. However the airport had change into near not possible to get into straight.

The following morning, T.M. boarded a U.S. navy transport aircraft in Qatar and flew again to the Kabul airport. We would have liked somebody there on the navy aspect dealing straight with American forces. One other Occasions correspondent, Christina Goldbaum, stayed behind in Qatar to assist in coordinating with officers there and making short-term housing preparations for the Afghan households.

T.M.I needed to get again. We had left too quickly, and left our folks 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 navy aspect of the airport as a liaison, looking for assist for our households from equipment that was already operating at 130 p.c in an effort to get 1000’s of foreigners, diplomats and repair members overseas in a rush.

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