US soldier cradling American embassy flag flies it out of Afghanistan

Not Old Glory’s finest moment: US soldier cradles American embassy’s flag as it is hurriedly flown out of Kabul ahead of humiliating Afghan meltdown

  • Evacuations of the US Embassy began on Sunday via chinook helicopter
  • The US flag was lowered from the building, hastily rolled and bundled into the aircraft with Embassy personnel
  • US ambassador Ross Wilson and other diplomatic staff were also evacuated on Sunday 
  • Evacuation flights continued on Monday amid chaos on the runway which saw eight people killed 
  • Three Afghans plunged hundreds of feet to their deaths after trying to cling onto the fuselage of a C-17 US air force plane leaving Kabul airport
  • Evacuation flights are set to continue on Tuesday as the US and other western countries continue their withdrawal from the country 

A picture showing a US soldier forlornly clutching the American Embassy flag as he loaded it into a plane to be flown out of Afghanistan has emerged, symbolizing America’s failed campaign in the country.

The US Embassy was officially closed and evacuated along with the flag, with ambassador Ross Wilson and other diplomats relocating to the airport in embarrassing scenes reminiscent of the evacuation of the embassy of Saigon in 1975. 

The diplomates were flown from Kabul via chinook helicopters on Sunday evening according to US State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

‘We can confirm that the safe evacuation of all Embassy personnel is now complete. All Embassy personnel are located on the premises of Hamid Karzai International Airport, whose perimeter is secured by the US Military,’ he said.

The Taliban swept into the Afghan capital on Sunday after the Western-backed government collapsed and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country ‘to avoid bloodshed’, bringing a stunning end to a two-decade effort in which the US and its allies had tried to transform the country.   

A forlorn soldier clutches the hastily rolled American embassy flag as it is loaded onto US air force transport and flown out of Afghanistan

Chinook helicopters landed at the US Embassy on Sunday to begin evacuations as the Taliban entered Kabul

Almost all major checkpoints in Kabul were under Taliban control by Monday morning and Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority issued an advisory saying the ‘civilian side’ of the airport had been ‘closed until further notice’ and that the military controlled the airspace.    

Meanwhile, Taliban officials promised civilians would not be harmed and announced everyone would be allowed to return home from Kabul airport if they decided to stay in the country. 

The Taliban previously said westerners would be allowed to leave the country but that Afghans would be barred from departing.  

Evacuation flights from Kabul airport are set to resume on Tuesday after eight people were killed on Monday amid chaos on the runway.

Two armed Afghans were shot dead by US troops, while three civilians were run over by taxiing jets and three more plummeted to their deaths.  

The stowaways fell hundreds of feet after climbing onto the fuselage of a departing US Air Force C-17 plane as it took off from at Hamid Karzai International Airport, while hundreds of other desperate people ran after the planes as they taxied down the runway.  

Hundreds of desperate Afghans attempted to run after and cling onto the fuselage of the C-17 US air force plane as it taxied down the runway in Kabul

Three civilians plummeted hundreds of feet to their deaths as they failed to cling to the plane 

A Pentagon official said that US troops had come under fire at the airfield and grounded all flights while soldiers cleared the airfield with Apache helicopters and fired ‘warning shots’ to disperse the crowds. 

Flights resumed after 90 minutes but were suspended again after a security breach on the civilian side of the airport, a Pentagon spokesperson said.   

A C-17 plane can carry 171,000 pounds of cargo but its interior is designed to carry fewer than 150 soldiers. 

However, US air crew managed to cram 640 Afghan civilians into one evacuation flight on Monday as the refugees – including many women and young children – ran onto the plane’s half-open ramp before take-off.

‘The crew made the decision to go’, taking them with them, an unnamed defense official said. 

A C-17 jet carrying 640 Afghan refugees who ran up the half-open ramp while US forces were preparing for take-off, according to an unnamed defense official cited by Defense One on Monday

US troops keep watch at the airport on Monday amid pandemonium at the airport that saw eight people killed, including three who tumbled out of planes as they took off

There are thought to be at least 40,000 people who need evacuating from the country – including 30,000 US diplomats, visa holders and Afghans they have promised sanctuary, 4,000 Britons and an unknown number of other westerners including Spanish, French, Germans and Poles.

India confirmed today that it had closed its embassy in Kabul and flown its diplomatic staff to safety, while Russia and Indonesia have announced partial evacuations – though said some diplomatic staff would remain. Nepalese diplomatic staff were also seen loading on to buses bound for the border.

America is hoping to fly out some 5,000 people per day and the UK 1,200 – though both managed just a few hundred on Monday, meaning the operation is likely to drag on for weeks, if not months. 

Politicians in both the US and UK have urged their government to be ‘generous’ with granting asylum to Afghans who helped in the war effort, but there are fears that thousands will be left behind amid the chaos.

The success of the operation now depends upon troops being able to keep the runway open, and on officials being able to locate all those who have been promised a ticket home and get them to the airport. 

Some 6,000 American troops have now encircled the airport, using barbed wire and armoured vehicles to keep people off the runway, but so has the Taliban – which now controls 90 per cent of the country.

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