A U.S. Military cargo jet safely transported more than 600 Afghans out of Kabul late Sunday in a desperate attempt to flee the country after the capital fell to the Taliban, according to U.S. defense officials.
A photograph obtained by Defense One shows 640 men, women and children crammed inside a U.S. Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III. It is believed to be the largest number of people ever carried by such an aircraft, according to Defense One.
Hundreds of Afghans desperate to escape the Taliban takeover flocked to the Kabul international airport Sunday, hoping to be evacuated along with American diplomats and thousands of other foreigners as part of a large-scale airlift out of the country.
The plane was not expecting to fly out carrying so many people, but Afghan citizens who had already been cleared to evacuate pulled themselves onto the aircraft as its ramp was closing, Defense One reports. Instead of trying to force those refugees off the aircraft, “the crew made the decision to go,” a defense official told Defense One.
A U.S. military official confirmed to NBC News that the aircraft, operating as Reach 871 on a flight path from Kabul to Qatar, was one of theirs.
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As the U.S. military and others continued evacuation flights, Afghans swarmed over the international airport's tarmac. Some climbed into aircraft parked on the taxiway, while others dangled precariously off a jet bridge.
U.S. troops took positions to guard the active runway, but the crowd stormed past them and their armored vehicles. Gunshots rang out. As one U.S. Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III tried to take off, a helicopter did low runs in front of it to try to drive people off the runway.
In video footage that could become some of the defining images of the fall of Kabul, Afghans desperate to escape the Taliban clung to the side of a departing U.S. military jet as it rolled down the tarmac, with several falling through the air as the airplane rapidly gained altitude over the city.
Meanwhile, Pentagon officials said Tuesday plans were being made to house up to 22,000 evacuated Afghans and their families at three U.S. Army installations in the continental United States. Those locations are Camp McCoy, Wisconsin; Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Lee, Virginia.