(KABUL, Afghanistan) — With thousands of Americans and Afghan allies still waiting to be evacuated, an American stuck in the chaos described the area around Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul as “very dangerous” after he and his family were forced to turn back before securing a flight home.
While U.S. troops have taken control of the airport, Taliban soldiers have set up checkpoints in the area outside, and have repeatedly fired shots into the air and clashed with Afghans trying to flee. At least 12 people have died in the area since Sunday, Taliban and NATO officials told Reuters this week.
President Joe Biden’s administration has been heavily criticized for its handling of the evacuation flights.
David Fox, 39, runs a marketing firm in Kabul and has been desperately trying to get his wife, who his Afghan, and his son, out of the country since the Taliban took control of the city.
Fox set out for Kabul airport on Wednesday with his family, and with the family of an Afghan-American acquaintance, on the advice of a friend in the State Department, he said.
“When we got there, there was a crowd of several hundred, potentially even over a thousand, individuals, I mean, Afghans who are desperate to get into the airport,” he told ABC News. “I was trying to make eye contact with the U.S. Marines who were at the gate. At one point, I was about 10 feet away, which I felt like, with the big number of people that were there, felt like a football stadium’s length.”
On the outer perimeter, where Taliban soldiers inspect documents, Fox said one of them hit him with a “fan belt” as other militants jabbed people with weapons and fired warning shots.
As Fox’s group neared the gate where U.S. troops were, it became apparent the situation was deteriorating, he said.
“The Marines are just firing their weapons, firing warning shots in the air, throwing flash bangs. And every time they would do a series of volleys of warning shots, the whole crowd would surge back,” he said. “If we stayed there longer, there was the chance that we would, you know, pass out from exhaustion.”
A U.S. official told ABC News on Friday that there are now 5,800 troops at the airport, but the American Embassy in Kabul still issued a security alert saying the U.S. government “cannot ensure safe passage to the airport” as the soldiers aren’t pushing out into the city.
Recent reports have highlighted growing fears of Taliban reprisals against Afghans who worked with the U.S., despite Taliban leaders declaring an amnesty for those individuals.
Taliban fighters executed nine ethnic Hazara men in the Afghan city of Ghazni last month, according to Amnesty International, as reports continue to trickle in of human rights abuses during their lightning-quick capture of all but one of the country’s 34 provinces. Amnesty International said the killings “likely represent a tiny fraction of the total death toll inflicted by the Taliban to date.”
While the situation in Kabul remains as uncertain as ever, the chaos at the airport may mean that Fox will have to bide his time before he and his family can flee.
“For me as a father, I have to weigh the risk of [getting to] the airport — to me the airport is very dangerous,” Fox said. “The issue of the mob at the airport is that there is a belief in Afghan society that if you can get into that airport by hook or by crook, then you will get on a free flight to America … so we are going to wait until evacuation flights stop and commercial flights resume.”
ABC News’ Conor Finnegan and Luis Martinez contributed to this report.
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