Uzbekistan said it shot down an Afghan fighter plane and forced the landing of 22 military planes and 24 military helicopters carrying nearly 600 Afghan troops that ‘illegally’ crossed its border at the weekend when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.
The 46 Afghan aircrafts carrying 585 troops were ‘forcibly landed’ at Termez aiport in southern Uzbekistan on Saturday and Sunday after they had fled the Taliban, the country’s state prosecutor said.
One of the Afghan military planes that crossed the border was shot down by Uzbekistan’s air defence system on Sunday after it illegally entered the country’s air space, the Uzbek defence ministry said.
But the state prosecutor’s office contradicted this statement and said the aircraft had collided with an escorting Uzbek fighter jet causing both to crash in the southern province of Surkhondaryo.
‘The pilots of these aircraft landed by parachute,’ the statement said. The two pilots in the military plane were reportedly injured and placed in custody.
It comes after both Uzbekistan and neighbouring Turkmenistan have held high-level talks with the Taliban touching on security and the future of regional infrastructure projects.
One of the Afghan military planes that crossed the border was shot down by Uzbekistan’s air defence system on Sunday after it illegally entered the country’s air space, the Uzbek defence ministry said. Video appears to show one of the pilots injured in the crash
One image posted on Twitter appears to show the wreckage of the Afghan military plane
This image appears to show another pilot of the aircraft being helped after he crashed
The prosecutor’s statement also said that 158 civilians and military personnel had crossed over the Amu Darya river into Uzbekistan by foot on Sunday and were now under criminal investigation.
The military plane’s reported crash late on Sunday set media abuzz in Uzbekistan as photos and footage of the debris and wounded pilots circulated on Telegram.
A plane crash was first reported by local media. Uzbekistan’s Defense Ministry initially said it was studying videos and reports of the crash, then confirmed the plane crash took place without offering any details. Only later on Monday did officials reveal that the plane was downed.
Ministry officials told Russia’s state RIA Novosti news agency that the country’s air defense system ‘averted an attempt by an Afghan military plane to illegally cross Uzbekistan’s air border.’
The Defense Ministry initially said one Afghan serviceman was injured after ejecting himself from the plane. Later Monday, RIA Novosti reported that two pilots from the plane survived the crash and have been hospitalized in serious condition.
Bekpulat Okboyev, a doctor in the city of Termez, Surkhondaryo’s regional capital, told AFP his hospital had taken in two patients who were wearing Afghan military uniforms late on Sunday, that were presumed to be the pilots of the plane.
The doctor described one as being ‘with a parachute’ and noted that the man had suffered fractures.
Okboyev said his hospital had also accepted three injured Afghan soldiers a day earlier after a total of 84 troops illegally crossed the border into the country while fleeing the Taliban.
Border guards are seen at a checkpoint at the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border in Ayritom, Uzbekistan, on Sunday
Uzbekistan’s foreign ministry said on Sunday that those Afghan soldiers were detained the night before by Uzbek border guards but had received humanitarian assistance.
The men were offered food and temporary accommodation in Uzbekistan, and the statement said Uzbekistan was negotiating with the ‘Afghan side’ over their return home.
Caroline Tabler, a communications director for U.S. Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, said the GOP lawmaker’s office was working urgently to support Afghan pilots fleeing from the Taliban to Uzbekistan.
‘We’re working with an intermediary who’s been in touch with the pilots,’ she told the AP.
‘We have not heard from them since last night (Washington) time. We know Uzbekistan has taken their cellphones.
‘Our primary concern is making sure Uzbekistan does not turn them over to the Taliban. We are frantically reaching out to the State Department on this case and trying to get them asylum and literally can’t get a response.’
Reports of the plane crash appeared Monday as thousands of Afghans packed into the Kabul airport, rushing the tarmac and pushing onto planes in desperate attempts to flee the country a day after the Taliban overthrew the Western-backed government.
U.S. troops fired warning shots as they struggled to manage the chaotic evacuation.
The Taliban seized nearly all of Afghanistan in just over a week, despite the billions of dollars spent by the US and NATO over nearly two decades to build up Afghan security forces
Uzbekistan’s neighbour Tajikistan said Monday it had allowed over 100 Afghan military members to land at Bokhtar airport in the south of the country.
‘Tajikistan received SOS signals, after which, in accordance with the country’s international obligations, it was decided to allow Afghan servicemen to land at the airport,’ the Tajik foreign ministry’s information department told Russian news agencies Interfax and RIA Novosti.
RIA Novosti reported that three planes carrying the soldiers had landed in Bokhtar during the night.
Central Asia has watched with alarm as the government in Kabul collapsed.
Three former Soviet countries – Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – border Afghanistan.
Of the three Central Asian countries bordering Afghanistan, only Tajikistan has eschewed talks with Taliban officials, who have assured neighbours of their commitment to regional peace and infrastructure projects.
Tajikistan has said that it had not held talks with the group. Its leader has complained about ‘terrorist groups’ taking control of the border with his mountainous country.
The Taliban has moved to reassure its northern neighbours that it has no designs on them, despite the fact that several Central Asian countries offered logistical support to Washington’s war effort.
It comes after thousands of Afghans rushed into Kabul’s main airport on Monday, some so desperate to escape the Taliban that they held onto a military jet as it took off and plunged to their deaths.
At least seven people died in the chaos, U.S. officials said, as America’s longest war ended with its enemy the victor.
Desperate Afghan nationals tried to run onto RCH 885 as it took off from the airfield on Monday. Some were crushed by the C-17’s wheels and others clung to the fuselage as it took off
The crowds came while the Taliban enforced their rule over the capital of 5 million people after a lightning advance across the country that took just over a week to dethrone the country’s Western-backed government.
There were no major reports of abuses or fighting, but many residents stayed home and remained fearful after the insurgents’ advance saw prisons emptied and armories looted.
Across the nation, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that thousands had been wounded in fighting. Elsewhere, security forces and politicians handed over their provinces and bases without a fight, likely believing the two-decade Western experiment to remake Afghanistan would not survival the resurgent Taliban. The last American troops had planned to withdraw at the end of the month.
‘The world is following events in Afghanistan with a heavy heart and deep disquiet about what lies ahead,’ warned United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
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.
Afghan people climb atop a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport in Kabul on Monday
Desperate Afghan families trying to escape Kabul scale the walls of the airport on Monday
The US Embassy has been evacuated and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport in scenes reminiscent of the evacuation of the embassy of Saigon in 1975. Other Western countries have also closed their missions and are flying out staff and civilians after the Taliban walked into Kabul’s presidential palace
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.
Videos showed a group of Afghans hanging onto the plane just before takeoff and several falling through the air as the airplane rapidly gained altitude over the city.
FALL OF KABUL: A TIMELINE OF THE TALIBAN’S FAST ADVANCE AFTER 40 YEARS OF CONFLICT
Feb. 29, 2020 Trump negotiates deal with the Taliban setting U.S. withdrawal date for May 1, 2021
Nov. 17, 2020 Pentagon announces it will reduce troop levels to 2500 in Afghanistan
Jan. 15, 2020 Inspector general reveals ‘hubris and mendacity’ of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan
Feb 3. 2021 Afghan Study Group report warns against withdrawing ‘irresponsibly’
March Military command makes last-ditch effort to talk Biden out of withdrawal
April 14 Biden announces withdrawal will be completed by Sept. 11
May 4 – Taliban fighters launch a major offensive on Afghan forces in southern Helmand province. They also attack in at least six other provinces
May 11 – The Taliban capture Nerkh district just outside the capital Kabul as violence intensifies across the country
June 7 – Senior government officials say more than 150 Afghan soldiers are killed in 24 hours as fighting worsens. They add that fighting is raging in 26 of the country’s 34 provinces
June 22 – Taliban fighters launch a series of attacks in the north of the country, far from their traditional strongholds in the south. The UN envoy for Afghanistan says they have taken more than 50 of 370 districts
July 2 – The U.S. evacuates Bagram Airfield in the middle of the night
July 5 – The Taliban say they could present a written peace proposal to the Afghan government as soon as August
July 21 – Taliban insurgents control about a half of the country’s districts, according to the senior U.S. general, underlining the scale and speed of their advance
July 25 – The United States vows to continue to support Afghan troops ‘in the coming weeks’ with intensified airstrikes to help them counter Taliban attacks
July 26 – The United Nations says nearly 2,400 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in May and June in escalating violence, the highest number for those months since records started in 2009
Aug. 6 – Zaranj in the south of the country becomes the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban in years. Many more are to follow in the ensuing days, including the prized city of Kunduz in the north
Aug. 13 – Pentagon insists Kabul is not under imminent threat
Aug. 14 – The Taliban take the major northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and, with little resistance, Pul-e-Alam, capital of Logar province just 70 km (40 miles) south of Kabul. The United States sends more troops to help evacuate its civilians from Kabul as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says he is consulting with local and international partners on next steps
Aug. 15 – The Taliban take the key eastern city of Jalalabad without a fight, effectively surrounding Kabul
Taliban insurgents enter Kabul, an interior ministry official says, as the United States evacuate diplomats from its embassy by helicopter
Senior American military officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing operation, told The Associated Press that the chaos left seven dead, including several who fell from the flight.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said U.S. forces killed two people he described as carrying weapons in the melee. He said 1,000 more U.S. troops would be deployed to secure the airfield and back up the 2,500 already there.
All flights at the airport – both military and civilian – were halted until Afghan civilians can be cleared from the runway, Kirby added.
Late Monday night, hundreds of people remained trapped between American forces trying to push them out of the airport and Taliban forces trying to keep them in, witnesses said. An Associated Press journalist also saw what appeared to be an airstrike target two vehicles near the airport.
Shafi Arifi, who had a ticket to travel to Uzbekistan on Sunday, was unable to board his plane because it was packed with people who had raced across the tarmac and climbed aboard, with no police or airport staff in sight.
‘There was no room for us to stand,’ said the 24-year-old. ‘Children were crying, women were shouting, young and old men were so angry and upset, no one could hear each other. There was no oxygen to breathe.’
After a woman fainted and was carried off the plane, Arifi gave up and returned home.
Other Afghans, like Rakhmatula Kuyash, are also trying to leave through land border crossings, all of which are now controlled by the Taliban.
‘I’m lost and I don’t know what to do,’ said Kuyash, who crossed into Uzbekistan on Sunday after leaving his children and relatives in Afghanistan. ‘I left everything behind.’
Meanwhile, President Ashraf Ghani, who earlier left the country, faced Russian allegations he fled Kabul with four cars and a helicopter full of cash. His whereabouts remained unclear.
The U.S. Embassy has been evacuated and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport to help with the evacuation. Other Western countries also closed their missions and were flying out staff and their citizens.
In interviews with U.S. television networks, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan blamed the Afghan military for the Taliban’s rapid takeover, saying it lacked the will to fight.
However, the ease with which the Taliban took control goes beyond military prowess, the Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor wrote.
‘The speed of the Taliban’s final advance suggests less military dominance than effective political insurgency coupled with an incohesive Afghan political system and security force struggling with flagging morale,’ it said.
The Taliban offensive through the country stunned American officials. Just days before the insurgents entered Kabul with little if any resistance, a U.S. military assessment predicted it could take months for the capital to fall.
The rout threatened to erase 20 years of Western efforts to remake Afghanistan that saw tens of thousands of Afghans killed as well as more than 3,500 U.S. and allied troops. The initial invasion in 2001 drove the Taliban from power and scattered al-Qaida, which had planned the 9/11 attacks while being sheltered in Afghanistan.
Under the Taliban, which ruled in accordance with a harsh interpretation of Islamic law, women were largely confined to their homes and suspected criminals faced amputation or public execution. The insurgents have sought to project greater moderation in recent years, but many Afghans remain skeptical.
Journalists so far have been able to work, though Taliban militants visited the private satellite channel Tolo TV looking for ‘government-issued weapons,’ said station owner Saad Mohsini. Some militants put on Afghan military uniforms and began doing patrols, arresting suspected robbers.
Filippo Grandi, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees, separately described interactions with the Taliban as ‘relatively positive.’
On Monday, Nillan, a 27-year-old resident of Kabul who asked to be identified only by her first name for fear of reprisals, said she did not see a single woman out on the streets during a 15-minute drive, ‘only men and boys.’
‘It feels like time has stopped. Everything’s changed,’ she told the AP.
She added: ‘It feels like our life and our future has ended.’