Crowds surge on Afghanistan airport in satellite photos

Crowds converge at Kabul's international airport Monday (Aug. 16) after the Taliban took over the Afghan city. (Image credit: Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies)

Crowds surging on an Afghanistan airport were so massive that they showed up in satellite photos taken from space.

Maxar Technologies collected the satellite photos Monday (Aug. 16) at 10:36 a.m. local time (1:36 a.m. EDT; 0536 GMT) at Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport, during attempted mass evacuations from the city.

At least seven people were killed as United States troops tried to take control of the airport, according to USA Today. The airport was overwhelmed after the Taliban, a fundamentalist militia, took over Kabul and other major Afghan cities in recent days.

Related: Did space weather hamper troops in Afghanistan?

Crowds converge at Kabul's international airport Monday (Aug. 16) after the Taliban took over the Afghan city. (Image credit: Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies)

"Some Afghans tried to cling onto departing planes. Others crowded the tarmac after security lines were breached. By nightfall, all flights from the Kabul airport were suspended," the New York Times wrote of the situation.

Maxar Technologies noted the crowds were on the runway and surrounding the airport while at least one Turkish airliner prepared to take off.

"Security forces can be seen near one of the airport’s main runways attempting to prevent crowds of people from moving toward other aircraft and from blocking flight operations," Maxar said in a statement. "Hundreds of people can also be seen at several of the airport perimeter gates and at intersections nearby."

The New York Times added that according to witnesses, the Taliban are now controlling access to entrances on the airport's civilian side. Numerous reports also said that Afghan senior government officials have fled the country.

Afghanistan's troubles took place after a deal was struck with the Taliban that was supposed to remove American military personnel by May 1, NPR reported. The withdrawal decision was complex. While it was intended to take place under the Biden administration, the Trump administration laid the foundation for withdrawal by striking the deal, NPR said.

President Joe Biden subsequently authorized sending in thousands of additional troops into Afghanistan in recent days. "I am president of the United States of America, and the buck stops with me," Biden said in a speech on Monday. "I am deeply saddened by the facts we now face, but I do not regret my decision."

Monday's circumstances unfolded in Afghanistan just weeks before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. These attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 are widely recognized as the precipitating event that brought an American military offensive to Afghanistan in the early 2000s.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: