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KABUL — Thousands of people desperate to flee Afghanistan thronged Kabul's airport on Monday (Aug 16) after the Taliban seized the capital, prompting the United States to pause evacuations much of the day as President Joe Biden confronted mounting criticism over the US withdrawal.rr
Crowds converged on the airport seeking to escape, including some who clung to a US military transport plane as it taxied on the single runway, and one person appeared to fall from the plane during takeoff, according to television footage.rr
US troops fired in the air to deter people trying to force their way on to a military flight evacuating US diplomats and embassy staff, a US official said.rr
At least five people were reported killed in the chaos, which forced a pause in evacuation flights. A witness said it was unclear if they had been shot or killed in a stampede. A US official told Reuters two gunmen had been killed by US forces there over the past 24 hours.rr
A Pentagon spokesperson said there were indications that one member of the US military was wounded.rr
A German evacuation plane diverted to the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, because it could not land in Kabul. Another circled over the city, although authorities said late on Monday a military transport aircraft had landed to evacuate foreign nationals and Afghan staff.rr
US authorities also confirmed that the airfield had been reopened and that evacuation flights had resumed.rr
The Taliban's rapid conquest of Kabul followed Biden's decision to withdraw US forces after 20 years of war – the nation's longest – that he described as costing more than US$1 trillion (S$1.35 trillion).rr
The speed at which Afghan cities fell, in days rather than the months predicted by US intelligence, and fear of a Taliban crackdown on freedom of speech and human rights, especially women's rights, have sparked criticism.rr
In a televised address on Monday afternoon, Mr Biden defended his decision, insisting he had had to decide between asking US forces to fight endlessly in what he called Afghanistan's civil war or follow through on an agreement to depart negotiated by Republican former President Donald Trump.rr
"I stand squarely behind my decision," Mr Biden said. "After 20 years I've learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces. That's why we're still there."rr
He blamed the Taliban's takeover on Afghan political leaders who fled the country and the Afghan army's unwillingness to fight.rr
The Democrat has faced a barrage of criticism, from even his own diplomats, over his handling of the US exit, pulling out troops and then sending back thousands to help with the evacuation.rr
"Afghanistan is lost ... every terrorist around the world is cheering," Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in his home state of Kentucky.rr
One of Mr Biden's fellow Democrats, Senator Mark Warner, the Intelligence Committee chairman, said he wanted answers about why Washington had not been better prepared for a worst-case scenario.