The chaotic scenes outside Kabul International Airport in Afghanistan were starkly illustrated during a reporter’s live TV cross on Wednesday, as gunshots erupted behind her.
CNN’s chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, was standing about 180 metres away from the entrance to the airport, where thousands of Afghans are desperately trying to get past the Taliban and evacuate the country.
“Let me explain the situation to you. It’s pretty hectic; you can probably hear those gunshots,” Ward told CNN’s morning news show, New Day.
“It’s bumper-to-bumper, cars are barely moving. Taliban fighters are all around. We actually did see them physically hitting people with truncheons, trying to get them back. We have seen them and heard them as well firing on the crowds to disperse the crowds.
“It’s a little difficult to see from this vantage point, and it’s a slightly edgy situation, so I don’t want to push our luck, but all along the roadside over there, there’s just hundreds of people who are desperately waiting, desperately trying to get out of the country.
“It’s definitely chaotic. It’s definitely dangerous. I will say this: the Taliban appears to be trying to disperse the crowds, and there are crowds there of young men who seem to be just engaging in criminal activity-”
At that moment a loud gunshot rang out behind her. Ward briefly flinched and looked around, then calmly resumed her report.
“-running towards the Taliban, and then running away from them again, almost like it’s a game. But you know, when there’s bullets firing like that, it’s clearly not a game.”
“We heard the gunfire there,” said anchor John Berman.
“Give us a sense, Clarissa, if the Taliban is firing into the crowds, at people, or is it crowd dispersal into the air? Are they letting anyone through?”
“From what we could see, and we only had a very limited vantage point, they’re firing to disperse the crowds. They’re not targeting people, they’re not trying to kill people. But of course the minute you’re firing willy nilly, when you have a bunch of civilians all over the road and civilian vehicles, people get hurt,” she clarified.
“So there’s not a huge amount of discipline, let’s say, to use an understatement, in the ways in which they are dispersing the crowd.”
Ward said they had observed some people who had made it past the first perimeter, implying some were being allowed through. But not many.
“I’m not going to lie, I mean, you’re running the gauntlet to try to get in there,” she said.
“Because there are so many different things going on. You can just hear, the gunfire is pretty much constant as the Taliban tries to push people back. And as a result, you’re just getting a lot of people on the roads surrounding the airport. Some of them have their bags. And they just obviously have no idea how they can get out.”
After asking her cameraman to pan around to show the scene around them, Ward conducted an impromptu interview with one member of the crowd, handing him her microphone.
The man said most of the people on the street had worked with the Americans, and already had the documents they required to evacuate. He accused US President Joe Biden and other American leaders of lying about their intention to evacuate Afghan allies.
“They are liars,” he said.
“Did you try to get in?” Ward asked him.
“Yes of course, but the Taliban didn’t let you go in. They won’t let you,” he said.
“They tell us to stay here. The Americans (will take) you if you have an American passport, or American-British. Or if they have the green card, we take him. Otherwise you have to stop here or stay here.”
A green card is the document granting someone permanent residence in the United States.
“Joe Biden said we’ll take all these Afghan workers, they helped us, we will take them to America,” he continued.
“Our message to America is: we helped the American people. So it’s their job now to help here. There’s a very bad situation.”
Another man in the crowd actually showed Ward a photo of his green card, saying the Taliban had not let him through either.
“You’re getting an impression here,” she told viewers, turning back to the camera.
“Look, I’m surrounded by people. And everybody has a story. People worked for the Americans, one man has a green card, he already has his flights booked.”
The crowd pressed in around her as she spoke.
“They want, desperately, to tell their stories. They want the Americans to know. Because they’re not able to get past those checkpoints. They’re not able to get past the Taliban fighters.”
Berman said the scene around her showed a “disconnect” between the US government’s rhetoric on the evacuation and the reality on the ground.
“If there are thousands of Afghans the United States has promised to get out of the country, but they can’t get to the airport, that’s a disconnect. It’s showing that it’s not a reality,” the anchor said.
“That is what’s so crazy, John. You’re talking about some of these people – they have their paperwork. This man has a green card. If you are a US green card holder, you should be allowed to get into that airport,” Ward responded.
“The question becomes, what recourse do these people have? How can their safe passage be facilitated? We’re not getting any sense of how that could happen.”