Bizarre flight from unstable Kabul


Western Europe

Gerard ten Voorde, RD

The Afghan family Ahmadi spend an entire night in the dark in Kam Air's Airbus A340 at Kabul airport. The situation on board is untenable. “No electricity, no light. It was hot, it was dirty. There was a huge smell of sweat.” photo AFP, Wakil Koshar

The Ahmadi family managed to escape from Afghanistan. “A Taliban fighter fired his gun 5 meters from me.” A reconstruction of a bizarre flight away from the Taliban.

Monday, August 16th. The Ahmadi family desperately seeks refuge away from the chaos of Kabul. The Taliban advances towards the capital of Afghanistan.

“We had to quickly pack our bags,” daughter Zarah Ahmadi (15) recalls. “The situation became more and more dangerous. The Taliban were very close to Kabul.”

Uncertainty grips them. “We didn’t know what was going to happen. Whether we would get hurt or die.” Together with her parents and her brother Ibrahim (9), Zarah grabs some things together. Leaving her house hurts. “We had to leave everything else behind.”

The Taliban are going door to door. They are seeking opponents to kill. The terror group is also looking for father Ahmadi. The Afghan had a leading position in the Afghan army and fought against the terrorist movement. “The Taliban were looking for him,” Zarah said.

Taliban fighters patrol the streets of Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city's airport trying to flee the group's feared hardline brand of Islamist rule. photo AFP

The Dutch-Afghan family lives in the Netherlands. Zarah’s parents were born in Afghanistan, their four children in the Netherlands. Mother Ahmadi and her children visit her father, who works in Kabul, every summer.

Into hiding

This year’s vacation will take an unexpected turn. The family suddenly has to go into hiding in Kabul. “It was exciting,” says Zarah. “I didn’t realize at the beginning of last week that it could go so wrong. My father did talk about the Taliban advance. Still, the Americans would continue to help the Afghan army with air support until the end of August.” The Afghan family, therefore, had no major cause for concern.

However, the situation changes when the Americans unexpectedly withdraw entirely. The Afghan president flees the country. “The Afghans lost their confidence at that point.”


Fear and panic spread. The country plunges into unprecedented chaos. Ahmadi contacts the Americans to flee the country. It is possible, but the family has to hurry. A flight leaves Kabul in half an hour. “Within ten minutes, we had packed our things.”

The four Afghans are escorted to the airport and reach the airport through a side entrance. Their flight seems to be successful. A Kam Air aircraft is waiting for departure on the platform. “I don’t remember our destination. It was either Turkey or Uzbekistan, but it didn’t matter. Our only goal was to get out of there.”

Zarah and her family manage to secure a coveted spot on board. “The plane was packed. There were more than three times as many people on board as the allowed number.” All the aisles on the plane are filled with people. Afghans climb atop the Airbus A340 in sheer desperation. On the fuselage, on the wings, on the tail.

Departure is therefore impossible. The crew ask the occupants to get off the plane. No one heeds the call. “Everyone wanted to get out of the country.”

The situation on board in the heart of Kabul is almost untenable. “People were desperate,” says Zarah. “We were on the plane all night in the dark. We had no electricity, no light. It was warm. It was dirty. There was a huge smell of sweat.”


Sleeping is not possible. Here and there, quarrels arise due to irritations. Passengers open the plane doors to get some fresh air. “Everyone was waving the plane’s safety instruction cards.” Many evacuees have to do without water. “No one was prepared for this situation. Luckily my brother had two bottles of water with him.”

After a long night, it becomes clear that the plane will not take off. The Ahmadi family has no choice but to leave the aircraft. The family of four moves to a lounge at the airport.


With no more flights departing, the Ahmadis decide to take refuge at a secret address in Kabul. A dangerous undertaking. The Taliban are now walking around the airport. “We were afraid they would recognize my father.”

Afghans (L) crowd at the airport as US soldiers stand guard in Kabul on August 16, 2021. photo AFP, Shaki Rahmani

A bizarre situation arises at the airport. On one side, American soldiers are patrolling. On the other side of the airport, Taliban fighters are walking. Both fire into the air. “People were also shot.”

The family is terrified. “Very anxious,” says Zarah. “A Taliban fighter fired into the air 5 meters away from me. It hurt my ears. Other Taliban beat people in the street with rockets. I have never experienced anything like this.”

The tension is high. “But the funny thing is that at a certain point, you get used to the shooting,” says the young Afghan. “There was so much shooting.”

The Ahmadi family leaves the dangerous environment of the airport and retreats to the city again. “It was a relief to be able to leave the dangerous airport.”

Along the way, they encounter Taliban checkpoints. Every time the fear of being recognized strikes. The Ahmadis manage to pass the checkpoints. “In Kabul, it was very calm on the streets. Daily life went on there. Only at the airport was chaos and panic, and shots were fired.”

The four Afghans spend the night again at a hiding place in Kabul. The Dutch-Afghan family is intensively looking for contact with the Dutch government in The Hague. Two sisters continuously call the contact person at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“The Netherlands could not do anything for us,” says Zarah. Too bad, she thinks. “If The Hague had started the evacuations earlier, they could have helped us. Now there was much debate, but only a few decisions. While we were in unsafe territory.”


The next day, the family makes their way to the airport again. The situation has completely turned around. Thousands of people are desperately trying to reach the airport. “Fathers and mothers with babies. Everyone was trying to get away.” Father Ahmadi urges his wife and children to stay together in the crowd. “We shouldn’t run; that would be dangerous.”

The French ambassador has arranged an evacuation flight. Ahmadi again uses his contacts with the Americans. “The Americans asked the French if we could join their flight. The French agreed on the condition that the Americans would allow more Frenchmen to leave.”

Ahmadi, his wife and two children eventually manage to get on a plane. The four reach the airport through an entrance gate guarded by heavily armed Americans.


A French military transport aircraft is waiting on the platform. “I don’t remember the type,” Zarah says. “It was a cargo plane with all those hanging chairs on board.” After four hours of waiting, the plane takes off around midnight—a flight to freedom.

An aircraft from the United States Air Force flown from Kabul to Qatar on August 15, 2021. The plane safely evacuated some 640 Afghans from Kabul. photo Chris Herbert

The flight went via Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and Paris to the Netherlands. “A huge switch”, explains Zarah with relief. “From a warzone to a safe area.”

The Ahmadis follow developments closely from their home in the Netherlands. “With great concern. We want the Afghans to have their freedom.”

The Ahmadi family is actually called differently. The real name is known to the editors.

This article was previously published in the Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad, on August 25th, 2021.



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