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Striking image shows hundreds of Afghans crowded aboard evacuation flight

The airport in Kabul resumed operations Monday after it was forced to shut down due to thousands of Afghans storming onto runways.

A dramatic new photo shows hundreds of Afghans crammed aboard an evacuation flight from Kabul, illustrating the desperation felt as the Taliban took full control of Afghanistan.

The photo taken Sunday showed 823 people sitting shoulder to shoulder inside a U.S. Air Force plane traveling from Kabul to Qatar. (Previously, the Air Force said there were 640 people aboard. That number only included adults.)

The number of passengers approached the record for the largest number ever flown in a C-17 military cargo plane, according to Defense One, a national security news site.

The intention wasn't to pack the aircraft so tightly, but many Afghans who'd been cleared to evacuate were able to board through its half-open ramp, the outlet reported.


Early Tuesday, evacuation flights were landing in Afghanistan frequently and remaining on the ground for a few minutes before taking off again, NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel reported.

The airport in Kabul was open again after flights were stopped Monday due to unsafe conditions, as tens of thousands of Afghans stormed runways in an attempt to leave the country amid the Taliban's takeover.

A video shared by Engel on Twitter showed Afghans running alongside a U.S. military aircraft as it attempted to take off, some even scaling the outside of the plane.

The Taliban told Afghans on Tuesday that they have nothing to fear, but the group set up even more checkpoints and has said it will always be guided by strict Islamic sharia law. Beauty salons and advertising showing women were being painted over.

The Taliban also called on civil servants to return to work, offered a nonspecific "general amnesty" and called on women to join their new government.

Many remained skeptical of the Taliban's promises of tolerance.

"Right now I am in Kabul and Kabul is surrounded by the Taliban and I’m not safe here," a man named Hassib, a translator for the U.S. military, told NBC News.

U.S. officials said Monday they were prepared to take more than 20,000 Afghans who were candidates for special visas with them to military bases, NBC News reported. Between Saturday and Monday night, a total of 700 people had left the country.