This Video of Afghans Desperately Clinging to a U.S. Plane Is Horrifying. We'll All Forget About It Soon Enough

Think about just how desperate your situation would need to be to hold onto the outside of a plane while it's taking off without you

It's worth taking a moment, though, to think about just how desperate your situation would need to be to hold onto the outside of a plane while it's taking off without you.

Donald Trump was always correct about the need for the United States to leave Afghanistan. He just announced plans to do so haphazardly, on impulse, as if primarily thinking about how all this would play out across one news cycle. If Joe Biden has a longer view of things, or had a more significantly developed plan for the withdrawal, it has not been readily apparent over the last few days. The United States has failed and abandoned huge numbers of Afghans who aided in the invasion and occupation, at least in part because of the current administration's overestimation of the Afghan security forces' capabilities and commitment and an underestimation of the Taliban's.

"The Taliban is not the south—the North Vietnamese army," Biden himself said last month. "They're not—they're not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There's going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy in the—of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable."

And then, this weekend, we saw those exact same images, choppers over Saigon redux. But that turned out to be just the introduction, as a new kind of horror made itself known in the form of video emerging from the chaos at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Seven people are confirmed dead as people desperately seek an escape from a country falling into a new kind of tyranny at a rapid pace. At least two of them reportedly fell from a U.S. military plane they desperately clung to as it took off, surrounded by people on the runway. There is video of this, though I can't recommend it. Watching feels like a further betrayal of these people somehow, a grotesque voyeurism reminiscent of many initial reactions to the Falling Man, and yet we may have a duty to bear witness. God knows this country of ours, including its media types and its members of Congress, will turn its Great Eye elsewhere soon enough. I will and we all will.


Was it always going to be this way? Did it have to be this bad? As far as leaving those who helped us behind—and even those who didn't—certainly not. But in terms of the overall outcome? It has been clear for some time that we were never going to win this war, just like the Soviets and Brits and Greeks failed to conquer this land, though it didn't help in our case that we never really developed an idea of what victory even meant. Already, the Eye moves to the future. The Deputy National Securitelp uy Adviser, Jon Finer, is on TV talking about the counterterrorism model of fighting extremists "without significant numbers of U.S. forces present on the ground." The word "significant" seems to be doing a lot of work there, and probably means something different in each of the 85 countries in which, according to the Costs of War project from Brown University, we've had some sort of counterterrorism presence over the last two decades.

Certainly, bombs falling out of the sky from a Predator drone will have their own significance to the people who live in these places. That's how we'll prosecute the endless War on Terror from here on out, in all likelihood: with Special Forces and unmanned aerial vehicles operating on tenuous legal grounds all over Africa and the Mideast, eliminating targets while the vast majority of American citizens agree not to talk about any of that nasty business. Maybe we should take a minute, then, to take in these videos from the Kabul airport. Let's give ourselves something to forget about soon enough.

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This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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Jack Holmes
Senior Staff Writer
Jack Holmes is a Senior Staff Writer at Esquire, where he covers politics and sports. He also hosts Useful Context, a video series.
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