Youth Soccer Player Fell to His Death from Air Force Plane Leaving Afghanistan, Officials Say

Zaki Anwari, "like thousands of Afghan youths, wanted to leave the country but fell off a U.S. plane and died," the government's General Directorate of Physical Education and Sports of Afghanistan said

zaki anwari
Zaki Anwari. Photo: twitter

A national youth league soccer player was among those killed this week in the chaos at Afghanistan's capital airport during the Taliban takeover, government officials announced Thursday.

Zaki Anwari fell to his death from the U.S. military plane, the General Directorate of Physical Education and Sports said in a statement on Facebook.

Anwari had clung to an Air Force plane as it took off from Kabul on Monday, according to Al Jazeera, the BBC and Reuters.

Anwari was 19, according to the BBC and The Times in London, though The New York Times said he was 17.

Reuters, citing Afghan media, said Anwari died after falling from a C-17, though other details about his death have not been released.

"Anwari, like thousands of Afghan youths, wanted to leave the country but fell off a U.S. plane and died," the government's sports agency said in its statement, according to a translation.

"He was kind and patient, but like so many of our young people he saw the arrival of the Taliban as the end of his dreams and sports opportunities," a spokesman for the agency told the New York Times. "He had no hope and wanted a better life."

The Associated Press reported this week that seven people died in connection with the maelstrom around the airport on Monday, including two armed men whom U.S. officials said they killed.

Video had circulated widely on social media showing people at the Kabul airport clinging to a departing Air Force plane even as it rose into the sky.

The video also seemed to show at least one person falling into the air from the side of the plane.

Air Force officials said Tuesday that human remains were found in the wheel well of a C-17 after it left Kabul on Monday and landed at a base in Qatar.

It was unclear if Anwari's death was linked to the remains found in the landing gear, though the Times in London reported it was.

The New York Times said that it was unclear how many people had stowed away in the wheel well in the departing plane on Monday and were killed.

In a statement to various news outlets, the Air Force said that plane had arrived in Afghanistan with cargo but was unable to unload because "hundreds" of people had surrounded it.

Kabul's airport had been breached on the civilian side, according to the Pentagon.

"Faced with a rapidly deteriorating security situation around the aircraft, the C-17 crew decided to depart the airfield as quickly as possible," the Air Force said.

The airport has since been secured by the U.S. military as they work to evacuate the thousands of remaining Americans and allies seeking to leave Afghanistan before Aug. 31.

One man, who said he was a Turkish Embassy employee, described to the AP the desperation as hundreds of people evacuated on a Turkey flight earlier this week.

"They wanted to board the plane. They wanted to escape Afghanistan," the man said. "We were afraid that the plane would return and that we would enter that chaos. We were sad for those people."

The evacuation at the end of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan has drawn widespread criticism as too slow and too inept, and President Joe Biden on Monday admitted there had been mistakes in how the exit unfolded.

He called scenes like the chaos on Monday "gut-wrenching" and said in an interview with ABC News that he the U.S. would "do everything in our power to get all Americans out and our allies out."

But he said that felt the upheaval was unavoidable and that America needed to leave after 20 years of unsuccessful fighting.

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