You can hear a noise as you approach the tall iron gates that are the only way to enter the complex that is the hub of the British air transport operation from Afghanistan.
On both sides of a narrow road, within the walls of the complex in To acceptExhausted, British soldiers lie in the shade waiting their turn to return to the blazing sun and chaos once more.
Noise is the sound of screaming, it is the noise of despair.
Thousands of people are rushing towards this innocuous place that will be, for some, the gateway to freedom, and for many others, the end of a dream of escaping from the Taliban.
After two decades, this is what it has come down to. A hasty retreat, a civilian evacuation … with the Taliban watching.
As the days go by, this relief operation becomes more and more urgent and desperate as the British Army attempts to remove thousands of people from Afghanistan in just a few days.
It is a humanitarian mission in what looks like a war zone.
A makeshift barricade is all that separates two armies that have fought for 20 years.
The Taliban are only one meter from British soldiers; It’s an image that I never thought I’d see
We have seen thousands converge on this base threatening to overwhelm the entire evacuation operation.
The Taliban have helped in this. Along the way, they control the crowd of people trying to get to the British position.
Sometimes they shoot into the air, making people stop.
They are a threatening presence.
Families by day and night, often with young children, have risked their lives, dodging shots at the gates on the civilian side of the airport; through aggressive Taliban fighters, who occasionally beat and harass them.
At night, the paratroopers blocked the road with cars and barbed wire.
A senior officer told me that they had no choice because the situation was out of control, but said that the blockade will live with some of its soldiers for the rest of their lives.
“It was terrible, the women threw their babies over the barbed wire, asking the soldiers to take them away, some got caught in the wire,” he told me.
“I am worried about my men, I am advising some, they all cried last night.”
It seems chaotic but there is a method, the soldiers ask for interpreters when they arrive at the barricade of different nationalities, including Afghans with a valid asylum case.
Then passports and documentation are verified.
If they pass the exam, they are directed to the front door for processing. Some make it, some don’t.
Soldiers hate this, but without the proper paperwork they have to turn people away.
Terrified families: men, women and large numbers of children are returned through the barbed wire.
We saw how a girl, her parents and brothers were sent back.
Back to Afghanistan, back to the Taliban.
It was heartbreaking.
Fatima, who is not her real name, managed to break through the barricade by grabbing her daughter’s hand. You think you might have a case, but you don’t know who to talk to.
She is terrified and crying. Her husband joined the Taliban and started beating her.
She and her four-year-old son have nothing more than a letter from the UN identifying them as victims.
“Afghanistan is a Taliban. The Taliban is a terrorist. My husband is a Taliban terrorist,” she explained to me.
He begins to list countries: “United States, Canada, France, me and just my daughter …”
I asked if they were going anywhere. “Anywhere! Any country,” he said.
We mentioned his story to the officer in charge outside.
Soldiers have a reasonable degree of freedom in decision making and Major Steve White decided to enter it into the system.
“I can put it in the system, but I don’t know if the system will spit it out, but at least I can do that,” he told me.
He approached Fatima and, through another journalist who could translate, explained what he was going to do. She looked confused, but we told her to follow him.
And he led her to the queue.
It was simply an act of human kindness in all this chaos.
Fatima managed to enter. It is quite possible that Major White has saved their lives, he has undoubtedly given them the opportunity for a better one.
But there are also many sad stories.
We met a doctor from Herat with his sister and mother, and it seemed they had absolutely no right to walk through the doors.
They fled from the Taliban and are now trapped.
They are hopeful but seem desperate.
“We don’t have a brother, we don’t have a father, you know that living here is very difficult for us,” he told me.
He explained that they lived in Herat but escaped to Kabul. His uncle was part of the Taliban.
She said: “They want to force us into forced marriage. I am a doctor and my sister was working with women’s rights, she studied and my mother is a teacher, my mother was a teacher …”
Follow the daily podcast on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker
I asked if they were fleeing some danger.
“Yes, yes, we are afraid, we are afraid,” she said through tears.
I have reported on the war in Afghanistan since it started. I have been in countless incrustations with British and American soldiers, have met with the Taliban, and have seen pain and pain in Afghanistan for two decades.
The Taliban have won.
Watching the soldiers carry babies towards the gates of the compound, I can’t help but think how wasteful this has been.
And once again, a small contingent of soldiers is dealing with the mess.