Thousands of Afghans were packed Thursday between Taliban checkpoints and a US-imposed ring of steel around Kabul's main airport, desperate to get aboard any flight out following the return of the hardline Islamist group.
Even more were mobbing foreign embassy compounds in the capital, as rumors spread that visas were up for grabs or safe passage on offer at least as far as the airport.
Unconfirmed reports on social media say several people have been killed as US forces and the Taliban struggle to contain the desperate throngs on their respective sides of an unofficial no-man's land.
"I went to the airport with my kids and family... the Taliban and Americans were shooting," said one man who until recently had worked for a foreign NGO.
"Despite that, people were still moving forward (to get in) because they knew a situation worse than death awaited them outside the airport."
There have been chaotic scenes since the weekend, when the Taliban drove unopposed into the capital after a two-week lightning offensive that capped a simmering 20-year insurgency.
Distressing pictures and video have emerged of people desperately trying to get aboard any flight leaving -- even resorting to climbing on a US military Hercules as it rolled down the runway for take-off.
Some semblance of order has been restored, but thousands have been left stranded between the Taliban and US lines -- clinging to an unrealistic hope that they will be let in and evacuated.
Many do have visas for a foreign destination -- and say they were promised evacuations -- but they simply can't get in.
"I spoke to my friend who is there and he has a letter from Spain