T-shirts depicting Afghans falling from US aircraft being sold online

·3 min read
This image, courtesy of the US Air Force, shows the inside of a C-17 Globemaster III flown from Kabul to Qatar with 640 Afghans on board on 15 August 2021 (US Airforce/AFP via Getty Images)
This image, courtesy of the US Air Force, shows the inside of a C-17 Globemaster III flown from Kabul to Qatar with 640 Afghans on board on 15 August 2021 (US Airforce/AFP via Getty Images)

An offensive T-shirt that appears to mock those who fell to their deaths from a US military aircraft in Afghanistan this week is being sold online on several e-commerce platforms.

Scenes of chaos had erupted at Kabul Airport on Monday after thousands of people crowded the runway and attempted to get on to military planes that were evacuating the nationals of western countries, including the US, and their allies.

At least seven people died in the ensuing chaos, which came the day after the Taliban took control of the national capital Kabul and the presidential palace.

The desperation of those gathered at the airport to leave Afghanistan culminated in scenes of people chasing moving aircraft along the runway and videos showing some people clambering up onto and clinging to the wheels of jets about to take off.

At least two people were seen falling to their deaths mid-flight from a C-17 Globemaster military plane in one of the videos, encapsulating the horror of the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan.

Some e-commerce websites have since begun selling a number of T-shirt designs referencing the horrific incident, and have been met with a near-immediate backlash online. One of the designs showed an aircraft similar to the C-17 and two people in free fall, with the words “Kabul Skydiving Club. Est. 2021” printed alongside the image.

Social media users drew attention to the offensive T-shirt designs and sales listings on Twitter. While several were hosted by relatively niche e-commerce sites, one was being sold via a link on the popular American shopping website Etsy, which serves as a platform for independent sellers to run their own shops.

“As Afghans are fleeing and clinging to planes out of desperation, someone decided to capitalise on their pain and misery with this repulsive T-shirt,” Holly Dagres, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, said in a tweet.

The listing has since been taken down by Etsy, and a spokesperson for the website said this was done as soon as the item was brought to their attention. The website also promised to monitor for additional listings of the same design, saying such sales breached Etsy’s rules on violent items, including those that glorify human suffering or tragedies.

Some online memes referencing the tragedy have also emerged on social media.

“People are creating memes on Afghans’ situation and my mutuals are liking the tweet,” wrote Twitter user Suman Sidhu. “How is someone’s tragedy funny for you?” she asked in her tweet, posting an image of one such meme.

Human remains were later found in the wheel well of one of the US’s C-17 planes that was on an evacuation mission out of Afghanistan.

The plane had diverted to a nearby country after its crew could not put up their landing gear and declared an emergency, according to the newspaper.

A body was then found in the aircraft’s wheel well during an inspection.

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