An arresting image that appears to show hundreds of Afghans packed into a US military cargo plane trying to flee Kabul has gone viral.

The picture, which was obtained by US defence and security news site Defense One, is believed to show 640 people crammed into a C-17 Globemaster III, among the highest number of people ever carried in such an aircraft.

US defence officials reportedly said the passengers – among them women and children – on the flight were safely evacuated from Kabul to Qatar on Sunday. They added that they decided to take off, despite knowing that the aeroplane was above capacity.

It comes after the world gave rapt attention to devastating scenes of chaos and panic at Kabul airport as people attempt to leave the country to escape Taliban rule.

On Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country after the Taliban stormed the capital and seized his palace. It came hours after the Taliban took control of Jalalabad, meaning they have seized every city in the country, creating fear about the kind of repressive regime they will implement.

The US, UK, Germany, Canada and other nations are seeking to evacuate their nationals from the country. Meanwhile, Afghans are similarly trying to flee.

On Monday, a Pentagon spokesman said all flights had been halted “out of an abundance of caution” as soldiers tried to clear the runways, where huge crowds had gathered. People had grabbed on to the side of planes and it was reported that three people fell to their deaths.

But the flight have now resumed.

On Tuesday, foreign secretary Dominic Raab said the situation at the airport in Kabul was “stabilising” and “we have made real progress” in getting people out of the country.

Speaking to Sky News, he said: “There has been a surge of US and UK troops. We have got 600 extra personnel there. It’s critically important not just for the stability on the ground for Afghans, but critically for our evacuation effort.

“We have made real progress, we had 150 British nationals come out on Sunday, over the last week we have also had 289 of those Afghan nationals who have served the UK so loyally in Afghanistan, and we expect over the next 24 hours to have 350 more both British nationals and Afghan nationals who have worked for us coming out.

“So the situation is stabilising, but obviously we are monitoring it very carefully.

“I do think that the airport is more stable today than it was yesterday, and we need to make sure that we consolidate that in the days ahead.”

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