Many Afghans and Americans are attempting to find their way to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, the last hope for them to escape a war-torn nation. However, the Taliban, which has taken over the country, is reportedly blocking people from reaching the Kabul airport.
Even people who have the necessary documents to travel were prevented from entering the airport compound. “It’s a complete disaster. The Taliban were firing into the air, pushing people, beating them with AK47s,” one person told Reuters.
A Taliban official said to the media outlet that some of their soldiers and commanders had fired in the air to disperse people who had gathered outside the airport and that they have “no intention to injure anyone.”
According to a report published by Los Angeles Times, the Taliban used rifles, sticks, and ropes to beat women and children attempting to flee via the airport. Guns were fired indiscriminately into the air. A dozen people were wounded, with a woman and child covered in blood. A North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) officer confirmed that 17 individuals were injured inside the airport.
In an Aug.18 press briefing, U.S. Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman revealed that the U.S. military had evacuated more than 4,480 people out of Afghanistan. Calling the situation on the ground “enormously challenging and fluid,” she said that the State Department was engaged in an “all hands on deck effort.” Sherman admitted that the Taliban was preventing Afghans from escaping the nation.
“We have seen reports that the Taliban, contrary to their public statements and their commitments to our government, are blocking Afghans who wish to leave the country from reaching the airport. Our team in Doha and our military partners on the ground in Kabul are engaging directly with the Taliban to make clear that we expect them to allow all American citizens, all third-country nationals, and all Afghans who wish to leave to do so safely and without harassment,” Sherman said at the briefing.
In a security alert issued on Aug. 18, the U.S. embassy in Kabul also stated that the American government could not ensure safe passage to the Hamid Karzai airport.
However, the Pentagon contradicted these statements, with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, telling reporters that the Taliban is guaranteeing safe passage to American citizens. According to Milley, the situation at the Kabul airport is stable and the Taliban are not interfering with the activities of the U.S. military.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan also stated that the Taliban had committed to offering safe passage to those wishing to leave the country.
The U.S. aims to double the number of consular officers on the ground at Kabul to ensure that the maximum number of people can be evacuated.
In an interview with ABC News, President Joe Biden said there is a possibility of extending the U.S. troop withdrawal deadline past Aug. 31.
“Americans should understand that we’re gonna try to get it done before Aug. 31… If we don’t… We’ll determine at the time who’s left… If there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay to get them all out,” Biden said.
However, a report by The Washington Post states that the Biden administration has no plans to evacuate Americans outside of Kabul due to Taliban-controlled checkpoints surrounding the capital city. Officials are unsure of the exact number of Americans remaining outside Kabul. In total, they estimate around 10,000 to 15,000 American citizens. In addition, around 50,000 to 65,000 Afghans and their families are also awaiting U.S. evacuation.
Biden defended his decisions regarding the Afghan withdrawal, saying that the problems unfolding now were inevitable. The president said that the Taliban were cooperating to get Americans out of the country. However, Washington is “having some more difficulty” in evacuating Afghan nationals, according to Biden.
Media outlets such as Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post have pleaded with the White House to evacuate over 200 journalists and affiliated people.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced that civilian pilots and domestic carriers can fly to Kabul to carry out transport operations, provided they have prior approval from the Defense Department. There has not yet been any indication of whether the Defense Department will make use of U.S. carriers to transport the thousands awaiting evacuation.