As the U.S. fought on Wednesday, Aug. 18, to bring order to the continued pandemonium at the Kabul airport, educated young women, former U.S. military interpreters, and other Afghans most at risk from the Taliban appealed to the Biden administration to get them aboard evacuation aircraft.
Afghans at risk due to their work with the U.S. military or U.S. organizations, and Americans scrambling to get them out, pleaded with Washington to remove the red tape. Otherwise, they believe thousands of vulnerable Afghans will be stranded if U.S. forces leave in the coming days as planned, AP News reported.
“If we don’t sort this out, we’ll literally be condemning people to death,” said Marina Kielpinski LeGree, the American head of a nonprofit, Ascend. The organization’s young Afghan female colleagues were among the crowds waiting for flights at the airport following days of mayhem, tear gas, and bullets.
President Joe Biden and his top officials said the United States was working to expedite the evacuation. Still, they didn’t say how long it would take or how many people would be evacuated. “We don’t have the capability to go out and collect large numbers of people,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters, adding that evacuations would continue “until the clock runs out or we run out of capability.”
One of the last chances to flee the Taliban may close when Biden’s planned evacuation by Aug. 31 is completed.
The United States has deployed troops, transport planes, and commanders to the airport to protect it, get Taliban assurances of safe passage, and expand an airlift capable of transporting 5,000 to 9,000 passengers each day.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman addressed the United States’ all-out effort to send Afghans and allies to safety. At a State Department press briefing, Sherman stated, “This is an all-hands-on-deck effort and we’re aren’t going to let up.”
Currently, Taliban fighters and checkpoints encircle the airport, creating impediments for Afghans who believe their previous collaboration with Westerners makes them insurgent targets. Afghans who had gotten past the Taliban were confronted by Americans manning the airport complex.
Hoping to secure seats on an airlift are American citizens and other foreigners, Afghan allies of the Western forces, and women, journalists, activists, and others most at risk from the fundamentalist Taliban.
According to the Pentagon, senior U.S. military officers, including Navy Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, are speaking with Taliban commanders about checkpoints and curfews that have limited the amount of Americans and Afghans who can enter the airport.
In recent days, the U.S. government issued emails to some American citizens, green card holders and their families, and others, advising them to go to the airport and expect to wait.
“People are going to die,” said Air Force veteran Sam Lerman. He claimed he was assisting a former Afghan military contractor who had received an email from the State Department directing him to the airport. However, according to Lerman, U.S. Marines at the airport’s entry turned back the Afghan contractor on Wednesday, informing him he didn’t have the proper documentation.
Hundreds of Afghans arrived at the airport without papers or promises of flights, contributing to the turmoil. The fact that many Taliban members were uneducated and couldn’t read the paperwork didn’t help matters.
A White House official said Wednesday night that the U.S. military had evacuated about 6,000 individuals since Saturday, Aug. 14. Afghans have rushed onto the tarmac as a result of the unrest. Some people appear to have died while clinging to a departing American C-17 transport plane in one case.
The United States has refused to estimate how many American people remain in Afghanistan and need to flee.
According to Rebecca Heller, the head of the U.S.–based International Refugee Assistance Program, over 100,000 Afghans were seeking evacuation through a visa program designed to provide sanctuary to Afghans who had worked with Americans as well as family members. Her group was one of many pleading with the United States to speed up visa processing.
Heller claimed she heard from an Afghan customer that the Taliban had slain five Afghan interpreters in the last two days because of their previous cooperation with Americans.
Heller played an appeal that she claimed was taped by a female Afghan customer. The Associated Press has withheld the woman’s name for her safety. She has been waiting for the United States to act on her visa application for three years.
“The only hope in this moment I have is the U.S. government,” the Afghan woman said. “Please, U.S. government … please stop promising. Please, start taking action. As immediately as you can.”
However, refugee advocacy groups point to a years-long backlog of visa applications.
A mission to transport former Afghan translators and others whose visa applications were nearing completion to the United States only managed to bring in approximately half of the 4,000 Afghans expected before the Taliban took over.
A separate visa scheme intended to fly out civil society individuals most at risk from the Taliban was hampered from the start, partially due to a U.S. demand that Afghans apply outside of Afghanistan—a trip that the Taliban sweep made impossible for most.
Biden has defended his choice to stop the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan, which began after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and has denied responsibility for the ensuing instability. Instead, Biden attributed the Taliban’s control and the frenzied fleeing of the country to Afghans themselves.