Rahmat Gul / AP
The flurry of US military helicopters carrying US diplomats to Kabul airport punctuated a frenzied stampede of thousands of other foreigners and Afghans to flee to safety as well, as a surprisingly swift Taliban takeover entered the country. heart of the Afghan capital.
The United States was temporarily dumping thousands of new troops into the country to protect what was shaping up to be a full-scale airlift. He announced on Sunday evening that he was taking over air traffic control at the airport, even as he lowered the flag at the United States Embassy.
Sporadic gunfire at Kabul International Airport on Sunday frightened Afghan families fearful of the Taliban regime and desperate for flights, in an increasingly chaotic and compressed evacuation. NATO allies who pulled out before the Biden administration’s August 31 withdrawal deadline also rushed troops over the weekend, to airlift their citizens.
Some have complained that the United States is not acting quickly enough to bring to safety Afghans threatened with retaliation from the Taliban for their past work with the Americans and other NATO forces.
“This is a murder of incompetence,” said US Air Force veteran Sam Lerman, who was struggling from his home in Woodbridge, Va. On Sunday to find a way out for an Afghan contractor who had been keeping records. Americans and other NATO forces at Afghan Bagram Air Base for some time. decade.
Massouma Tajik, a 22-year-old data analyst, was among hundreds of Afghans waiting anxiously at Kabul airport to board an evacuation flight.
“I see people crying, they don’t know if their robbery will happen or not. Me neither,” she said over the phone, panic in her voice.
Educated Afghan women have the most to lose under the fundamentalist Taliban, whose previous government, overthrown by the US-led invasion in 2001, sought to largely confine women to the home.
Taliban forces moved to a fear-ridden capital on Sunday morning and said they awaited a peaceful surrender, ending a sweeping sweep of Afghanistan over the past week.
This arrival of the first waves of Taliban insurgents in Kabul prompted the United States to evacuate the embassy building entirely, leaving only Acting Ambassador Ross Wilson and a core of other diplomats operating at the airport. Even as CH-47 helicopters transported US diplomats to the airport and faced criticism at home over the administration’s handling of the withdrawal, Secretary of State Antony Blinken dismissed comparisons to the fall of Saigon in 1975.
“It’s done in a very deliberate way, it’s done in an orderly fashion,” Blinken insisted on ABC’s “This Week.”
A joint statement from the US State and Defense Departments pledged Sunday evening to expel thousands of Americans, local embassy staff and other “particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals” from the country. He gave no details, but prominent Afghan women, journalists and Afghans who have worked with Western governments and nonprofits are among those who fear the Taliban will be targeted for means. or suspected western links.
The statement promised to speed up visa processing for Afghans who used to work with US troops and officials in particular. Highlighting the difficulty of the United States in getting these Afghans out before the Taliban, the statement could only assure that “we will find” other countries to take in some of these Afghans.
To many, however, evacuations and last-minute rescue attempts by Americans and other foreigners trying to rescue Afghan allies seemed far from orderly.
Italian journalist Francesca Mannocchi posted video of an Italian helicopter transporting her to the airport, an armed soldier standing guard at a window. Mannochi described observing columns of smoke rising from Kabul as she flew. Some were from fires that U.S. Embassy workers and others used to prevent sensitive documents from falling into the hands of the Taliban.
She said the Afghans stoned an Italian convoy. She captioned her brief video: “Kabul Airport. Evacuation. Game Over.”
Hundreds or more of Afghans have crammed into part of the airport, far from most of the evacuating Westerners. Some of them, including a man with a broken leg sitting on the ground, lined up for what was to be a final flight for the country’s Ariana Airlines.
US officials reported gunfire near the airport on Sunday evening and urged civilians to stop coming. U.S. military officials later announced the airport’s closure to commercial flights, closing one of the last escape routes for ordinary Afghans.
American C-17 transport planes were to bring thousands of fresh American soldiers to the airport and then leave with the evacuation of American embassy personnel. The Pentagon was now sending 1,000 more troops, bringing the total to around 6,000, a US defense official said on Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a deployment decision yet to be announced by the Pentagon. .
The Pentagon intends to have enough planes to carry up to 5,000 civilians per day, both Americans and Afghan translators and others who worked with the United States during the war.
But tens of thousands of Afghans who have worked with the United States and other NATO forces are seeking to flee with family members. And it was not at all clear how long the deterioration of security in Kabul would allow the evacuations to continue.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose government was one of many to marvel at the speed of the US withdrawal, told reporters in Berlin on Sunday that it was “hard to bear” to see how How quickly the Taliban took control of Afghanistan and how much the government troops were able to do to stop them.
At a North Carolina-based adoption agency, Mary Beth Lee King looked for a way to free two Afghan boys, aged 11 and 2, to be adopted by American families.
“I am terrified and heartbroken. I can only imagine how they themselves feel,” King said of the foster parents of the Afghan children and families.
“Even if the United States does not admit them to the United States, take them somewhere, so that (…) we know that they are alive and safe,” she said of the two Afghan children.
In Virginia, Lerman, the veteran of the Air Force, stayed awake from Saturday to Sunday to complete an application for a special U.S. visa intended to save Afghans who had worked with Americans.
When Lerman hit “send,” he received a message that the State Department’s email box for the rescue program was full, he said, sharing screenshots.
The Afghan security contractor he worked for sat frightened inside his house with the blinds drawn and Taliban fighters outside, he said.
The State Department said Sunday afternoon that it believed it fixed the issue.
“Never in my life have I been ashamed to be an American before,” said Lerman. “And I am, deep.”