Afghanistan: Kabul airport is the epicenter of a desperate and deadly rush to escape the Taliban

The airport is the epicenter of a chaotic race to flee the country for tens of thousands of people, including international workers, Afghan interpreters and women now threatened by the Taliban regime.

As of Sunday morning, the number of people at the airport waiting for a flight had risen to 18,500, with another 2,000 at the gates waiting to enter, a source familiar with the situation told CNN.

One of the reasons for the chaos was the decision to issue electronic visas to Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants without a name or document number. The visas were then copied as screenshots and sent by Afghans to thousands of other Afghans who were not eligible for access to the airport, the source said.

Conditions worsened throughout Sunday, with the airport gates mostly closed and cases of families divided and sent to different countries into chaos.

“I don’t know what they were doing, but there are always local staff fighting at the gates and can’t even get in,” a source close to the situation told CNN, referring to Afghans employed by the states. -United.

The families were separated and sent to different countries, the source added. It was “not on purpose and not really the fault of US officials, but they either choose to come separately or go their separate ways along the way,” they said.

“They’ve had instances where mom, dad and kids all end up in different countries,” the source said.

Meanwhile, the massive evacuation mission continues.

Inside the airport on Sunday, CNN saw several C-17 military jets ready for takeoff, with a massive military presence nearby. They are expected to work through the night in an effort to clear the backlog of passengers.

Outside the airport, the scene is second to none.

Thousands of people continue to gather on the perimeter of the base. Among the poignant images of families scaling the perimeter walls of the airport last week, a video of a baby being hoisted over the razor’s edge to a US Marine struck desperation on the ground.

The sick baby was treated at a Norwegian airport-based hospital and then returned to his parents, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a briefing on Friday.

Crush to escape

The area in and around Kabul airport has become increasingly perilous, with nearly 20 people believed to have died from shoving or gunfire over the past week.

Seven Afghan civilians died in crashes near Kabul airport on Saturday, a spokesman for the British Ministry of Defense (MoD) told CNN.

One crash took place outside the airport itself while another occurred outside the Baron Hotel, the spokesperson said.

“The conditions on the ground remain extremely difficult, but we are doing everything possible to handle the situation as safely and securely as possible,” said the spokesperson for the Defense Ministry.

Taliban fighters stand guard as Afghans gather outside Hamid Karzai International Airport to flee the country in Kabul, Afghanistan on Saturday, August 21.

Earlier in the week, Reuters reported that a total of 12 people had also been killed in and around the airport since the Taliban captured Kabul last Sunday. The report, which CNN was unable to independently verify, cited NATO sources and Taliban officials.

Amid deteriorating situation, two US defense officials described to CNN the military effort to establish “alternative routes” for people to get to Kabul airport and its gateways. , with one claiming that these new routes will be available to Americans, third-party nationals and skilled people. Afghans.

The Pentagon is monitoring the situation around the airport, aware that the growing crowds on the ground and around the airfield create a target for ISIS-K and other organizations, which may use car bombs or suicide bombers to attack, said the second official. Another possible threat is mortar attacks.

Evacuations in progress

The airport is one of the few escape routes outside the country. And the United States is undertaking “one of the most important and difficult airlifts in history,” US President Joe Biden said on Friday, acknowledging that despite the presence of thousands of American troops at the airport from Kabul, the situation remains dangerous.

At least 38,000 people, including Afghans and foreign nationals, have been evacuated from Afghanistan since the Taliban began their advance on Kabul, according to data analyzed by CNN on Saturday.

A reporter lucky enough to escape on a flight from Qatar told CNN he didn’t know if he was happy or heartbroken.

He had fled the country once before, when the Taliban was in power for the last time. Now he left his family and friends behind again, with no idea when – if ever – he would return to his country.

First Afghan evacuees arrive in Germany in one of the largest airlift operations in history

The United States has so far evacuated 17,000 people since August 14, a day before Kabul fell to the Taliban. Of those 17,000 people, 2,500 are US citizens, said General Hank Taylor, deputy director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for regional operations on Saturday.

Elsewhere, the British armed forces have evacuated nearly 4,000 people since August 13, the British Defense Ministry said in a tweet on Sunday.

Other countries, including Canada, Italy, Germany, France, Turkey and Australia, have also evacuated people.

At Ramstein Air Base in southwest Germany, evacuee flights arrived about every 90 minutes over the weekend. With a capacity of 5,000 people, one of the largest US air bases in Europe quickly filled up with people sheltering in temporary tents before continuing their journey to the United States.

The US military hopes to evacuate 5,000 to 9,000 people per day, but has yet to meet that target. He faces enormous challenges as he draws closer to August 31 to leave the country, and Biden has indicated that the United States may have to stay beyond that date if all Americans had not yet been evacuated.

Among those critical of the US withdrawal is former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was the leader when his country helped the United States oust the Taliban from power in 2001.

“The abandonment of Afghanistan and its people is tragic, dangerous, unnecessary, neither in their interests nor in ours,” Blair wrote on Saturday in an article published on the website of his think tank Institute for Global Change. .

He added that the decision to withdraw troops from the country had been taken “in obedience to a foolish political slogan on ending” eternal wars “.

CNN’s Sam Kiley reported from Kabul, Nick Paton Walsh from Doha and Sheena McKenzie wrote from London.

CNN’s Sarah Dean, Sharif Paget, Barbara Starr, Oren Liebermann, Ellie Kaufman and Nicole Gaouette contributed to this report.


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