Military Tear Gasses Crowd At Kabul Airport As US Struggles To Ramp Up Evacuation Effort
While the State Department has warned the thousands of Americans still in Afghanistan that they are on their own when it comes to finding safe passage to the Kabul airport, which remained mobbed on Thursday, as it has been for the prior five days as thousands of Afghans and foreigners attempt to flee as the Taliban retake control of the country, WSJ.
Even after the US sent thousands of soldiers to secure the airport while evacuations continue, many Afghan passengers, including those with SIVs (Special Immigrant Visas) are still finding it next-to impossible to get out.
A man who has an approved SIV gave up entering Kabul Airport after over 24 hours attempt. “We were stuck between the aggression of the Taliban and U.S. forces in the gate,” said the man. “I don’t know if I will ever be able to get out.”@SaeedShah and I report. https://t.co/Z7U46fibyx
— Ehsanullah Amiri (@euamiri) August 20, 2021
The US has tried to accelerate what has been an insanely chaotic evacuation process by rushing thousands of troops and diplomats to the Kabul airport, the last place in Afghanistan under Nato control. Americans are in constant contact with their Taliban counterparts (whom they just finished battling for 20 years) to ensure evacuees can reach the airport. But even this isn’t enough. As the NYT put it, “the reassurances from Washington belie the fear and futility on the ground.”
While the violence and gunshots have temporarily subsided, WSJ reports that military personnel fired tear gas into the crowds of Afghans trying to enter the airport on Friday, despite the Pentagon’s promise to “restore order” at the airport. The three entry gates to the airport remain blocked.
Videos have shown women, children – even babies – being hoisted over the airport’s blast walls and tangles of razor wire to US soldiers on the other side. One particularly striking image of a baby being passed over the wall is making the rounds on social media.
— Catherine Herridge (@CBS_Herridge) August 20, 2021
Meanwhile, at least two US officials have described growing impatience within the Biden Administration over the State Department’s inability to process visas more quickly. Because of these delays, and the difficulty of reaching the airport, some flights with Afghans are leaving while only partly full.
As of Thursday afternoon – the most recent count available – the American military had evacuated 7K Americans, Afghans and others since Saturday. That’s well short of the 5K to 9K passengers a day that the military will be able to fly out once the evacuation is at full throttle, officials said.
As one policy wonk complained to the NYT, the chaos at the airport “could have been avoided” if the Biden Administration had simply factored evacuations into its plans for pulling out American troops.
“There are tens of thousands of Americans and Afghans literally at the gate,” said Sunil Varghese, the policy director for the International Refugee Assistance Project. “This could have been completely avoided if evacuation was part of the military withdrawal.”
Other western countries are having more success exfiltrating their citizens and Afghans granted residency status partly because they’re using special forces and others to guide passengers to the airport, ensuring they can easily get inside and make their flights. After a German was shot Friday trying to enter the airport, Germany has dispatched armed helicopters to ferry Germans to the airport, though they would only be deployed in “extraordinary circumstances.” France meanwhile has sent three transport planes to Kabul along with special forces to escort French nationals to the airport. The British have succeeded in evacuating 963 people from Kabul over the past 24 hours. But with time running out, and the process of getting people to the airport remaining “immensely difficult,” one British commander told WSJ that there’s still a strong possibility that some people will be left behind.
“Eventually the air bridge will have to close and quite possibly not everybody will have been got out. That’s what keeps us awake at night. That’s what’s motivating to us to work as hard as we are to ensure that those numbers are the absolute minimum,” he said.
Will we hear a similar admission from President Biden during his planned address to the nation Friday afternoon? We think that’s doubtful. But it doesn’t mean it won’t happen…
Fri, 08/20/2021 – 10:29