The Airlift From Afghanistan Is Continuing, Amid Threats and Widespread Criticism

The US is evacuating Americans and some Afghans but thousands still wait to escape.

U.S. Marines face Afghans hoping to join evacuees at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.Lance Cpl. Nicholas Guevara/U.S. Marine Corps via AP

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Amid threats, delays, chaotic scenes, and a cascade of criticism, the US military is evacuating thousands of people from Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s August 15 takeover of Kabul. 

About 18,000 people have now been evacuated from Kabul since July, President Joe Biden said Friday, in what he described as “one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history.” CNN reported Saturday that there are still about 14,000 outside the airport, crowded outside the airports concrete, razor-wire topped barriers. Many are Afghan civilians who may be unable to obtain visas allowing them to escape.

An uncertain number of US citizens, estimated to be as high as 15,000, are in the country, many far from the airport without any safe way to get there. The US military is gathering some Americans and “possibly other civilians” outside the airport, the Associated Press reported Saturday. Three US CH-47 Chinook helicopters, for example, airlifted 169 Americans gathered at a Kabul hotel to the airport Thursday. The AP quoted a senior US official who said that US forces are devising new ways to get evacuees to the airport amid “potential Islamic threats against Americans.”

Biden and his administration have faced widespread attacks for Kabul’s rapid fall and the apparent lack of preparation by US forces to evacuate American citizens and Afghans who assisted US forces. But despite some deaths and reported instances of Taliban reprisal efforts, the evacuation, so far, is proceeding without the amount of violence many feared. That is due in part to the US coordinating with the Taliban, which claims to be allowing their safe exit.

The complexity of the evacuation effort was highlighted by an hours-long delay in Air Force flights Friday resulting from overcrowding at a staging base in Qatar. The State Department said Friday that Bahrain, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Qatar, Tajikistan, Turkey, the UAE, the United Kingdom and Uzbekistan have agreed to temporarily host Americans, and in some cases other citizens, who are fleeing Afghanistan.

The US military has said it aims to evacuate 5,000 to 9,000 people per day, but has not met that goal so far. The military hopes to pull out the thousands of troops at the Kabul airport by August 31.

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