US Working With Taliban to Fly Out Evacuees
The State Department says there are still around 100 Americans stuck in the country after the U.S. evacuation mission ended one week ago. But some are pegging that number much higher—at around 500 Americans stranded in Afghanistan.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday assured people that the United States is still working with the Taliban to get more people out.
Taliban making good on promises to let out Afghans: US
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that the Taliban were making good on promises to let out Afghans as he heard firsthand concerns on the country’s future during a trip to Qatar.
Blinken met Afghan evacuees and US teams processing them on a two-day visit to Qatar, the transit point for nearly half of the more than 120,000 people airlifted from Afghanistan since the Taliban’s lightning takeover on August 15. President Joe Biden has faced mounting pressure from activists and Republican rivals who say the Taliban have been preventing several hundred people, including Americans, from flying out of the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on charter flights scheduled over the past week.
But Blinken said the United States had been in touch again Tuesday with the Taliban who promised to let Afghans “freely depart” — a key test as the United States weighs whether to work with a future government in Afghanistan led by the Islamists.
“We are not aware of anyone being held on an aircraft or any hostage-like situation in Mazar-i-Sharif,” Blinken told a news conference in Doha where he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met their Qatari opposite numbers. “We have been assured, again, that all American citizens and Afghan citizens with valid travel documents will be allowed to leave,” Blinken said. “We intend to hold the Taliban to that.” He said the United States was seeking to resolve problems with charter flights including security screening and some passengers’ lack of identification.
He said the Taliban cooperated Monday when a family of four US citizens left overland, the first such departure arranged by the US government after the chaotic end to the 20-year US war. Qatar told Blinken it was moving quickly with Turkey to restore the ramshackle Kabul airport, a move that would allow more people to leave and humanitarian supplies to come in. Blinken and Austin voiced appreciation to Qatar’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, and toured the Al Udeid military air base outside Doha which became the busiest point of entry for evacuated Afghans. In an aircraft hangar ventilated to protect from the searing desert heat, Blinken walked past some 200 green cots – now empty as Afghans moved out – and tables where US troops distributed water, baby formula and nappies.
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On Qatar visit amid Taliban takeover, US Secy Blinken meets Deputy PM; lauds ties
Days after the United States ended its evacuation operation in Afghanistan, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US State Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin on Tuesday, September 7, met Deputy Prime Minister of Qatar Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani and Qatar Minister of state for defence Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiyah. Blinken thanked the leadership of Qatar for their efforts in facilitating the safe passage of evacuees from Afghanistan. Blinken said that more than 58,000 people have transited through Doha.
Blinken meets Deputy PM of Qatar
The leaders discussed Afghanistan and their efforts to promote regional security. Blinken in the joint press conference expressed gratitude to the Qatari people. US Secretary of State praised the extraordinary efforts of Qatar leadership in facilitating the evacuation of people from the war-ravaged nation. Blinken said that more than 58,000 people which included Americans, Afghans, citizens of allies and partner nations have transited through Doha.
Furthermore, he noted that Qatar has time and again been the partner to the US. Blinken said that for years, Qatar has facilitated diplomacy between the Taliban and the Afghan Government in order to bring the conflict to a peaceful resolution. In addition, Blinken praised the diplomacy of Qatar and Turkey in their efforts to “help the airport in Kabul up and running again”. Blinken further said that the “countries will continue to closely coordinate, as we have for the past several weeks, to keep the relocation effort moving forward as smoothly and as swiftly as possible”.
“Many countries have stepped up to help the evacuation and relocation efforts in Afghanistan, but no country has done more than Qatar”, Blinken said in the joint press conference.
“The strongest relationship that we have and that we and Qatar have built through this evacuation and relocation effort I know is going to pay continued dividends across these and so many other key areas in the months and years ahead. What Qatar has done here for Americans, for Afghans, for citizens of many other countries will be remembered for a long, long time”, Blinken added.
Speaking at the joint press conference, Foreign Minister Al Thani said that they discussed developments on the humanitarian level and the technical level. They discussed the evacuation of foreign nationals and Afghanis from Kabul. The leaders emphasised the importance of “keeping humanitarian corridors open and the freedom of movement from Afghanistan to be secured”. They also urged the Taliban to work with them to “expedite this process”.
Blinken and Austin also visited Al Udeid Base, which was the largest Afghanistan-related evacuation site across the world. They also expressed gratitude to diplomats, troops, interagency partners, and the government of Qatar for receiving about half of all individuals evacuated from Afghanistan in Doha. US State Secretary Antony Blinken visited a housing complex where Qatar hosted hundreds of evacuees. Blinken expressed gratitude to Assistant Foreign Minister of Qatar Lolwah Al-Khater for her leadership. He also met several remarkable women & girls of the Afghan Robotics Team.
.@SecDef and I visited Al Udeid Base, which was the largest Afghanistan-related evacuation site worldwide helping more than 57,000 individuals transit through Doha. We remain committed to helping all evacuees from Kabul reach their final destination. pic.twitter.com/bUlZGHQMn0
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) September 7, 2021
.@SecDef and I thanked our diplomats, troops, interagency partners, and the government of Qatar for receiving almost half of all individuals evacuated from Afghanistan in Doha. We couldn’t have done this historic air lift without their 24/7 efforts. pic.twitter.com/i1UBKOknyb
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) September 7, 2021
During a visit to a housing complex where Qatar hosted hundreds of evacuees, I expressed gratitude to Asst FM @Lolwah_Alkhater for her leadership. I was honored to meet several remarkable women & girls of the Afghan Robotics Team. Their journeys & STEM aspirations are inspiring. pic.twitter.com/wkv9a2ulV5
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) September 7, 2021
Afghanistan evacuees plead for action: ‘We are in some kind of jail’
By ELLEN KNICKMEYER, MATTHEW LEE and ROBERT BURNS
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Americans trying to evacuate hundreds of Afghans and American citizens — including one Afghan who worked as a U.S. military translator and says he is anticipating his beheading by the Taliban — pleaded for action from the Biden administration to get the would-be evacuees aboard charter flights that are standing by to fly them from Afghanistan.
“Unfortunately we are left behind now,” the former translator said quietly in the pre-dawn darkness Wednesday in Afghanistan. “No one heard our voice.”
The man, whose identity The Associated Press withheld for his security, said he was running out of money to keep his family housed in a hotel in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, after waiting a week for Taliban permission for the chartered evacuation flights to leave the airport there.
U.S. Army veterans working to help the man, an interpreter for U.S. forces for 15 years, called the effort more grinding than their months of deployment in Afghanistan. They tried and failed to get their old interpreter on the earlier airlifts that ended with the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan Aug. 30.
“I hope we can help them out, and get them out of this mess,” said a retired Army colonel, Thomas McGrath, one of the veterans trying to help his former interpreter.
Hundreds of vulnerable Afghans are waiting for permission from Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers to board prearranged charter flights standing by at the airport in Mazar-e-Sharif.
The group includes dozens of American citizens and green card holders and their families, the Afghans and their American advocates say.
“We think we are in some kind of jail,” said one Afghan woman among the would-be evacuees gathered at one large hotel in Mazar-e-Sharif.
She described the Americans and green-card holders in their group as elderly parents of Afghan-American citizens in the United States.
Taliban leaders, who named a new Cabinet Tuesday in the wake of their lightning takeover of most of the country last month, say they will allow people with proper documents to leave the country. Taliban officials insist they are currently going through the manifests, and passenger documents, for the charter flights at Mazar-e-Sharif.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday the U.S. was working with the Taliban to resolve the standoff over the charter flights.
He rejected an assertion from a Republican lawmaker, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, over the weekend that the standoff at Mazar-e-Sharif was turning into a “hostage situation” for American citizens in the group.
“We’ve been assured all American citizens and Afghan citizens with valid travel documents will be allowed to leave,” Blinken said in Doha, Qatar, a major transit point for last month’s frantic U.S. military-led evacuations from Afghanistan.
Later Tuesday, 12 Democratic lawmakers added to the pressure for evacuees, in a letter urging the administration to disclose its plans for getting out all of the hundreds of at-risk people remaining in Afghanistan, and not just American citizens.
“Our staff have been working around the clock responding to urgent pleas from constituents whose families and colleagues are seeking to flee Afghanistan, and they urgently require timely, post-withdrawal guidance to best assist those in need,” Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Zoe Lofgren, Gerald Connolly and nine other lawmakers from President Joe Biden’s party wrote.
Blinken, in Doha, said the Taliban had told U.S. officials that the problem in Mazar-e-Sharif was that passengers with valid travel documents were mixed in with those without the right travel papers.
The Afghan woman contacted at the hotel — an employee of a U.S.-based nonprofit, Ascend, that works with Afghan women and girls — also spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity for her security. She said those in her group have proper passports and visas, but the Taliban are blocking them from entering the airport.
Like the interpreter, she said she has been waiting for eight days.
At one point last week, alarm spread through the women’s side of her hotel in the city when warnings came that the Taliban were searching the would-be evacuees on the men’s side, and had taken some away.
“I am scared if they split us and not let us leave,” she said. “If we can’t get out of here, something wrong will happen. And I am afraid of that.”
The former U.S. military interpreter, at the hotel with his family of eight children and wife, said he would expect beheading by the Taliban given his work with the U.S. military, and based on what rights groups say are past Taliban attacks on Afghan civilians who have worked with U.S. forces.
“They’ll probably kill him,” McGrath agreed, expressing fear for the man’s children as well.
The interpreter had always told his American comrades that he believed his work with them was in service of his own country, the retired colonel said. “He put a lot on the line by lining up with us,” McGrath said.
An array of Americans — many of them with some past experience in Afghanistan, or other ties — have been working for weeks to try to help evacuate at-risk Afghans. Much of that effort is focused now on the planes in Mazar-e-Sharif.
Some of those Americans pushing for U.S. action said Tuesday they fear the Biden administration will help out American citizens and leave behind green card holders, Afghans who used to work with Americans, and others whose work has left them vulnerable, including journalists, women’s advocates and rights workers.
“The game changed partway through,” said Marina LeGree, the American head of Ascend.
Private organizers of the flights complain the State Department and other U.S. agencies have been slow or outright unresponsive to pleas for help despite assurances that Washington would work with the Taliban and others to get people out.
On Monday, the State Department said it had helped a family of four U.S. citizens escape Afghanistan via a land route.
Alex Plitsas, a representative of a group called Digital Dunkirk, which is serving as an umbrella group for several organizations arranging the private evacuation efforts since the completion of the U.S. military withdrawal, welcomed Blinken’s words.
“Our men and women in uniform and diplomats on the ground in Kabul did a fantastic job” with the military-run evacuation last month, Plitsas said. “Now it’s time to bring the last remaining folks home.”
Knickmeyer contributed from Oklahoma City and Burns from Doha.