The Taliban are reportedly preventing Afghans from entering Kabul International Airport to flee the country in breach of their commitments to the US, a Biden government official said Wednesday.
This confirmation at a press conference came shortly after the US embassy in Kabul alerted people that it could not provide “safe passage” to the capital’s airport, where Islamist militants had overthrown the US-backed Afghan government with astonishing speed.
Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will address the situation in Afghanistan at the State Department in Washington, DC on August 18, 2021.
Andrew Harnik | Pool via Reuters
Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) And Mitt Romney (R-UT) urged the US not to forget journalists and aid workers in Afghanistan.
In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, they said that around 200 journalists and aid workers and their families still want to evacuate Afghanistan. “Please make sure that journalists and support staff are not forgotten in the further evacuation flights,” said the senators.
Speaking at the Wednesday afternoon briefing, Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said, “We have seen reports that, contrary to their public statements and commitments to our government, the Taliban are preventing Afghans who want to leave the country from entering the airport.”
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The US military in Kabul and a team in Qatar are “working directly with the Taliban to make it clear that we expect them to safely and free from harassment to all American citizens, all third-country nationals and all Afghans who choose to do so allow”. “Said Sherman.
She added that “so far the Taliban’s commitment to safe passage for Americans has been solid,” although she noted that she did not know about “every case”.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin admitted on Wednesday, however, that the military is currently unable to safely escort Americans in Kabul to the airport for evacuation.
“I don’t have the ability to expand operations to Kabul right now,” Austin said.
About 2,000 people have been evacuated in the past 24 hours, Sherman said, with more than 4,840 processed for evacuation in the past few days.
Taliban fighters patrol the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday, August 18, 2021.
Rahmat Gül | AP
The Biden administration has come under increasing criticism for the chaos in Afghanistan, where the Taliban took control just weeks before the US ended its military presence after nearly two decades of war.
Even President Joe Biden’s Democratic allies called for an investigation into the government’s handling of the withdrawal.
The rapid advance of the insurgents took the US by surprise and sparked panic scenes at Hamid Karzai International Airport when thousands of Afghans stormed the runway, some still holding onto planes as they took off.
About 4,500 US soldiers were stationed at the airport to facilitate the evacuation. Some troops have reportedly fired warning shots into the air to control the crowd.
“The events and pictures of the past week were shocking for all of us,” said Sherman at the briefing, describing the situation as “extremely challenging and fluid”.
“This is an all-man-on-deck effort and we are not going to let up,” she said.
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Sherman was also questioned about a security alert from the US Embassy in Kabul early Wednesday warning that “US government-provided flights are departing” and that all US citizens and lawful residents, their spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 may operate Years old, “should consider traveling to Hamid Karzai International Airport.”
But, the warning said in capital letters, the US “cannot guarantee a safe passage” to the airport.
Sherman said she has not seen any reports of Americans being “harassed or harassed” or prevented from getting to the airport.