The Taliban is now preventing Westerners from getting to the airport in Kabul, according to several reports Wednesday morning, and strengthening their encircling of the airport, despite pervious assurances that all foreigners would be allowed to evacuate.
A number of private flights, which normally take off from the commercial side of the airport, which are hastily trying to evacuate those who do not have access to military flights, are now confronting “growing obstacles,” according to a report from the Wall Street Journal, which states that those aircraft are “flying out of Kabul with hundreds of empty seats.”
President Biden has remained adamant that the US will pull out of the country by next Tuesday, August 31, vowing “The sooner we can finish, the better. Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops,” on Tuesday.
Contingency plans being drawn up in case deadline impossible to meet
However, the President added in his remarks at the White House yesterday that he had instructed the Pentagon and State Department to develop contingency plans in case the timeline must be adjusted at the last minute.
Meanwhile, new Taliban checkpoints set up by militants on the road to Pakistan have made driving out of the country increasingly difficult and harrowing while bureaucratic nightmares have prevented untold thousands from leaving Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, the Taliban reiterated its demand that the United States stop encouraging Afghans to leave their country.
The Daily Mail reported yesterday that the Taliban then issued an edict stating that only foreigners, not Afghans, will be able to get to the airport for evacuation, and that a spokesperson for the Islamic militants ordered local people to return to their homes.
Over the last several days there have been numerous reports from people on the ground that the Taliban has erected checkpoints that in effect stop all those trying to reach the airport area, both Afghans and foreigners alike.
August 31 deadline for US forces to leave is seven days away
In reality, there are only a few days left within the August 31 deadline to evacuate civilians from the country since it will also take time to fly out American and other allied troops who are now securing the airport. Some troops have left already.
A Washington Post editorial pointed out that Biden, in effect has accepted a series of conditions that appear to make it “much more difficult to keep the promises of evacuation he has made or strongly implied.”
“It’s a combination of tragic, surreal and apocalyptic,” the Carter Center’s Conflict Resolution Program told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s so frustrating to get high-risk people up to the gate and have them risking their lives to go there and you still can’t get them through. It’s a disaster in slow and fast motion.”
Nazarene Fund raises almost $30 million for Afghan evacuations
Private charities such as the Nazarene Fund have made enormous efforts to step into the breach and assist all those in need of evacuation, with the Fund raising a staggering $28.6 million; however, given the situation on the ground, it doesn’t matter how many jets can be brought into the country when most people are finding it nearly impossible to access the airport.
“There’s been an outpouring,” a Nazarene Fund official told an interviewer from NBC News. “It’s inspiring, but on the other hand, it is a damning reflection on the failure of the U.S. that private citizens are having to step in to do what the government with all its billions and trillions has failed to do.”
So far, although the administration has successfully rescued an estimated 4,400 US passport holders and their families, US officials believe that thousands of Americans remain on the ground in Afghanistan, facing almost insurmountable obstacles in getting pas the checkpoints to the airport.
According to the New York Times, tens of thousands of Afghans who worked for the American government over the last two decades are eligible for special visas issued just for them; desperate to leave, they are growing increasingly frantic.
The US’ Emergency Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, enacted on July 30, authorized 8,000 additional Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) for Afghan principal applicants.
Special US visas, programs for Afghans fleeing Taliban
However, Afghans who are not eligible for the special visas could still qualify for U.S. refugee resettlement if they are in third countries and fear persecution if returned to Afghanistan. The Biden administration created a new refugee category just for Afghans who worked with U.S.-based news outlets and nongovernmental groups.
CBS News reports that some lawmakers want to speed up the application process for these visas to move people out as quickly as humanly possible, before the looming deadline.
They are asking the Biden administration to use an immigration loophole known as “humanitarian parole” to allow vulnerable Afghans — including female leaders — to enter the United States without any visa at all. Those allowed to enter US soil under that provision could possibly be eligible for other immigration benefits, such as political asylum.
Biden held in contempt in UK Parliament for “shameful” actions
Meanwhile, Biden is coming under fire not only domestically but abroad as well. Last Wednesday, the UK Parliament “held Biden in contempt” for his withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan, calling his efforts “catastrophic” and “shameful.”
Several members of Parliament — including some who served alongside American soldiers in the country, accused Biden of “throwing us and everybody else to the fire” with his decision to withdraw and the manner in which it has been accomplished so far.
They then derided Biden for what they called his “shameful” criticism of the Afghan National Army, adding that it was “dishonorable” to blame Afghanistan’s fighters for the Taliban’s lightning-fast takeover of the country.
Tom Tugendhat, a British veteran of the Afghanistan war who serves as the Conservative chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, charged that “Those who have never fought for the colors they fly should be careful about criticizing those who have.”
Joe Biden is one of only a very few American presidents who have not served time in the military.
Indeed, there aren’t many heroes in the political world right now regarding Afghanistan, but that description fits the bill for all those who are helping get as many people as possible through the Kabul Airport and off to safety in other countries.
One American hero in this saga is surely the US Air Force pilot who barreled down a Kabul runway in a C-17 cargo plane on August 15, with the aircraft overloaded with 823 desperate Afghan evacuees.
The was more than double the airplane’s recommended capacity.
Asked by his copilot whether the aircraft could even lift off in the suffocating heat with so many aboard, the pilot is said by a U.S. official to have answered: “Just watch me.”