This satellite image from Planet Labs shows people on the tarmac at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 16, 2021. Planet Labs, Inc./AP
The State Department on Wednesday sent a notice to the thousands of locally employed staff at the Kabul embassy telling them that they can come to the airport for evacuation flights, according to the message reviewed by CNN.
Some of the Afghans who made it into the airport were bloody and mentally distraught, having lost most of their belongings along the way, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
But some decided they didn’t even want to pursue the perilous journey even though they desperately want to get out of the country, multiple sources told CNN. Others who did take the dangerous risk had to turn back after facing an untenable situation.
“I decided I would rather the Taliban shoot me in the head to being stuck in that situation,” said one Afghan who worked at the embassy for years in describing his journey to CNN.
He went to the airport with his family, including small children, at 4 a.m. local time only to get caught in a horde of thousands of people on the outskirts of the airport which left him fearing for his life. He watched as his 2-year-old son grew dehydrated and men tried to inappropriately touch his wife. The gates remained closed for too long.
“We had to go home,” the Afghan said, describing people with guns and knives in the mass of people. “I will not go back. The Americans left me in a very bad situation. They know it. They put our family’s lives in risk.”
The US military is in communication with the local Taliban commander on the ground in Kabul, and they are discussing “making sure that those at-risk Afghans, Special Immigrant Visa applicants and additional Afghan citizens that we want to move through are able to move through,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Thursday during an on-camera briefing.
Kirby noted the reports of some hostile Taliban actions towards Afghans on the way to the airport, but by and large US officials are saying that the Taliban are largely keeping their commitment to ensure safe passage and pointing to the evidence: the Afghans and Americans who have been able to get to the airport.
President Biden said yesterday that the US is looking at evacuating between 50,000 and 65,000 Afghans in total, a figure that includes the Afghan visa and refugee applicants plus their families.
Biden did not commit to keeping the US troop presence at the Kabul airport until that number of Afghans are evacuated but he did say that the US troop presence would stay in place until all Americans who want to get out of the country are out.