Is Taliban holding 20,000 US bound people hostage? Evacuation flights return empty from Kabul

Washington has pledged to ferry out at least 20,000 people at a rate of 9,000 per day


                            Is Taliban holding 20,000 US bound people hostage? Evacuation flights return empty from Kabul
(Image used for representation: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

As the Taliban have taken control over Afghanistan thousands of natives along with foreign nationals struck in the country are desperate to fly out. However, the evacuation seems next to impossible now as the Taliban formed a ring of steel around the airport, effectively blocking tens of thousands of desperate Afghans from entering the airport. The westerners stuck amid the natives said they are unable to get through the crush.

The evacuation flights out of Kabul are taking off nearly empty. According to reports, flights for Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, France and Italy have been taking off with just a few dozen people despite having the capacity to take hundreds. A German plane departed Kabul on Tuesday, August 17 with just seven onboard despite having a capacity of 150. US put about 2,000 people aboard 18 C-17 planes overnight, an average of 110 per flight. Washington has pledged to ferry out at least 20,000 people at a rate of 9,000 per day, which now seems like a mammoth task given the recent development. On the other hand, the UK has managed to rescue around 1,000 people out of a total of 7,000, which means 6,000 are still stranded and in need of evacuation.

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Around 50,000 Afghan natives are gathered outside two entry points of the Hamid Karzai airport in Kabul and the Taliban seized all entry and exit points. According to reports from people on the ground, the Taliban is blocking entry to anyone who does not have a foreign passport. British and German expats say they are trapped in the chaos, unable to get through the huge crowd to board flights home.

A British ex-pat and former marine who is stranded in Kabul, Paul 'Pen' Farthing tweeted on Wednesday, August 18, that "it is still a crush of desperate people at Kabul airport [with] ex-pats still being turned away. Somebody get a grip. Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Joe Biden. You created this disaster". Farthing told DailyMail, "Kabul Airport is an absolute disaster zone, there are still people being crushed, there are still people risking their lives by climbing on to the landing gear of planes shortly before they take off. It is sheer and utter chaos. There is no order, it is literally a lottery as to who gets on one of the planes and who doesn't. My Norwegian wife and the manager of the sanctuary, who is American, were both turned back at the airport yesterday despite being told by their respective embassies to arrive at certain rendezvous points within the airfield. The US soldiers guarding the perimeter gate to the airfield would not let them through because of the melee outside with so many local Afghans attempting to get through." A German national Vanessa Faizi was visiting family in Afghanistan when the mayhem broke out. She said she is now trapped at Kabul airport trying to get back to her fiance in the city of Hesse. In a tearful video sent to a German newspaper, Bild, Vanessa said, "People are trampled, children are trampled, please get us out."

Sir Laurie Bristow, the British ambassador to Afghanistan who is in Kabul to help people evacuate, said his team were putting "everything we can" to get people out. In a video posted on Twitter, he said, "My name is Laurie Bristow, British ambassador here in Kabul. I've just stepped out of the evacuation handling centre for a moment. We're putting everything we can into getting British nationals, and Afghans who have worked with us in the past, out of Afghanistan and to safety. So yesterday we got about 700 people out. We're trying to scale up the speed, the pace over the next couple of days. We'll put everything we can on this for the next few days, trying to get out everyone who we need to get to safety as soon as we can."

Desperate scenes from the airport saw women reaching out towards the US troops and pleading to let them get through. Western nations, as a response to the 'humanitarian crisis' in Afghanistan, had vowed to take more than 100,000 refugees out of the country. According to reports from the ground, the movement of people into the airport is very slow. The civilian and VIP gates are both under the Taliban's control. Pentagon informed on Wednesday, August 18, that the US troops manning the airport fired crowd-control shots, in an effort to bring order to the thousands gathering at the perimeter. There are at least 56,000 people who are yet to be evacuated from Afghanistan, including 22,000 flying on US special immigrant visas, 4,000 British nationals, 10,000 refugees heading to Germany and 20,000 bound for Canada. 

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