WASHINGTON (AP) – Educated young women, former U.S. military translators and other Afghans most at risk from the Taliban called on the Biden administration to take them on evacuation flights as the United States struggled to bring order to the ongoing chaos in Kabul airport. .
President Joe Biden and his top officials said the United States was working to speed up the evacuation, but did not promise how long it would take or how many desperate people would fly to safety. “We don’t have the ability to go out and pick up a large number of people,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters Wednesday, adding that evacuations will continue “until time runs out or we run out of capacity.”
Afghans in danger because of their work with the US military or US organizations, and Americans fighting to get them out, also pleaded with Washington to cut red tape that they say could strand thousands of vulnerable Afghans. if US forces withdraw as planned in the future. days.
“If we don’t fix this, we are literally putting people to death,” said Marina Kielpinski LeGree, American director of a nonprofit organization, Ascend. The organization’s young Afghan colleagues were among the mass of people waiting for flights at the airport after days of chaos, tear gas and gunfire.
The United States rushed to dispatch troops, transport planes and commanders to secure the airport, seek safe passage guarantees from the Taliban, and launch an airlift capable of carrying 5,000 to 9,000 people a day.
Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman described an all-out effort by US officials to bring Afghans and allies to safety. “This is a hands-on effort and we are not going to back down,” Sherman said at a State Department news conference.
Taliban fighters and checkpoints surrounded the airport, barriers for Afghans who fear their previous work with Westerners would make them the main targets of the insurgents. The Afghans who managed to outrun the Taliban reached out to the Americans guarding the airport complex and handed over documents to some of the 4,500 US soldiers in temporary control.
One of the last windows of escape for the Taliban threatens to close when Biden’s planned withdrawal for Aug. 31 is completed.
“People are going to die,” said Air Force veteran Sam Lerman. He said he was working to help a former Afghan military contractor who received an email from the State Department telling him to go to the airport. But US troops at the airport entrance pushed the Afghan man back on Wednesday, telling him he lacked the correct document, Lerman said.
Hundreds of Afghans lacking papers or flight promises also flocked to the airport, adding to the chaos. It didn’t help that many of the Taliban fighters were illiterate and unable to read the documents.
Nearly 6,000 people have been evacuated by the US military since Saturday, a White House official said Wednesday night. The tower has seen Afghans running down the runway. In one case, some apparently fell and died while clinging to a departing US C-17 transport plane.
American citizens and other foreigners, Afghan allies of Western forces, and women, journalists, activists and others most at risk from the fundamentalist Taliban, hope to secure seats on an airlift.
The United States has refused to give estimates of how many American citizens remain in Afghanistan and need to escape.
About 100,000 Afghans were seeking evacuation through a U.S. visa program designed to provide refuge for Afghans who had worked with Americans, as well as their families, said Rebecca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Program based in United States. His organization was one of those that lobbied the United States to urgently speed up visa processing.
Heller said an Afghan client told him about five Afghan translators killed by the Taliban in the past two days for their previous work with Americans.
Heller made an appeal that he said had been recorded by an Afghan client. The woman, whose name The Associated Press is withholding for her safety, has been waiting for three years for US action on her visa application.
“The only hope I have right now is the United States government,” the Afghan woman said. “Please United States Government … please stop promising. Please start taking action. As soon as you can “.
The Pentagon said senior US military officials, including the Navy Rear Admiral. Peter Vasely, are talking to Taliban commanders about checkpoints and Taliban curfews that have limited the number of Americans and Afghans who can enter the airport.
The US government sent emails in recent days telling some US citizens, green card holders and their families, and others to come to the airport and be prepared to wait.
Biden has defended his decision to end the US combat mission in Afghanistan that began after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and has rejected blame for the chaos that has ensued. Biden this blamed the Afghans themselves for the Taliban’s seizure of power and for the frantic struggles to flee the country.
But refugee groups note a long backlog of visa applications.
An operation to travel to the United States, former Afghan translators and others whose visa procedures were closer to completion had succeeded in attracting only half of the 4,000 Afghans expected before the Taliban takeover.
A separate visa program aimed at expelling the Taliban’s most at-risk members of civil society was hampered from the start, in part by the United States’ requirement that Afghans travel outside of Afghanistan to apply, a trip that the raid by the Taliban made it impossible for most.
Knickmeyer reported from Oklahoma City. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Robert Burns in Washington and Kathy Gannon in Guelph, Canada, and AP Broadcast correspondent Sagar Meghani in Washington contributed to this report.