Videos out of Kabul show Afghans trudging through a ditch filled knee-deep with sewage on Wednesday to reach the capital’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, waving their travel papers and signs begging for help at the journalists filming their plight.
— Ian Pannell (@IanPannell) August 25, 2021
The Taliban announced on Tuesday that it would ban Afghan nationals from fleeing through the Kabul airport. Taliban fighters quickly moved to secure the airport gates:
— Nabih (@nabihbulos) August 25, 2021
A video posted to Instagram appeared to show U.S. Marines standing only a few feet away from the heavily armed Taliban fighters at one of the airport checkpoints:
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Task & Purpose described the situation as “too close for comfort,” noting the Marines faced the huge crowd of Afghan civilians “on a canalized city street, hemmed in by walls and parked cars, and armed men nearby.”
An Afghanistan veteran described the situation outside the airport as a “nightmare scenario” for U.S. forces.
“It’s terrifying. It’s a nightmare scenario,” said Zachary Bell, a former Marine infantryman who deployed twice to Afghanistan with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, first to Garmsir and then to Marjah as a squad leader in 2010.
“But to be in a scenario where you can’t engage and can’t help people who are defenseless, feet away from you,” said Bell, who runs the popular military social media page Veteran With a Sign. “It just feels dangerous on so many levels.”
“What if you were to see someone being mistreated by the Taliban? How do you react to that?” Bell continued. “Do you just stand there and watch? That’s a task and a burden of responsibility I don’t envy.”
The New York Times reported that Afghans are fearful of panicked stampedes around the airport since at least seven of them have been trampled to death so far, including a toddler. Afghan women are simply “terrified to leave their homes, scared of incurring the Taliban’s wrath at checkpoints.”
Private rescue efforts are intensifying as the window for escape closes, even as security and logistics obstacles mount. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) observed on Wednesday that private rescue flights are departing Kabul with “hundreds of empty seats” because Taliban checkpoints and “confusing bureaucratic hurdles” are keeping people away from the airport.
“We can’t expect everyone to crawl through a sewer pipe to safety,” said George Abi-Habib, whose firm Sayara International flew a 345-seat plane to Kabul on Tuesday and left with only 50 passengers.
“Aid organizations have been told by Western governments that evacuation flights won’t continue past Friday, as the U.S. military will need the days remaining until the Aug. 31 deadline to remove its own equipment and troops from Kabul,” the WSJ reported.
“There is no way with the numbers of people on the ground that we will be able to get everybody out by Aug. 31,” U.S. Army combat veteran Alex Plitsas told the WSJ.