Why evacuation from Kabul airport is complicated and harmful

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Successive explosions have been reported near the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul as the United States works swiftly to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies from Afghanistan before the August 31 withdrawal deadline, including US and civilian casualties. “

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby confirmed that “a number of US soldiers were killed in the attack on Kabul airport on Thursday.”

“Some others are being treated for wounds,” said Kirby. “We also know that a number of Afghans fell victim to this heinous attack.”

Defense officials were alerted by threats at Hamid Karzai International Airport from a terrorist group called ISIS-K, sworn enemies of the Taliban. One official believed the suicide bomber threat was the primary concern of Afghans and US citizens pushing the airport gates and US troops guarding him.

The evacuation efforts reflect increased pressure on US officials as the Taliban said they would not extend the deadline.

At least 95,700 people have been evacuated so far. Military and commercial flights evacuated about 13,400 people on Wednesday, a decrease from the previous three days.

About 15,000 Americans remain in Afghanistan. US officials have contacted 500 of them and are “aggressively” trying to reach out to the others.

Afghans who supported the American war effort will fight a life and death fight as they and their families try to get seats on one of the final flights.

This is how the complex and dangerous evacuation operation works:

Arriving at the airport and going through a security gate is the first step. It was already difficult to approach the airport due to traffic and Taliban roadblocks, but now entry may be impossible after US forces closed all gates over an apparent attack.

American citizens who show up at the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport would find a seat on one of the final flights, but almost everyone else would be left behind, according to a US official familiar with the operation but not authorized to speak publicly .

Outside the airport, American citizens and Afghans who have helped US troops are growing desperate. US specialists rushed into a neighborhood in Kabul to rescue about 20 Americans who were unable to reach the airport, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said on Wednesday.

Getting through the gates and onto a plane requires approval from the U.S. Department of State that allows embassy staff, special immigrant visa applicants, and other Afghans who supported the U.S. war effort.

Once they enter the airport and cleared security, passengers are lined up to prepare for boarding.

Satellite images captured on Monday show organized groups of people on the tarmac boarding military planes.

Large U.S. Air Force aircraft, primarily used to move vehicles or equipment, are put into service for evacuation.

After leaving Hamid Karzai International Airport, evacuees fly towards the USA to a military base in Qatar, Bahrain, Italy, Spain, Germany, Kuwait or the United Arab Emirates.

From there, US citizens return home. Afghan nationals are screened by State Department and Homeland Security officials to see if they are eligible for entry.

Charities and human rights organizations help Afghan evacuees in the US and Canada start a new life. Many Afghans will seek refuge in other countries.

Afghan nationals brought to the United States are temporarily housed at one of four military bases:

  • Fort McCoy, Wisconsin
  • Fort Bliss in Texas
  • Fort Lee in Virginia
  • Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey

Afghan refugees can enter the US under one of these programs:

  • Special immigrant visas: For those who helped the US armed forces during the war or were employed by the US government.
  • Priority 2 designation: For those who have worked with NGOs or US news organizations.
  • Humanitarian probation: Proposed by advocates for Afghans living in other countries who fear Taliban persecution if they return to Afghanistan

US troops fly Apache attack helicopters for protection at Kabul airport.

They used giant Chinook helicopters to rescue stranded American citizens and bring them to the airport.

Some of these planes will likely be left over, leaving room for the last of the troops on board C-17 cargo planes, said a defense official who is familiar with the equipment at the airport but is not allowed to speak publicly about the withdrawal.

An air strike to destroy this equipment is likely, the defense official said. The Pentagon acknowledged that F-18 fighter jets operating from an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea patrol over Kabul. The Air Force has long-range B-1 and B-52 bombers that have been flying combat missions into Afghanistan from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar for years.

SOURCE USA TODAY Network Reporting and Research; The Associated Press; whitehouse.gov; defense.gov; unhcr.org; refugees.org

CONTRIBUTE Tom Vanden Brook, Joey Garrison, Javier Zarracina and Shawn Sullivan

Published 4:05 p.m. UTC August 26, 2021
Updated August 26, 2021 at 17:08 UTC