Latest from Afghanistan: 7 die at Kabul airport, US airlines activated to help evacuation

Latest from Afghanistan: 7 die at Kabul airport, US airlines activated to help evacuation

It’s been a week since the Taliban entered Afghanistan’s capital city and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled.

And the scene at Hamid Karzai International Airport remains frenzied, with seven people killed as crowds try to get out of the country, the British military reported on Sunday.

“Conditions on the ground remain extremely challenging but we are doing everything we can to manage the situation as safely and securely as possible,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.

On Saturday, troops from several nations tried to control the crush of people pressing to get into the airport, as temperatures hit the mid-90s. Soldiers sprayed water from a hose on those gathered or gave them bottled water to pour over their heads. It wasn’t immediately clear whether those killed had been physically crushed or died from other health conditions. 

The U.S. continues to evacuate Americans and Afghan people with special immigrant visas, with 17,000 people sent out of Afghanistan in the last week.

More:For Biden, fallout from the Afghanistan withdrawal abroad complicates his agenda at home

Biden to offer Afghanistan update on Sunday afternoon

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden will update Americans at 4 p.m. Sunday on efforts to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies from Afghanistan.

Biden is scheduled to meet with his national security team to receive intelligence, security and diplomatic updates on Afghanistan, the White House said. He then will deliver remarks on the evacuation of American citizens, special immigrant visa applicants and their families and other vulnerable Afghans.

Biden also will provide an update on his administration’s response to Hurricane Henri.

U.S. forces are scrambling to quickly evacuate Americans and Afghan allies before the United States’ Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw all its troops. Crowds of people desperate to flee the country and Taliban checkpoints have complicated the U.S. evacuation.

People evacuated from Kabul arrive at Hindon Air force base near New Delhi, India, Aug. 22, 2021. A special military flight carrying 168 people, which includes 107 Indian nationals and 61 others, landed at Hindon Air force base near New Delhi, according to the External Affairs Ministry spokesman.

Flights out of Afghanistan were delayed Saturday because of problems finding accommodations for the flood of refugees being flown out of Kabul. All gates at the Kabul airport were closed Saturday because of a backup at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, according to a Defense Department official who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Most U.S. military evacuation planes fly from Kabul to Qatar, and the inability to handle more evacuees there is causing a ripple effect.

– Michael Collins

US commercial airlines joining evacuation efforts

The Defense Department on Sunday signaled it may enlist commercial air carriers to assist in evacuation efforts out of Kabul.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin activated 18 aircraft to help the State Department with its airlift as part of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

This handout photo, taken on Aug. 20 and received Aug. 22, 2021 from the Australian Defence Force, shows people onboard the Royal Australian Air Force C-17A Globemaster at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

The addition of 18 commercial airliners — three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines — is not expected to strain commercial flights, Kirby said. Those planes will not fly into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. “They will be used for the onward movement of passengers from temporary safe havens and interim staging bases,” according to Kirby’s statement.

Civilian aircraft have been activated now three times: in support of Operations Desert Shield/Storm (August 1990 to May 1991) and for Operation Iraqi Freedom (February 2002 to June 2003).

– Katie Wadington

Ex-British PM Tony Blair blasts US withdrawal

LONDON – Tony Blair, the British prime minister who deployed troops to Afghanistan 20 years ago after the 9/11 attacks, says the U.S. decision to withdraw from the country has “every Jihadist group round the world cheering.”

In a lengthy essay posted on his website late Saturday, the former Labour Party leader said the sudden and chaotic pullout that allowed the Taliban to reclaim power risked undermining everything that had been achieved in Afghanistan over the past two decades, including advances in living standards and the education of girls.

“The abandonment of Afghanistan and its people is tragic, dangerous, unnecessary, not in their interests and not in ours,” said Blair who served as prime minister during 1997-2007, a period that also saw him back the U.S.-led war in Iraq in 2003.

“The world is now uncertain of where the West stands because it is so obvious that the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan in this way was driven not by grand strategy but by politics,” he added.

Blair also accused U.S. President Joe Biden of being “in obedience to an imbecilic political slogan about ending ‘the forever wars’, as if our engagement in 2021 was remotely comparable to our commitment 20 or even 10 years ago.”

President Bush answers a question as British Prime Minister Tony Blair looks on during a press conference in Thurmont, Md., outside Camp David Friday, Feb. 23, 2001. (AP Photo/Doug Mills) ORG XMIT: DSM124

The former prime minister, whose reputation in the U.K. took a dive from the failure to find the alleged weapons of mass destruction that were cited as justification for U.S. coalition’s invasion of Iraq, said Britain has a “moral obligation” to stay in Afghanistan until everyone who needs to be evacuated is taken out.

– The Associated Press

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