Afghanistan updates: State Department issues travel advisory to Americans at Kabul airport
The U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs tweeted out a warning late Wednesday for U.S. citizens at Kabul airport gates, advising people to "leave immediately."
The warning comes the same day that Secretary of State Antony Blinken said as many as 1,500 Americans may still be in Afghanistan, as the deadline for U.S. withdrawal looms.
Earlier Wednesday, the White House said about 19,000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan by U.S. and allied military forces on Tuesday.
President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the U.S. is on track to evacuate all American and allied citizens, as well as Afghans eligible for special immigrant visas or otherwise at risk of persecution by the Taliban, out of the country by Aug. 31.
“The sooner we can finish, the better. Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops,” the president said.
To meet the Aug. 31 deadline, U.S. military forces will need to stop evacuating people out of the airport days before their final troop withdrawal, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Tuesday. That means the window for evacuating refugees and others is even closer than the official end of American presence on the ground.
'They should say yes':Advocates see hope in GOP governors offering Afghan refugees aid
The U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs warned Americans at three gates of the chaotic Kabul airport to "leave immediately."
"#Afghanistan: Due to threats outside the Kabul airport, US citizens should avoid traveling to the airport and avoid airport gates unless you receive instructions to do so. Those at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately," the tweet read.
The tweet included a link to a larger alert.
Australia offered similar advice to its citizens, with an alert reading: "Do not travel to Kabul airport. If you're in the area of the airport, move to a safe location and await further advice."
The alert comes as the Biden administration has increasingly warned about the threat of an ISIS-K terrorist attack at the Kabul airport as the Aug. 31 U.S. deadline to withdraw draws near.
"We're operating in a hostile environment in a city and country now controlled by the Taliban, with the very real possibility of an ISIS-K attack," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday afternoon. "We're taking every precaution, but this is very high risk.”
--Luciana Lopez and Joey Garrison
Harrowing video::Gunfire, families with crying children at Kabul airport
U.S.-based organizations, speaking on background to discuss sensitive matters, cite accounts from witnesses on the ground in Afghanistan as saying some American citizens, and family members of Afghans with green cards, still were having trouble pushing and talking their way into the Kabul airport for flights.
“We still have 1,200 Afghans with visas that are outside the airport and haven’t got in,” said James Miervaldis with No One Left Behind, one of dozens of veterans groups working to get out Afghans who worked with the U.S. military during America’s nearly 20 years of combat in the country.. “We’re waiting to hear from the US. government and haven’t heard yet.”
Marina LeGree of Ascend, a U.S.-based nonprofit that worked to develop fitness and leadership in Afghan girls and young women, described getting calls from U.S. officials telling the group’s interns and staffers to go to the airport for evacuation flights, only to have them turned away by American forces keeping gates closed against the throngs outside.
--The Associated Press
Michigan-born military contractor and former Navy SEAL Erik Prince is offering chartered flights out of Afghanistan at $6,500 a seat, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
Prince, who is the brother of former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and grew up in west Michigan, told the Journal it would cost more if people needed his aid in getting out of their homes and to the airport with the Taliban in control of the country.
The article, which described the scramble underway by both American forces and private rescue operations to evacuate Afghans, U.S. citizens and others ahead of an Aug. 31 withdrawal of U.S. troops from that country, said it was unclear whether Prince — who founded the military security firm formerly known as Blackwater — was capable of carrying out such rescue missions and flights.
Speaking during an "agriculture roundtable" with constituents at the Nelson Country Farm Bureau in Bardstown on Wednesday, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said that the U.S. should have left Afghanistan earlier and called the Biden administration's handling of the withdrawal after 20 years of war "incompetent."
When asked by an attendee how many Americans remain in Afghanistan as evacuations continue amid the withdrawal of U.S. troops and what Kentuckians can do to help, Paul said his main concern is with the fate of military equipment he believes could fall into the wrong hands.
"To me, what's probably the most disturbing is that there's like thousands of Humvees being left behind, dozens if not hundreds of tanks," he said. "Even at this point, when (the withdrawal) is a complete disaster, I'd still blow up all that stuff."
He added that he believes many of the Afghan people who are trying to leave the country now under the control of the Taliban should stay and try to improve conditions there.
Austin is expected to welcome nearly 200 Afghan refugees by Sept. 30, according to officials with Refugee Services of Texas.
Refugee Services of Texas announced last week that it expected to resettle more than 300 Afghans in the next few weeks across Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and Amarillo. That number has now increased to 574.
At least 30,000 Afghans might be resettled in the United States in the coming weeks, and many will be temporarily housed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, officials previously reported.
WASHINGTON — The head of the U.S. military’s European Command says that so far more than 7,000 evacuees from Afghanistan have been flown to eight locations around Europe, mainly in Germany and Italy.
Gen. Tod Wolters said Wednesday that 55 evacuation flights from Afghanistan have flown into Ramstein Air Base in Germany and three into Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy. He says the flights brought nearly 5,800 evacuees from Kabul to Ramstein and 662 to Sigonella.
Smaller numbers of flights and people have gone to six other European locations, largely bases in Germany. Flights will soon be going into the base at Rota, Spain.
Wolters says there have been few medical or security problems. He says fewer than 100 individuals have needed additional medical screening, and of those fewer than 25 needed medical attention at the military hospital. More than half of them have already returned to Ramstein for further processing and travel onward to more permanent destinations.
--The Associated Press
EL CAJON, Calif. (AP) — A school district in a San Diego suburb that is home to a large refugee population said many of its families who had taken summer trips to Afghanistan to see relatives have gotten stuck there with the chaos following the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
The Cajon Valley Union School District said the families of 24 students from various schools had reported they would not able to start the school year on Aug. 17 because the children and their parents were unable to get through the throngs of people at the Kabul airport. Thousands have been converging on the airport, desperate to escape since the Taliban seized control of the country. The district is in the suburb of El Cajon, east of San Diego.
The families had traveled separately to Afghanistan for summer vacations to see their grandparents, cousins and other relatives. Most of the families came to the United States on a special immigrant visa after having worked for the U.S. government or U.S. military in Afghanistan, officials said. The visa allows in only the person and their spouse and children.
Read the rest of the story here:California students, families stuck in Afghanistan as Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline nears
-- The Associated Press
The beating began shortly after the American flag was lowered at the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
Taliban fighters tracked down a women’s rights activist and politician in Afghanistan. They covered her face and bound her hands, she recalled, as they ripped her from her home.
When it was over, blood streaked down her forehead and over her eyes, matting her hair as it gushed from the fresh wound on her scalp.
Then came the second beating. After it was over, she was dropped near the airport in Kabul and given an ultimatum, she said: Leave or be killed if the Taliban found her again.
The activist – who recounted her story on Wednesday to USA TODAY – is among millions of women facing an uncertain future in Afghanistan, where the backdrop of the Taliban’s history of oppressive and violent treatment of women looms darkly against the organization’s promises to respect their rights as it regains control of the country.
Since the Taliban seized the Afghan capital on Aug. 14, more than 82,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan in one of the largest U.S. airlifts in history. While the pace has picked up in recent days, it’s still a chaotic scramble as people seek to escape. Afghans trying to reach the Kabul airport face a gauntlet of danger, and there are far more who want to leave than will be able to do so.
Those who do make it out will face the many challenges of resettlement, either in the U.S. or somewhere else. And time is running out. President Joe Biden set an Aug. 31 deadline to complete the U.S.-led evacuation.
How did we get here?
President Donald Trump signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February 2020 as part of an effort to end what he called the “endless wars” in the Middle East. He agreed to a May 1 deadline to have all troops out of the country. Biden, who says he no longer wants to risk American lives in a civil war among Afghans, kept with the withdrawal plan but extended the deadline to September. The Taliban quickly seized control of most of the country as the U.S. withdrew air support to the Afghan military. Afghans, fearing retribution and the harsh rule of the Taliban, rushed to the airport in hopes of getting out of the country.
-- The Associated Press
About 1,500 Americans remain in Afghanistan, and the U.S. is in contact with 500 of them who want to leave, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday, less than one week before the U.S. deadline to withdraw from the country.
Yet even after the military exits Aug. 31, the Biden administration says it will not end its mission to evacuate Americans out of the country.
Blinken said the U.S. has evacuated 4,500 U.S. passport holders since Aug. 14 out of 6,000 Americans the State Department believes were in Afghanistan at that time. He said the department is “aggressively reaching out” to the other 1,000 Americans in Afghanistan but said many of them may not want to leave.
Of that group, Blinken said the number actively seeking assistance to leave Afghanistan is “likely significant lower.”
"Since Aug. 14, we've reached out directly to every American enrolled with us in Afghanistan, often multiple times,” Blinken said.
He added that the State Department is working on how to facilitate departures for Americans in Afghanistan who wish to leave after Aug. 31.
"Those who want to leave, it does not end with the military evacuation plan on Aug. 31. We are very focused on what we need to do to facilitate the further departure of people who wish to leave Afghanistan. That is primarily going to be a diplomatic effort," he said.
The Biden administration had previously declined to estimate the number of Americans still in Afghanistan because of registration discrepancies at the U.S. embassy when Americans arrived in the country or left.
Blinken said said 82,300 people – a combination of Americans and Afghan allies – have safely departed Afghanistan since the U.S. and coalition forces began the evacuation. That includes 19,000 in the last 24 hours. More than 10,000 people are currently at the Kabul airport awaiting departure, according to the Pentagon.
President Joe Biden said Tuesday the U.S. is on pace to meet its Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline but said the state and defense departments have back-up contingency plans in case the Taliban does not cooperate with evacuations.
– Joey Garrison
WASHINGTON – The World Bank is suspending funding for programs in Afghanistan amid concerns over the Taliban’s return to power.
“We are deeply concerned about the situation in Afghanistan and the impact on the country’s development prospects, especially for women,” a World Bank spokesperson said in a statement.
The Washington-based financial institution, which provides loans and grants to the governments of low- and middle-income countries, has committed $5.3 billion for development and emergency reconstruction projects in Afghanistan since 2002. The support includes more than $4.8 billion in grants and $436 million in no-interest loans.
The decision to withhold the funding follows the Biden administration’s move last week to block the Taliban’s access to billions of dollars in assets Afghanistan’s central bank holds in the Federal Reserve and other U.S. banks. Barring access to those assets deprives the Taliban of crucial financial resources as it tries to establish a new government.
The International Monetary Fund also announced last week it was cutting off Afghanistan’s access to emergency currency reserves, citing a “lack of clarity” within the international community concerning recognition of a government in Afghanistan.
The World Bank said it is closely monitoring events in Afghanistan and will continue to consult closely with the international community and its development partners.
“Together with our partners, we are exploring ways we can remain engaged to preserve hard-won development gains and continue to support the people of Afghanistan,” the spokesperson said.
– Michael Collins
Pentagon officials further detailed evacuation efforts on Wednesday. About 19,000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan in the last 24 hours by U.S. and allied military aircraft and charter flights, they said.
There were about 4,400 American citizens on those flights, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said. Kirby did not have an estimate on the number of Americans who remain in Afghanistan before the end of evacuation flights, scheduled for Aug. 31.
Overnight, U.S. troops mounted an operation to rescue U.S. citizens and bring them to the airport, said Army Maj. Gen. William Taylor, director of regional operations for the Joint Staff. About 20 Americans were retrieved by helicopter, the third such rescue since the evacuation began, Kirby said.
The unscheduled visit by two congressmen required U.S. forces to take time away from their duties in order to protect the lawmakers, Kirby said.
– Tom Vanden Brook
KAMPALA, Uganda – Uganda's government said that 51 people evacuated from Afghanistan arrived in the East African country Wednesday at the request of the United States.
Authorities said in a statement that the group, transported on a chartered flight, included men, women and children.
Ugandan officials said last week that the country would shelter up to 2,000 people fleeing the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan. They said the Afghans would be brought to Uganda in small groups as a temporary arrangement before being relocated elsewhere.
“The decision to host those in need is informed by the government of Uganda's consistent policy of receiving refugees and persons in distress as well as playing a responsible role in matters of international concern," the statement said.
Ugandan officials have repeatedly said the United States would pay the cost of caring for people evacuated from Afghanistan, and groups such as Mercy Corps are offering to help.
The U.S.-based humanitarian group said it would support Ugandan authorities “to respond to the most immediate needs” of the evacuees.
Uganda has long been an ally of the U.S., especially on security matters in the region.
But some activists and opponents of President Yoweri Museveni, who was reelected in January, say the U.S. arrangement with Uganda is problematic because it appears blind to allegations of rights abuses and bad governance in a country that has never had a peaceful transfer of power.
– Associated Press
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rebuked two congressmen who said Tuesday they had gone to Kabul on a secret trip to examine the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
"There's a real concern about members being in the region ... The resources necessary to facilitate their visit, and to protect them, was an opportunity cost of what we needed to do to be evacuating as many people as possible. So it's not just about them going to Afghanistan, going to the region because there's a call on our resources diplomatically, politically, militarily in the rest of the region as well. So this is deadly serious," she said at a Wednesday morning press conference.
"We do not want members to go... It was not in my view a good idea (for the two members to go)."
Pelosi added that she'd not spoken with Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich.
On Tuesday, the speaker issued a letter to her House colleagues, addressing travel to Afghanistan.
"Given the urgency of this situation, the desire of some Members to travel to Afghanistan and the surrounding areas is understandable and reflective of the high priority that we place on the lives of those on the ground," Pelosi wrote. "However, I write to reiterate that the Departments of Defense and State have requested that Members not travel to Afghanistan and the region during this time of danger."
She noted that briefings and calls would continue to be organized to keep members informed.
– Ledyard King
Amid the efforts to evacuate Americans and allies, two congressmen are drawing criticism for their unannounced visit to the Kabul airport.
Officials said Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., flew in on a charter aircraft and were on the ground at the Kabul airport for several hours.
“As Members of Congress, we have a duty to provide oversight on the executive branch,’” the two said in their statement. “We conducted this visit in secret, speaking about it only after our departure, to minimize the risk and disruption to the people on the ground, and because we were there to gather information, not to grandstand.”
President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to give an update on Afghanistan on Wednesday. That briefing should include a number on how many U.S. citizens remain in Afghanistan.
The Biden administration has not yet offered a firm count. On Thursday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told "CBS Evening News" that the US doesn't have an accurate number because of how citizens are tracked while in Afghanistan.
The latest round of evacuations brings the number of people ferried from Hamid Karzai International Airport to 82,300 people since Aug. 14, when the Taliban first took control of Kabul, the capital city, and 87,900 evacuated people since late July, the White House said.
The operation Tuesday involved 42 U.S. military flights that carried around 11,200 people out of the country collectively alongside another 48 flights from U.S. coalition allies that took around 7,800 people out of Kabul.
The Biden administration has repeatedly stressed that the withdrawal operation is on pace to be the largest U.S. air evacuation in history. "There is no other country in the world who could pull something like this off, bar none,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a Monday press briefing.
Yet the administration has also face fierce bipartisan criticism from the members of Congress and the national security community, who see the chaotic scenes of withdrawal as calamitous and avoidable. It is also unclear how many Americans and eligible Afghans remain in the country.
– Matthew Brown
BEIJING — China says it has established an “open and effective communication and consultation with the Afghan Taliban,” following a meeting between representatives of the group and Beijing’s ambassador to Kabul.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin gave no details about the Tuesday meeting between the deputy head of the Taliban’s political office, Abdul Salam Hanafi and Ambassador Wang Yu.
But he said China considered Kabul to be an “important platform and channel for both sides to discuss important matters of all kinds.”
China hosted a delegation led by senior Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar for talks last month, prior to the group’s lightning sweep to power in Kabul.
China has kept its embassy in the city open and says it has no plans for a wholesale evacuation of its citizens in Afghanistan, while relentlessly criticizing the U.S. over the chaotic scenes at Kabul airport.
“We have always respected Afghanistan’s sovereign independence and territorial integrity, pursued a policy of non-interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs and adhered to a policy of friendship toward the entire Afghan people,” Wang told reporters at a daily briefing Wednesday in Beijing.
“China respects the Afghan people’s independent decision on their own future and destiny, supports the implementation of the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned principle, and stands ready to continue to develop good-neighborly relations of friendship and cooperation with Afghanistan and play a constructive role in the peace and reconstruction of the country,” Wang said.
– Associated Press