Evacuees plead for action: 'We are in some kind of jail'
The Americans trying to evacuate hundreds of Afghans and American citizens — including one Afghan who worked as a U.S. military translator and says he is anticipating his beheading by the Taliban — pleaded for action from the Biden administration to get the would-be evacuees aboard charter flights that are standing by to fly them from Afghanistan.
Evacuees wait to board a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 30. 2021. [File Photo: U.S. Marine Corps via AP]
“Unfortunately we are left behind now," the former translator said quietly in the pre-dawn darkness Wednesday in Afghanistan. “No one heard our voice.”
The man, whose identity The Associated Press withheld for his security, said he was running out of money to keep his family housed in a hotel in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, after waiting a week for Taliban permission for the chartered evacuation flights to leave the airport there.
U.S. Army veterans working to help the man, an interpreter for U.S. forces for 15 years, called the effort more grinding than their months of deployment in Afghanistan. They tried and failed to get their old interpreter on the earlier airlifts that ended with the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan Aug. 30.
"I hope we can help them out, and get them out of this mess,” said a retired Army colonel, Thomas McGrath, one of the veterans trying to help his former interpreter.
Hundreds of vulnerable Afghans are waiting for permission from Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers to board prearranged charter flights standing by at the airport in Mazar-e-Sharif.
The group includes dozens of American citizens and green card holders and their families, the Afghans and their American advocates say.
“We think we are in some kind of jail,” said one Afghan woman among the would-be evacuees gathered at one large hotel in Mazar-e-Sharif.
She described the Americans and green-card holders in their group as elderly parents of Afghan-American citizens in the United States.
Taliban leaders, who named a new Cabinet Tuesday in the wake of their lightning takeover of most of the country last month, say they will allow people with proper documents to leave the country. Taliban officials insist they are currently going through the manifests, and passenger documents, for the charter flights at Mazar-e-Sharif.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday the U.S. was working with the Taliban to resolve the standoff over the charter flights.
He rejected an assertion from a Republican lawmaker, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, over the weekend that the standoff at Mazar-e-Sharif was turning into a “hostage situation” for American citizens in the group.
“We’ve been assured all American citizens and Afghan citizens with valid travel documents will be allowed to leave,” Blinken said in Doha, Qatar, a major transit point for last month’s frantic U.S. military-led evacuations from Afghanistan.
Later Tuesday, 12 Democratic lawmakers added to the pressure for evacuees, in a letter urging the administration to disclose its plans for getting out all of the hundreds of at-risk people remaining in Afghanistan, and not just American citizens.
“Our staff have been working around the clock responding to urgent pleas from constituents whose families and colleagues are seeking to flee Afghanistan, and they urgently require timely, post-withdrawal guidance to best assist those in need,” Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Zoe Lofgren, Gerald Connolly and nine other lawmakers from President Joe Biden’s party wrote.
Blinken, in Doha, said the Taliban had told U.S. officials that the problem in Mazar-e-Sharif was that passengers with valid travel documents were mixed in with those without the right travel papers.