U.S. struggles to speed Kabul airlift despite Taliban, chaos
The United States struggled Thursday to pick up the pace of American and Afghan evacuations at Kabul airport, constrained by obstacles ranging from armed Taliban checkpoints to paperwork problems. With an Aug. 31 deadline looming, tens of thousands remained to be airlifted from the chaotic country.
Taliban fighters and their checkpoints ringed the airport — major barriers for Afghans who fear that their past work with Westerners makes them prime targets for retribution. Hundreds of Afghans who lacked any papers or clearance for evacuation also congregated outside the airport, adding to the chaos that has prevented even some Afghans who do have papers and promises of flights from getting through.
Many of the Taliban fighters could not read the documents.
In a hopeful sign, State Department spokesman Ned Price said in Washington that 6,000 people were cleared for evacuation Thursday and were expected to board military flights in coming hours. That would mark a major increase from recent days. About 2,000 passengers were flown out on each of the past two days, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
Kirby said the military has aircraft available to evacuate 5,000 to 9,000 people per day, but until Thursday far fewer designated evacuees had been able to reach, and then enter, the airport.