At Kabul’s airport, the situation grows increasingly dire

As the United States scrambled Sunday to control the mayhem at the Kabul airport, the situation was growing increasingly dire for the thousands of desperate Afghans trying to flee the Taliban, with surging crowds turning deadly and the potential threat of attacks looming.

The British Defence Ministry, which has troops at the airport, said Sunday that seven Afghan civilians had died in the crowds, where people have been trampled to death, including a toddler. “Conditions on the ground remain extremely challenging,” the ministry said, offering no details about the deaths.

The day before, the United States and Germany warned their citizens in Afghanistan to avoid the airport. American officials cited the possibility of another threat: an attack by the Taliban’s Islamic State group rivals.

Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, said on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday, “The threat is real. It is acute. It is persistent. And it is something that we are focused on with every tool in our arsenal.”

With the risks rising, military commanders at the airport had been “metering” the flow of Americans, Afghan allies and other foreigners through the gates, according to Major General William Taylor of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.

Increasingly under pressure over the dangerous and chaotic process, Biden is set to discuss the evacuation effort at a news briefing Sunday as his administration grapples with the swelling crisis.

Several NATO countries have pressed to keep the airport open for evacuations beyond August 31, the date that Biden had set for pulling out the last US troops. Biden has committed to evacuating every American and every Afghan who worked for the US government but has said the mission will not be open-ended.

The situation at the airport has grown increasingly dangerous in recent days, sometimes with lethal consequences.

On Saturday morning, a former interpreter for a US company plunged into a mass of humanity outside an airport gate, her family in tow. As they were jostled and elbowed, she pushed ahead, intent on securing a flight for them all.

The crowd surged, and the family was slammed to the ground. People trampled them where they lay, the woman recalled hours later. She said someone kicked her in the head. She could not breathe.

As she struggled to her feet, she said, she searched for her 2-year-old daughter. The girl was dead, crushed by the mob.

On Sunday, families from across Afghanistan continued to make the perilous journey to the airport gates. Nezamuddin, who uses a single name, came from Kunduz province with his wife, three children and five grandchildren, hoping his two years of work for the German government would get them on a plane out of Kabul.

“We live in a dangerous place,” he said. “For me it doesn’t matter anymore. My life is almost over. We arrived from Kunduz last night and spent the night here in the dust. All I want is a future for my grandchildren.”

In formal settings elsewhere in Kabul, the Taliban have been in talks about forming a government. One of their leaders, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, arrived in Kabul to begin discussions with former President Hamid Karzai and other politicians, whose participation in any government could help lend it legitimacy overseas.

But the Taliban face an uphill struggle to govern a war-weary nation with hollowed-out ministries and a lack of financial resources. Many Afghans are far from persuaded that the group’s repressive past, in which it deprived women of basic rights and encouraged floggings, amputations and mass executions, is truly behind it.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Written by: Dan Bilefsky
Photographs by: Jim Huylebroek
© 2021 THE NEW YORK TIMES

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