Inside the scramble to help Americans and Afghans escape Afghanistan

3 weeks ago 4
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By Jeremy Herb, Lauren Fox, Priscilla Alvarez, Jennifer Hansler and Geneva Sands, CNN

CNN — On Capitol Hill, legislature offices person transformed their constituent services into a hopeless effort to get susceptible Afghans and US citizens into the Kabul airport.

Nongovernmental groups and recently formed advertisement hoc unpaid organizations person worked astir the timepiece to place Afghans and get their names into the hands of the State Department, portion trying to find charter planes that tin spell into Kabul.

Their efforts are portion of a huffy scramble to assistance evacuate some Americans and Afghans present astatine hazard successful the aftermath of the chaos since the Taliban swept to powerfulness and took implicit Kabul. The groups and lawmakers person been racing to get those successful information retired of the country, uncovering immoderate successes but besides crushing vexation arsenic radical person been turned distant from the airdrome or, worse, beaten by the Taliban arsenic they effort to fly Afghanistan.

Senate aides person adjacent been connected the phones with US citizens portion they've been stopped, harassed and adjacent attacked by the Taliban.

Lawmakers person reached retired to Marines connected the crushed successful Kabul and to their contacts successful the State Department and Pentagon to effort to streamline the process. As the US subject has ramped up its operations to evacuate people, extracurricular groups are trying to coordinate charter flights that tin supplement those efforts.

But the Taliban checkpoints and chaos astatine the gates extracurricular the airdrome person stopped galore thousands from getting wrong the airport, fto unsocial connected planes, subjecting them to harsh conditions and unit from the Taliban. The difficulties person pushed advocates and lawmakers alike to impulse President Joe Biden to widen an August 31 deadline to decorativeness the withdrawal of US troops, arguing there's not astir capable clip to get everyone retired successful the adjacent 2 weeks.

"We person truthful galore radical being turned away, peculiarly women," said Stacia George, manager of the Conflict Resolution Program astatine the Carter Center, adding that she's moving with a web of trusted radical to effort to put proscription to the airdrome for those astatine risk.

Fears Rise About Safety of Afghan Airport arsenic  U.S. Warns Americans to Stay Away

The world connected the ground

Congressional offices crossed the state person taken connected thousands of cases implicit the past week that person travel from friends and relatives of radical stuck successful Afghanistan, including American citizens fearful of trying to escape, Afghan interpreters who worked with the US subject and Afghan pistillate present astatine hazard nether Taliban rule.

While Biden claimed Friday that Americans are being allowed to walk done Taliban checkpoints, galore legislature offices person been told a antithetic communicative connected the ground.

Biden Stands By Airlift Operations, Decision to Leave Afghanistan

Congressional aides accidental they've been successful interaction with Americans excessively acrophobic to walk done the Taliban checkpoints successful Kabul. Others person made it done but not without harassment and violence.

Aides to Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, said their bureau has heard from much than 1,000 radical seeking help, including hundreds of US citizens. Their staffers person been connected the telephone with Americans arsenic they were physically attacked by the Taliban portion retired successful the streets successful Kabul, the aides said.

Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat who's a Marine veteran, said his bureau has been helping much than 500 individuals who person travel to him done veterans, diplomats, activists and others hopeless to get their friends and relatives out.

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He spoke to 1 pistillate successful Afghanistan, who is the woman of a greenish paper holder and six months large with a 5-year-old son.

"They waited for hours successful the searing vigor until she got truthful sick she had to spell to the infirmary and was incapable to get done the gate," Moulton said. "The Taliban has already travel to their home, truthful they don't privation to instrumentality home."

Moulton, who served successful Iraq, said helium had spoken to Marines astatine the Kabul airdrome connected Friday, who said they needed much troops connected the crushed and much clip to implicit the evacuation.

"I spoke to a Marine an hr agone who said, 'You've got to marque them widen the deadline -- we'll enactment present arsenic agelong arsenic it takes, but we've got to decorativeness this job,' " Moulton said.

How to Help Afghan Refugees and the Relief Effort

Rep. Carol Miller, a Republican from West Virginia, has been speaking with individuals who are stuck successful the country. CNN spoke straight with 1 idiosyncratic who described trying to spell to the airdrome to permission with their household but being forced to crook backmost location aft it became excessively unsafe to propulsion on.

"We are trying to bash immoderate we tin done our channels successful the government, but we are besides trying to support the connection live for them," Miller told CNN.

Rep. Tom Malinowski, a erstwhile State Department official, has been helping to link Afghans connected the crushed with immoderate extracurricular groups that person been coordinating charter flights retired of the state alongside the US government.

But the New Jersey Democrat admits that truthful overmuch is extracurricular the power of US lawmakers close now. Malinowski said he's heard straight astir Afghans being beaten connected their mode toward the gate.

"It took them days," Malinowski said of immoderate who person gotten out. "Then we person besides had a batch of radical who person made it to the gate, having been asked to travel to the airdrome by the US State Department, who were past turned distant by US Marines oregon successful immoderate cases the Brits oregon the Turks. This was arsenic of yesterday. I cognize the medication was trying to get a grip connected that."

Congressional offices person been fixed a State Department email to process the requests they've received to evacuate radical from Afghanistan, successful bid to get them connected the indispensable lists to beryllium cleared for flights. The fig of cases is easy successful the thousands, and the legislature offices are moving done them conscionable arsenic they would for a constituent who had a occupation with a Social Security check.

The bureau of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, says it has fielded astir 500 requests. The bureau of Rep. Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat, has helped process much than 800 visa applications, a spokeswoman said.

Desperate to get out

Nongovernmental groups person focused connected helping to region Afghans who applied for the Special Immigrant Visa programme and served alongside the US subject arsenic good arsenic different susceptible Afghans, peculiarly women, who are besides astatine hazard nether Taliban rule.

There person been immoderate successes with evacuations. No One Left Behind, a radical that's pushed for helping Afghan interpreters done the Special Immigrant Visa program, announced a caller associated conjugation that got its archetypal formation retired connected Friday.

The Biden medication said it had evacuated astir 13,000 radical since past Saturday connected authorities flights, successful summation to facilitating the departure of astatine slightest 11 charter flights. Flights were halted for astatine slightest 8 hours connected Friday but started backmost up, and advocates are hopeful that much charter flights volition beryllium cleared to onshore astatine the Kabul airdrome this weekend.

The Carter Center's George, who formerly worked successful Afghanistan with the US Agency for International Development, has been sitting with her husband, a veteran, for the past week, fielding inquiries and pinging contacts to effort to get Afghans to safety.

"The infinitesimal we saw the absorption things were going, radical who served successful Afghanistan started mobilizing around, 'OK, however bash we enactment to get erstwhile colleagues out?' " she told CNN.

Fears Rise About Safety of Afghan Airport arsenic  U.S. Warns Americans to Stay Away

George has been receiving calls from radical she knows who volition past emblem individuals who worked for the US authorities and request to evacuate with their families. She'll cod their accusation and nonstop it to the State Department oregon the astir due avenue.

Deepa Alagesan, portion of the litigation squad astatine the International Refugee Assistance Project, said that dozens of their clients, including Special Immigrant Visa applicants, are astatine the airdrome trying to get connected evacuation flights, immoderate waiting much than 24 hours successful harrowing conditions.

"Some clients person made the hard determination to crook backmost and spell location due to the fact that they're truthful disquieted astir perchance dying successful the crowds extracurricular the airdrome earlier making it wrong for an evacuation flight," Alagesan said.

Yalda Afif, a programme manager astatine the exile assistance enactment HIAS, has likewise been fielding calls from radical hopeless to evacuate. "They cognize they'll either beryllium killed determination and if they don't leave, they'll beryllium killed after," she said, adding that radical person described beatings, stampedes and shots fired extracurricular the Kabul airport.

'A large choke point'

There person been respective charter flights coordinated with the US subject to effort to assistance Afghans get out, though they person not yet resumed. Advocates accidental they're hopeful the charter flights volition commencement backmost up arsenic soon arsenic Saturday.

One group, the Afghanistan Evacuation Coordination Team, is simply a recently created unpaid enactment that's organized respective charter planes acceptable to spell into Afghanistan, said Evanna Hu, the CEO of the artificial quality institution Omelas, who is co-leading the group. Hu said the radical has a database of 200 to 300 individuals who person worked for Western nongovernmental and media organizations.

But immoderate of the radical the radical has tried to assistance person been turned away, adjacent American citizens, underscoring the peril inactive connected the ground. Hu said she has spoken to immoderate radical who were turned distant astatine the gross oregon refused introduction due to the fact that they had gone to the incorrect gate. One woman, a dual national cleared to spell with different NATO country, was beaten arsenic she was trying to get into the airport.

"She didn't adjacent get close," Hu said. "About 200 meters from the gates, she got whipped. She sent maine pictures of the whip marks connected her hand."

There is "a large choke point" getting US allies retired of Afghanistan, said Jennifer Quigley, elder manager for authorities affairs astatine Human Rights First, pointing to the chaos and unit extracurricular the airport.

"It's the crowds that person amassed, and however volatile and convulsive the concern has become," she said.

In 1 instance, the aunt of idiosyncratic successful the US, who is herself a US citizen, tried for 12 hours to get to the gross of the airdrome but was wounded successful the assemblage and yet had to springiness up and spell backmost home, according to Quigley.

Only 2 of the 9 families that Quigley's enactment was moving with to assistance get them retired of Afghanistan made it done the introduction constituent to the airport.

"It's not acceptable," Quigley said of the deficiency of US-managed assemblage power extracurricular the airport. "If you're saying that you're evacuating people, you're really not, due to the fact that they can't get through."

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