The U.S. Air Force evacuated 1,800 people from Afghanistan on Wednesday in passenger planes and in ten cargo planes which can hold 600 people each – leading to questions as to why the C-17s are flying so empty.
The updated tally means that 6,000 American citizens have been evacuated so far.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday said that 15,000 were in Afghanistan when his crisis began – plus 50-65,000 Afghans and their families that he wants to grant passage to the U.S.
Biden said that the task may see the U.S. remaining in the country beyond their August 31 deadline – and unless the pace is significantly stepped up, they will be well beyond their time frame.
Afghans at risk from the Taliban, and their international supporters, are pleading with the U.S. government to step up the pace.
A cargo plane is pictured on the tarmac in Kabul on Wednesday, as evacuations continued – slowly
Staff from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul board a flight out of Afghanistan, in a photo provided by the U.S. military on Wednesday. A total of 1,800 Americans left the country on Wednesday
A U.S. soldier bumps fists with a man departing Afghanistan in a photo from Wednesday
But Lloyd Austin, the Secretary of Defense, said on Wednesday: ‘We don’t have the capability to go out and collect large numbers of people.’
He said that evacuations would continue ‘until the clock runs out or we run out of capability.’
Activists said that that was not good enough.
‘If we don’t sort this out, we’ll literally be condemning people to death,’ said Marina Kielpinski LeGree, the American head of a nonprofit, Ascend.
The organization’s young Afghan female colleagues were in the mass of people waiting for flights at the airport in the wake of days of mayhem, tear gas and gunshots.
‘People are going to die,’ said Air Force veteran Sam Lerman.
He said he was working to help a former Afghan military contractor who received an email from the State Department telling him to go to the airport. But U.S. troops at the entry to the airport turned back the Afghan man Wednesday, telling him he lacked the right document, Lerman said.
Evacuees from Afghanistan airlifted to safety by the Australian government are pictured on Wednesday
Taliban fighters have now encircled the airport in Kabul and are deciding who gets to come in and who has to stay out. Checkpoints have been set up on both the civilian south side of the airport and the military north side, with gunshots fired in both locations to keep crowds back
Hundreds of Afghans who lacked any papers or promises of flights also congregated at the airport, adding to the chaos. It didn’t help that many of the Taliban fighters were illiterate, and cannot read the documents.
On Tuesday the C-17s left Kabul with just 100 on board, in another shocking display of incompetence from Western governments who have promised to save tens of thousands of people from the increasingly threatening Taliban in Afghanistan.
One of them that was filmed by a CBS journalist on board was carrying around 300 people including translators, women and children. It leaves 1,700 that were removed Tuesday on the remaining 17 jets – an average of 100 per flight.
The planes are fitted to take 150 soldiers and heavy cargo loads but in disaster situations like the one unfolding in Afghanistan, they can be used take 600 people without surpassing weight limits.
On Sunday, one of the jets took 640 Afghans out of Kabul and in 2013, a different ones as used to remove 670 people from a typhoon in the Philippines.
And while the near-empty flights took off on Sunday, thousands of people were at the gates of the airport in Kabul, screaming, crying and begging to be saved from the Taliban.
Flights bound for Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, France and Italy also took off on Wednesday with just a few dozen people on board despite having capacity to take hundreds.
In one shocking case, a German plane with room for 150 departed Kabul on Tuesday with just seven on board.
A CBS reporter was on board one of the US jets that took off on Tuesday night. She said there were 300 people on board – half the number that were removed on the same type of jet on Sunday
One of the flights had some 300 Afghans on board. All brought luggage and there was enough room for people to lie down, stretch out and stand-up
One of the reasons for the woefully low passenger counts is that no one can get to the airport and through processing to board them.
Taliban is controlling all of the streets surrounding the airport and the US – and other countries – are relying on its fighters to let people through, including westerners who could become hostages if caught, and Afghan interpreters, translators or diplomats who could face persecution if the Taliban finds out who they are.
Already, the the terrorist group – which had vowed peace as part of a revamped image – has abandoned its promise by parading thieves with ropes round their necks, beating children and firing in the air.
The White House is offering no assurances on how long troops will stay in the region to help.
FLASHBACK – On Sunday, a single C-17 was used to get 640 Afghans out (left). In 2013 (right), 670 were removed from a typhoon in the Philippines
This is the scene at the city entrance to the airport in Kabul. It is being controlled by the Taliban and US forces are on the inside but the people waiting to fly out can’t get through the fighters at the front, and are being given no help by the State Department
In scenes of utter desperation at Kabul airport, people began passing babies to guards at the northern entrance hoping they will be put on flights out of the country and escape Taliban rule
Women were filmed pleading with US troops that the ‘Taliban are coming’ in footage that appeared to have been taken at Kabul airport this morning as thousands of desperate Afghans try to flee Islamist rule
Taliban fighters patrol in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday. The group is becoming increasingly violent, abandoning promises to be peaceful, and their cooperation is what the evacuation mission is relying on
The Taliban turned on the crowd at Kabul airport on Tuesday, driving the hundreds back from the airport perimeter as they pushed to flee the country. They had promised to be peaceful but have already given up on it
A young woman was shot dead for allegedly refusing to wear a hijab by marauding jihadists when they captured the northern town of Taloqan in Takhar province last week. She is seen lying in a pool of blood as her distraught parents crouch beside her body in an image shared by the Afghan Ambassador to Poland Tahir Qadry, who denounced the ‘butchering of civilians’
A man cries as he watches fellow Afghans get wounded after Taliban fighters use gunfire, whips, sticks and sharp objects to maintain crowd control over thousands of Afghans who continue to wait outside Kabul airport for a way out
A Taliban fighter patrols in Wazir Akbar Khan in the city of Kabul on Wednesday
Taliban fighters stand guard at a checkpoint in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in Kabul on Wednesday
At a press briefing on Wednesday afternoon, Dept. Secretary of State Wendy Ruth Sherman suggested that Americans shouldn’t have a problem getting to the airport, because so many Afghans have managed to make their way there.
‘The Taliban has said that the roads are open, that people can move. We’ve heard all of the stories about checkpoints, harassment, difficulties, jammed traffic, we’re trying to work through those issues.
‘I will say, in spite of the obstacles, many, many Afghans in all of the categories are finding their way to the airport,’ she said.
She said the US has processed 4,800 Americans to get them out, but it’s unclear if that number includes people who have already left before. Another 800 Afghans have been processed to be removed.
‘Our focus is on getting the people out of Afghanistan to safety.’
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby briefed reporters over the phone on Wednesday and admitted he hoped getting people to the airport would go more ‘smoothly’
At a conference call briefing with journalists on Wednesday, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby talked about the ongoing ‘processing’ issues and delays in getting people their necessary paperwork.
He admitted that he didn’t know how many Americans were still stuck in Kabul and said he ‘couldn’t predict’ how many would leave overnight.
‘I cant tell you the numbers of people coming and going. Our force flow gets smaller as we get more troops on the field. I can’t predict how many people will be evacuated,’ he said.
‘We’re still working on the processing here…We’re not unaware that there has been issues out in town and harassment of individuals, that’s one of the reasons we’re in touch with the Taliban to try to make sure that doesn’t happen.
‘I don’t have a specific next step. We are in communication with the Taliban. We want to see this go more smoothly, we want to see this go faster,’ he said.
THE EMPTIEST FLIGHTS OUT OF KABUL
Germany: Airbus A-400M with space for 150 people, departed Tuesday with 7 on board
Australia: Hercules C-130 with space for 120 people, departed Wednesday with 26 on board
Netherlands: Boeing C-17 with space for 150 people, departed Tuesday with 40 on board
France: Airbus A400M with space for 150 people, departed Tuesday with 41 on board
Italy: Boeing KC767 with space for up to 200 people, departed Monday with 70 on board
Spain: Airbus A-400M with space for 150 people, departed Wednesday with unknown number on board – though officials earlier said just 25 embassy staff had made it to the airport
U.S. Marine Corps General Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, arrives at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Tuesday. He is in charge of negotiating with the Taliban to let people through to the airport
Inside the airport, soldiers are helping those who have been able to get through and are putting them on flights but outside, it is total chaos run by the Taliban
An Australian Hercules C-130 plane with room for 120 people takes off from Kabul airport with just 26 passengers early on Wednesday – one of several aircraft to depart half-full
The flight was mostly filled with Australian citizens but also included Afghan nationals with visas, and one foreign official working in an international agency