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Latest from Afghanistan: 7 die at Kabul airport, US airlines activated to help evacuation

Families board U.S. Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 23, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Samuel Ruiz).
August 23, 2021

It’s been a week since the Taliban entered Afghanistan’s capital city and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled.

And the scene at Hamid Karzai International Airport remains frenzied, with seven people killed as crowds try to get out of the country, the British military reported on Sunday.

“Conditions on the ground remain extremely challenging but we are doing everything we can to manage the situation as safely and securely as possible,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.

On Saturday, troops from several nations tried to control the crush of people pressing to get into the airport, as temperatures hit the mid-90s. Soldiers sprayed water from a hose on those gathered or gave them bottled water to pour over their heads. It wasn’t immediately clear whether those killed had been physically crushed or died from other health conditions.

A NATO official told Reuters on Sunday that 20 people have died in the last week at the airport amid the evacuation.

The U.S. continues to evacuate Americans and Afghan people with special immigrant visas, with 17,000 people sent out of Afghanistan in the last week.

Baby born on US military plane out of Kabul

An American transport plane landed in Germany with one more passenger than departed from Kabul, Afghanistan.

An Afghan woman gave birth on the plane, which landed Saturday at Ramstein Air Base.

“During a flight from an Intermediate Staging Base in the Middle East, the mother went into labor and began having complications,” the Air Mobility Command, a division of the U.S. Air Force, wrote in a tweet about the flight.

Both mother and baby are in good condition, according to the tweet.

GOP blasts Biden for withdrawal situation

President Joe Biden could’ve moved the deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Rep. Liz Cheney said Sunday.

“There’s no question,” the Wyoming Republican said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” “You know, President Biden is the president of the United States, and he’s had no problem in reversing course on other things. … He’s reversed a number of decisions of the Trump administration.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., blasted Biden’s adherence to a withdrawal deadline that was extended about four months from a deadline deal struck by the Trump administration with the Taliban.

“August 31 was a stupid, arbitrary, politically driven deadline. The Taliban needs to know they don’t dictate the timetable on American lives,” Sasse said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Noting he was against Biden’s withdrawal plan, Sasse said Biden needs to be forceful in his dealings with militants in Afghanistan and anything that stands in the way of that plan.

“The president’s plan is to leave Afghanistan, but he needs the Taliban to know and al-Qaida and the Haqqani network and al-Qaida allies and ISIS to understand that he may well change his mind on the departure, if any fire comes down on Americans for evacuating our people.”

White House not ruling out additional troops in Afghanistan as evacuation continues

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the U.S. has “sufficient forces” on the ground in Afghanistan to execute the ongoing evacuation before the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, but he wouldn’t rule out sending additional troops.

“Every single day the president asks his military commanders, including those at the airport and those at the Pentagon, whether they need additional resources, additional troops,” Sullivan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “So far, the answer has been ‘no,’ but he will ask again today.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” said approximately 8,000 people have been evacuated on 60 flights in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 30,000 on both military and charter flights since the end of July.

But chaos has continued at the Kabul airport, where large crowds are trying to get out of the country, resulting in seven deaths, the British military reported on Sunday.

Sullivan said the U.S. will have a “swift and forceful response” if the Taliban disrupts the evacuation. He said the U.S. hasn’t offered the Taliban anything in return as part of the militant group’s agreement to not interfere.

“This isn’t some kind of quid pro quo. We haven’t made any commitments,” Sullivan said. “We have laid out our expectations. We have explained to them that the United States of America intends to evacuate any American who wants to leave, as well as Afghans at risk. We intend to follow through on that. And we intend to ensure that they follow through on that.”

Amid Taliban takeover, fear Afghanistan’s media landscape will ‘disappear’

U.S. forces are scrambling to quickly evacuate Americans and Afghan allies before the United States’ Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw all its troops. Crowds of people desperate to flee the country and Taliban checkpoints have complicated the U.S. evacuation.

Flights out of Afghanistan were delayed Saturday because of problems finding accommodations for the flood of refugees being flown out of Kabul. All gates at the Kabul airport were closed Saturday because of a backup at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, according to a Defense Department official who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Most U.S. military evacuation planes fly from Kabul to Qatar, and the inability to handle more evacuees there is causing a ripple effect.

US commercial airlines joining evacuation efforts

The Defense Department on Sunday signaled it will enlist commercial air carriers to assist in evacuation efforts out of Kabul.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin activated 18 aircraft to help the State Department with its airlift as part of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

The addition of 18 commercial aircraft — three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines — is not expected to strain commercial flights, Kirby said. Those planes will not fly into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. “They will be used for the onward movement of passengers from temporary safe havens and interim staging bases,” according to Kirby’s statement.

Civilian aircraft have been activated now three times: in support of Operations Desert Shield/Storm (August 1990 to May 1991) and for Operation Iraqi Freedom (February 2002 to June 2003).

Ex-British PM Tony Blair blasts US withdrawal

Tony Blair, the British prime minister who deployed troops to Afghanistan 20 years ago after the 9/11 attacks, says the U.S. decision to withdraw from the country has “every Jihadist group round the world cheering.”

In a lengthy essay posted on his website late Saturday, the former Labour Party leader said the sudden and chaotic pullout that allowed the Taliban to reclaim power risked undermining everything that had been achieved in Afghanistan over the past two decades, including advances in living standards and the education of girls.

“The abandonment of Afghanistan and its people is tragic, dangerous, unnecessary, not in their interests and not in ours,” said Blair who served as prime minister during 1997-2007, a period that also saw him back the U.S.-led war in Iraq in 2003.

“The world is now uncertain of where the West stands because it is so obvious that the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan in this way was driven not by grand strategy but by politics,” he added.

Blair also accused U.S. President Joe Biden of being “in obedience to an imbecilic political slogan about ending ‘the forever wars’, as if our engagement in 2021 was remotely comparable to our commitment 20 or even 10 years ago.”

The former prime minister, whose reputation in the U.K. took a dive from the failure to find the alleged weapons of mass destruction that were cited as justification for U.S. coalition’s invasion of Iraq, said Britain has a “moral obligation” to stay in Afghanistan until everyone who needs to be evacuated is taken out.

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