Afghan evacuees arrive in the US; Biden says numbers may rise to 65,000

Afghan people sit inside a U.S. military aircraft to leave Afghanistan, at the military airport in Kabul on August 19, 2021, after the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan.
Afghan people sit inside a U.S. military aircraft to leave Afghanistan, at the military airport in Kabul on August 19, 2021, after the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan. | SHAKIB RAHMANI/AFP via Getty Images

The first groups of Afghan evacuees arrived at Dulles International Airport Saturday, one week after the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.

At a Defense Department briefing at the Pentagon Saturday, Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor told reporters that three flights carrying Afghan evacuees had landed at Dulles, near Washington, D.C., and those evacuees will be transitioned to Fort Bliss in Texas "for further processing."

On Thursday, "the U.S. military airlifted nearly 6,000 evacuees in a single day," Taylor said. "In the last 24 hours, six U.S. military C-17s and 32 charters departed Kabul. Through this combined effort, the total passenger count for those flights was approximately 3,800."

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Hundreds of other Afghan evacuees aboard the C-17 Globemaster plane reached the Ramstein U.S. Air Base in Germany from Qatar on Saturday. 

Since the evacuation operation on Aug. 14, Taylor said 17,000 people have been evacuated out of Kabul, adding that of those, 2,500 are U.S. citizens. Another 22,000 have been relocated since the end of July.

"I would add that intelligence, law enforcement and counter-terrorism professionals are conducting screening and security vetting for all SIV (special immigrant visas) and others — vulnerable Afghans — before they are allowed to enter the United States," he said. 

Taylor added that 5,800 U.S. troops remain on the ground to provide security at the airport in Kabul.

The situation at the U.S.-held airport in Kabul continues to be chaotic, however.

The U.K. Ministry of Defense said in a press statement Sunday that seven Afghan civilians were crushed to death outside the airport as crowds attempted to board evacuation planes.

“Conditions on the ground remain extremely challenging but we are doing everything we can to manage the situation as safely and securely as possible,” it said, according to DW, which said Taliban fighters also sparked panic by firing into the air to control the crowd.

President Joe Biden said in an interview with ABC News last week that as many as 65,000 Afghans might be evacuated.

At the U.S. airbase in Germany, over 2,000 evacuees have arrived from Kabul since Friday evening, CNN reported.

The U.S. Department of Defense tweeted that an Afghan mother gave birth while on board a U.S. Air Force aircraft just before the touchdown at the U.S. military base in Germany.

U.S. citizens in Afghanistan were told Saturday not to travel to the Kabul airport due to security threats. The Journal Gazette said potential Islamic State threats against Americans forced the U.S. military to develop new ways to get evacuees to the airport.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby confirmed during the Defense Department briefing on Saturday that Americans had been beaten by the Taliban while attempting to reach the airport.

“We are aware of sporadic cases where they aren't being allowed, where there is some harassment going on, and yes, some physical violence has occurred” within the last week, Kirby said. “What appears to be happening is that not every Taliban fighter either got the word or decided not to obey the word [to allow Americans to get to the airport].”

According to military officials, space for up to 22,000 evacuees has been cleared, but the number of evacuees is likely to be much higher. 

U.S. governors have said they would be willing to take in Afghan evacuees.

“We are eager to continue that practice and assist with the resettlement of individuals and families fleeing Afghanistan, especially those who valiantly helped U.S. troops, diplomats, journalists and other civilians over the past 20 years,” Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, said in a statement.

“We’re already working in terms of a lot of those refugees coming in and working with (community groups) and nonprofit organizations to make sure that they feel welcome and celebrated as members of our community,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said.

Following the drawing down of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban quickly seized control of much of the country, eventually taking the capital Kabul and forcing the government to flee.

In response to the unexpected speed at which they retook the nation, tens of thousands of Americans, Afghan allies, and others have desperately tried to leave the country.

A return to Taliban rule for Afghanistan has led many to express concern over the treatment of women, as well as religious minorities, such as the small Christianity community.

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