The Biden State Department has scrapped an initial plan to bill US citizens desperately seeking to fly out of Kabul $2,000 or more for their evacuation flight home. This is an estimated up to 10,000 or more Americans are still trapped in Kabul, many seeking to make their way to the airport under cover while avoiding Taliban checkpoints.
Harrowing scenes showed Americans in some cases literally standing on the other side of barbed wire barriers screaming for US soldiers guarding airport entrances to help them inside. Word of the $2,000 price tag for the flight home first emerged on social media on Thursday and was later confirmed by the State Department as ‘normative’ practice, as indicated on its official .gov website.
“U.S. law requires that evacuation assistance to private U.S. citizens or third country nationals be provided ‘on a reimbursable basis to the maximum extent practicable,‘” a State Dept. spokesman was cited in Politico as saying.
Following widespread outrage over the hefty fee, which presumably the US government would have collected later after it flew Americans out of harm’s way, State Department spokesman Ned Price announced the US plans to drop the fee in this case.
“In these unique circumstances, we have no intention of seeking any reimbursement from those fleeing Afghanistan,” Price was widely cited as saying.
According to The Hill, “The law requires that Americans or other foreign nationals agree to pay back the cost of an evacuation, which is typically comparable to the cost of a full fare economy flight, or comparable transportation to the designated destination.”
But it’s now pretty much universally agreed upon that the evacuation was botched from the beginning, given the administration delayed and waited despite repeat warnings from military and intelligence officials that the process be started much, much earlier.
During a Wednesday afternoon press conference Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made a stunning admission on the situation in Kabul which immediately came under fire from the press pool: “We don’t have the capability to go out and collect large numbers of people.”
While he was responding to the avalanche of criticism aimed at the White House and Pentagon for essentially abandoning to the Taliban the tens of thousands of local Afghan translators and staffers who spent years helping US and NATO forces, the further alarming reality remains that thousands of Americans are still trapped in and around Kabul international airport. A CBS News foreign correspondent posted the below video showing the still chaotic situation as Americans are trying to access the airport under extremely dangerous circumstances, through barbed wire and blockaded military checkpoints. “Get us!” one woman is heard screaming and pleading with the American troops standing on the other side of the blockaded North Gate entrance to the airport.
After Monday’s events which saw thousands of desperate Afghanis flood the airport runways, making it nearly impossible for aircraft to take off, also resulting in multiple deaths, US troops have closed off and barricaded whole sections of the airport.
At the same time the unbelievable overnight (local time) scenes of desperation unfolded, over at the Pentagon briefing Secretary Austin said further, “All of this is very personal for me. This is a war that I fought in and led. We have a moral obligation to help those who helped us and I feel the urgency deeply.”
Yet the crisis continues to spiral…
Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman also issued remarks, specifically addressing reports that currently Taliban militants are blocking all outside access to the Kabul airport:
“[We] are engaging directly with the Taliban to make clear we expect them to allow all American citizens all 3rd-country nationals who wish to leave to do so safely & without harassment.”
This is apparently creating a “trapped” no-man’s land situation where throngs of people are stuck between the Taliban and internal US military perimeter, making it impossible to go anywhere.
Many are also still in Kabul itself, The Washington Post is reporting, “Thousands of U.S. citizens are trapped in Kabul with no ability to get to the airport. As Taliban soldiers go door to door, searching for Westerners, these U.S. citizens are now reaching out to Washington for help.
“Help! The Taliban is coming!” – a young Afghan woman is heard tearfully pleading with US soldiers in another harrowing clip which emerged Wednesday…
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More from Wednesday’s press briefing and the Pentagon’s “safe passage” agreement with the Taliban, which appears tenuous at best…
As of Friday evening local time evacuation flights out of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul have been “paused” according to CNN correspondents.
According to White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, “No flights have left the Kabul airport in the last eight hours,” per a CNN reporter who is on the ground at the airport. Reportedly evacuation stop-off points and facilities at US bases in the Gulf – where the bulk of the some over 10,000 of those Americans and Afghans already flown out have landed – are reaching capacity.