“It would be better to die under the Taliban’s bullet” than face the crowds again, NBC News quoted an embassy employee as saying, citing a US State Department cable that the media outlet obtained. Another local staffer allegedly said, “Happy to die here, but with dignity and pride.”
Afghan embassy employees are “deeply disheartened” because after being invited by the US State Department on Wednesday to make their way to Hamid Karzai International Airport for evacuation, they met with a “brutal experience,” according to the article, which was published on Sunday. The staffers said they were struck, spat on and cursed by Taliban fighters at checkpoints near the airport, and some nearly lost their children. Others collapsed on the road because of heat exhaustion, while still others were injured in a crush of people.
The airport is guarded by US military forces from inside, and ringed by the Taliban checkpoints outside. Over the past week, at least seven civilians were killed in stampedes of people trying to get into the airport, according to the UK defense ministry. Overall, since the surprise Taliban takeover of Kabul and first chaotic scenes of desperate Afghans clinging onto US troop transports and falling to their deaths, at least 20 people have died in and around the airport, a NATO official told Reuters.
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Taliban fighters were seen firing into the air and beating back crowds again on Sunday, although with no major injuries reported. Later, President Joe Biden noted that the Taliban has “been cooperative in extending some of the perimeter.” He stood by his administration’s “hard and painful” evacuation efforts, saying it was going smoothly.
The European Union’s top diplomat, Joseph Borrell, previously said it would be impossible to evacuate Afghan allies from Kabul by the end of August, when US troops are scheduled to pull out, because American forces aren’t providing adequate access to the airport.
One Afghan embassy staffer said his family was tagged with spray paint, a tactic used by the Taliban to identify a home’s occupants for further questioning. He told NBC his family fled their home, but wasn’t able to get to the airport.
It’s not clear why preparations weren’t made for the Afghan nationals who worked at the embassy to be evacuated at the same time that American staffers were taken out last week. One staffer accused the State Department of prioritizing evacuations of Afghan government elites who already had necessary paperwork and had other ways of fleeing the country, according to the cable.
The US embassy workers were far from alone in feeling betrayed. About 125 Afghan security contractors who helped UK diplomats board an evacuation flight were reportedly told that their jobs would be terminated and they would get no protection from the British government. That decision was reportedly reversed amid public backlash.
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