Refugees Reportedly Face Beatings and Harassment Getting to Kabul Airport as U.S. Continues Evacuations

The White House had said the Taliban pledged to provide "safe passage" to the airport

Afghanistan crisis
Afghanistan. Photo: WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty

The violent chaos that marred the evacuations out of the Afghanistan capital last week has reportedly continued even as tens of thousands of people have successfully fled.

The disconnect between the ongoing evacuation and the dangers surrounding it is underlined by reports of men, women and children being beaten by members of the Taliban as they tried to pass through checkpoints before leaving the country.

As the U.S.-led coalition continues to aid people amid the Taliban takeover, the White House said the militant group pledged to provide "safe passage" to the Kabul airport not just for American citizens but for Afghans trying to leave.

But accounts on the ground show it's not that simple.

While the U.S. military and international forces maintain control of the Kabul airport — right now the country's only evacuation point — getting there requires traveling down a Taliban-controlled road, where checkpoints are set up by the group to view documents before allowing people to venture ahead.

According to U.S. officials, Taliban members are in some cases turning people away. In others, they are beating those Afghans who try to leave.

WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, acknowledged in a briefing last week that "there have been instances where we have received reports of people being turned away or pushed back or even beaten."

Sullivan added then that the U.S. is "taking that up in a channel with the Taliban to try to resolve those issues. And we are concerned about whether that will continue to unfold in the coming days."

There have not been confirmed reports of American casualties in the evacuation.

But Politico reported Friday on a briefing call by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who told lawmakers that Americans trying to leave Afghanistan via the airport were among those who had been under threat by fighters.

"We're also aware that some people, including Americans, have been harassed and even beaten by the Taliban," Austin said on the call, according to Politico, citing multiple sources. "This is unacceptable and [we] made it clear to the designated Taliban leader."

In a Monday briefing, Sullivan noted that the U.S. military was also performing extractions of American citizens who could not get to the airport.

Sullivan said that the White House believes it will be able to evacuate all remaining Americans before the Aug. 31 troop withdrawal deadline, though the Biden administration has not ruled out extending that date even as the Taliban called it a "red line."

Despite the group's claims of moderation after returning to power, NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel cited local reports noting that Afghans demonstrating in Jalalabad were fired on by the Taliban, with at least two killed.

NBC News and The Los Angeles Times also reported that Taliban fighters were thought to have beaten both adults and children in recent days, based on photographs showing bloodied and injured Afghans in the streets.

Afghanistan evacuations
Afghanistan evacuations. U.S. Army via Getty

As the Taliban overtook Afghanistan's capital last weekend, a dramatic scene played out as Afghans were sent scrambling into hiding or limbo hoping to either escape the Taliban's notice or escape the country altogether.

At the Kabul airport, thousands of Afghans attempted to board evacuation flights out of the region, scaling concrete walls and racing across the tarmac.

According to the Associated Press, officials said that at least seven people had died in the maelstrom at the airport. Among those were some people who fell from the outside of a U.S. military plane after clinging to it as it took off.

The situation has settled since, and the Biden administration has boasted of its efforts to evacuate more than 80,000 people so far drawing outcries of mismanagement. The president insisted he will continue to aid those seeking refuge.

For those who can't get out of Kabul, the future looms. When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan in the 1990s, they did so by ruling harshly. Public executions were held routinely; women and girls were banned from school; television and music were forbidden.

Some 20 years after being toppled in a U.S.-led invasion, the group has publicly announced changes, such as saying it will allow girls to attend school.

Under the Trump-era agreement that led to the U.S. withdrawal this summer, the Taliban also said it would break ties with al-Qaida.

Still, those announcements have been met with skepticism by foreign policy experts.

If you would like to support those in need during the upheaval in Afghanistan, consider:

* Donating to UNICEF to aid Afghans in the country or

* Donating to the International Refugee Assistance Project to help those fleeing.

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