(CNN) – A week after the Taliban takeover of Kabul, the situation at the airport in Afghanistan’s capital has become increasingly desperate, with more than 20,000 people in and around the facility trying to board flights and seven other Afghan civilians. killed in crushing, in the middle of one of the largest airlifts in history.
The airport is the epicenter of a chaotic struggle to escape the country for tens of thousands of people, including international workers, Afghan interpreters and women who are now at risk under Taliban rule.
By Sunday morning, the number of people at the airport waiting for flights had risen to 18,500, with another 2,000 at the gates waiting to get in, a source familiar with the situation told CNN.
One reason for the chaos was the decision to issue electronic visas to Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants, without names or document numbers. The visas were then copied as screenshots and sent by Afghans to thousands of other Afghans who were not eligible to access the airport, the source said.
Conditions worsened on Sunday, with the airport gates closed for the most part and cases of families divided and sent to different countries amid the chaos.
“I don’t know what they were doing, but there are still local personnel fighting at the gates and they can’t even get in,” a source close to the situation told CNN, referring to Afghans employed by the United States.
The families were separated and sent to different countries, the source added. This “was not by design and was not really the fault of US officials, but they choose to enter separately or separate along the way,” they said.
“They have had cases where mom, dad and children end up in different countries,” the source said.
Meanwhile, the mass evacuation mission continues.
Inside the airport on Sunday, CNN saw several C-17 military jets waiting for take off, with a huge military presence nearby. They are expected to work through the night in an effort to clear the backlog of passengers.
Outside the airport, the scenery is impressive.
Thousands of people continue to gather on the perimeter of the base. Amid heartbreaking images of families scaling the airport’s boundary walls last week, a video of a baby being hauled over barbed wire to a US Marine expressed the desperation of the world.
The sick baby was treated at a Norwegian airport-based hospital and later returned to his parents, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a briefing on Friday.
The area in and around the Kabul airport has become increasingly dangerous, with nearly 20 people believed to have been killed by stampedes or gunfire in the past week.
Seven Afghan civilians were killed in crushing near Kabul airport on Saturday, a UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) spokesman told CNN.
One of these incidents took place outside the airport itself, while another happened outside the Baron Hotel, the spokesperson said.
“Conditions on the ground remain extremely challenging, but we are doing everything we can to handle the situation as safely as possible,” the Defense Ministry spokesman said.
Earlier in the week, Reuters reported that a total of 12 people had also died in and around the airport since the Taliban captured Kabul last Sunday. The report, which CNN has not been able to independently verify, cites NATO sources and Taliban officials.
Amid the deteriorating situation, two US defense officials described to CNN the military effort to establish “alternative routes” for people to reach Kabul airport and its access gates, with one saying that these new Routes will be available to qualified Americans, third-party nationals and Afghans.
The Pentagon has been monitoring the situation around the airport, aware that the growing crowd on the grounds and around the airfield creates a target for ISIS-K and other organizations, which may use car bombs or suicide bombers to attack, the second official said. . Mortar attacks are another possible threat.
Evacuations in progress
The airport is one of the few escape routes out of the country. And the United States is undertaking “one of the largest and most difficult airlifts in history,” US President Joe Biden said Friday, acknowledging that despite the presence of thousands of US troops at Kabul airport, the situation it is still dangerous.
At least 38,000 people, including Afghans and foreigners, have been evacuated from Afghanistan since the Taliban began their advance on Kabul, according to data analyzed by CNN on Saturday.
A journalist who was lucky enough to escape on a flight from Qatar told CNN that he did not know if he was happy or heartbroken.
He had already fled the country once before, when the Taliban were last in power. Now he was leaving family and friends behind again, with no idea when, if ever, he would return to his country.
The United States has so far evacuated 17,000 people since Aug. 14, the day before Kabul fell to the Taliban. Of those 17,000 people, 2,500 are US citizens, Gen. Hank Taylor, deputy director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for Regional Operations, said Saturday.
Elsewhere, the British Armed Forces have evacuated nearly 4,000 people since Aug. 13, the UK Defense Ministry said in a tweet on Sunday.
Other countries, including Canada, Italy, Germany, France, Turkey and Australia, have also evacuated people.
At the US Ramstein airbase in southwestern Germany, evacuee flights arrived roughly every 90 minutes over the weekend. With a capacity of 5,000 people, one of the largest US air bases in Europe was rapidly filling up with people sheltering in temporary tents before continuing their journey to the United States.
The US military hopes to evacuate 5,000 to 9,000 people a day, but so far it has not met that goal. He faces massive challenges as he works toward the Aug. 31 deadline to leave the country, and Biden has indicated that the United States may have to stay beyond that date if all Americans have not yet been evacuated.
Among those who criticize the US withdrawal is former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was a leader when his country helped the United States oust the Taliban from power in 2001.
“The abandonment of Afghanistan and its people is tragic, dangerous, unnecessary, not in their interests and not ours,” Blair wrote Saturday in an article posted on the website of his think tank Institute for Global Change.
He added that the decision to withdraw troops from the country had been made “in obedience to an idiotic political slogan about ending ‘eternal wars.’
Sam Kiley reported from Kabul, Nick Paton Walsh reported from Doha and Sheena McKenzie wrote from London.
CNN’s Sarah Dean, Sharif Paget, Barbara Starr, Oren Liebermann, Ellie Kaufman, and Nicole Gaouette contributed to this report.
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