Now that the cabinet has promised to evacuate all Afghans who are at risk because they helped the Dutch mission in Afghanistan, a new problem has arisen: the lack of access to Kabul’s airport. Although just under 5,000 American soldiers control the airport in the Afghan capital, the Taliban rule outside the fences.
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It is therefore unclear how the hundreds of Afghans who claim a place on the evacuation list – or have already done so – should come to the Netherlands. Afghan staff of the Dutch embassy in Kabul say against NRC that none of their group of 37 employees has yet reached the airport. Dutch soldiers see that for the time being “only people with a Western passport can enter the airport,” says a defense spokesperson.
The situation around the airport is “very tense,” he says. Taliban fighters, for whom many evacuees are terrified, control the access roads to Hamid Karzai International Airport. Once there, the evacuees often find themselves in chaos, shootings and huge crowds trying to get into the airport. At least twelve people have been killed by bullets or oppression since Sunday.
Once at the airport, the evacuees often find themselves in chaos, shootings and huge crowds
About a third of the local employees of the Dutch embassy and their families (a total of more than two hundred people) heard on Thursday that a flight had been arranged for them. After nearly a day of waiting and futile efforts to push through the crowds, they returned home empty-handed. “We have identified this problem much earlier,” an embassy employee said angrily. “Everyone is still trying to get to the airport, including undocumented migrants. We will not get through that.” Their hopes for a military escort are in vain, Defense says when asked. “It is too busy, too confusing to carry out such an operation.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirms that the evacuation is “difficult” due to problems on the access roads. The emergency team of diplomats and military personnel present in Kabul is investigating the “possibilities to speed up access to the airport” for the Dutch evacuees, he says on Thursday evening.
The back of the gun
A penetrating report by the American channel CNN showed the hectic pace on the access roads to Kabul’s airport on Thursday. Endless traffic jams, Taliban fighters beating crowds with batons and guns, constant shots in the background. Afghans desperately show the CNN reporter evidence that they worked for international missions, asking for help getting to the airport. Finally, a Taliban fighter chases the film crew with the back of his gun.
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The House of Representatives is closely monitoring the evacuation problems. On Wednesday evening, the government promised to bring here not only interpreters and embassy staff, but also other Afghans who have worked for the Netherlands and are therefore in “acute” danger. Parliamentarians who signed the motion are keeping in touch with Afghans who were previously rejected, to check whether they are indeed on the evacuation list after the promises of the cabinet, says PvdA MP Kati Piri.
According to Defense, it will not be due to the number of evacuation flights. It is true that one of the two Dutch evacuation planes has been in the hangar with broken brakes since Thursday, but it has been possible to organize three flights a day from Kabul, a spokesman said. Four flights have been operated until Thursday evening.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of August 20, 2021