Leaked cable reveals US embassy anger at handling of Afghanistan withdrawal

Afghan staffers say they were jostled, struck, spat on and abused by the Taliban at checkpoints near the Kabul airport

Shweta Sharma
Monday 23 August 2021 09:57
British Armed Forces discuss evacuation effort in Kabul

Afghan staffers at the US embassy in Kabul have expressed growing rage and despair at the handling of the country’s evacuation operations, and said they would rather die “with dignity and pride” than experience Taliban checkpoints and crowds at the airport, according to a leaked cable.

The embassy employees revealed the “extremely physical situation” as several were jostled, struck, spat on and abused by Taliban fighters at checkpoints near the airport, according to NBC News, who gained access to the US State Department’s diplomatic cable sent on Saturday.

“It would be better to die under the Taliban’s bullet” than to face the crowds at the airport again, a local staff member was quoted as saying in the cable.

“Happy to die here, but with dignity and pride,” another staffer reportedly said. A third employee accused the US of prioritising elites in the western-backed Afghanistan government, alleging they had contacts with the US and other ways and means to escape the country.

A week after the Taliban seized power from Afghan government, scenes of desperation continue to play out at the Kabul airport, as thousands scramble to escape the clutches of the Islamist group.

At least 20 people have died near or at the airport from gunshots and stampedes till last Sunday, as people are still trying to reach the airport.

Desperate scenes from the airport earlier have shown how distraught Afghans have clung on to US aircraft taxiing on the runway, in a bid to flee the country.

Recently, a heartbreaking photo of a mother handing her baby to a US army soldier over the Kabul airport’s perimeter wall went viral on social media.

Local staffers who worked with the US embassy said they are “deeply disheartened” and feel betrayed over the handling of the evacuation operations by the US, according to the report.

The cable said memos were sent on Wednesday telling Afghan staff members to reach the Kabul airport and asking them to prepare for difficult conditions.

But “no one anticipated the brutal experience,” the cable said.

One staffer said his home had been tagged with spray paint, a tactic used by the Taliban in the past to mark the houses of people they want to question further, it said. The staffer and his family fled their home, but have not managed to reach the airport yet.

Recognising the “hardship, pain and loss” of the local embassy staff members because of their “dedication to work” with the US for a better future for Afghanistan, a State Department spokesperson said the US has a “special commitment” to them.

The official said they have been “working tirelessly to improve access to the airport” and to help people eligible for flights.

Jake Sullivan, US president Joe Biden’s national security adviser, on Sunday said US troops evacuated 3,900 people in the past 24 hours and that non-US military flights evacuated a similar number of people over the same period.

He said Mr Biden asks his defence chiefs “every single day” whether they need more troops or other resources to ensure safe evacuations of Americans and non-US citizens from Kabul airport.

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