The United States has resumed flights out of Afghanistan following an, Pentagon officials said Friday afternoon. The temporary suspension occurred after a facility in Doha, Qatar, hit capacity, leaving officials scrambling to find more places to assist with the transit of desperate evacuees.
“Flight operations have resumed and U.S. military flights to Qatar and other locations are departing Kabul as we speak right now,” Army Major General William Taylor, Joint Staff deputy director for regional operations, said at a press briefing. “We are looking at additional locations for these initial flights to land.”
Taylor emphasized that aircraft availability is not an issue, and said the U.S. aims “to maximize each plane’s capacity.”
State Department spokesperson Ned Price listed countries that would be helping the U.S. in the evacuation effort. Bahrain, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Qatar, Tajikistan, Turkey, the UAE, the United Kingdom and Uzbekistan either have been or will soon be allowing evacuees to be transited through their countries, Price said.
He said Albania, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Mexico, Poland, Qatar, Rwanda, Ukraine and Uganda “have also made generous offers regarding the relocation efforts for at-risk Afghans.”
“We deeply appreciate the support they have offered and we are proud to partner with them in our shared support for the Afghan people,” Price said of the countries that had offered support.
The holding facility at al-Udeid Air Base hanger in Doha where evacuees are being held until they can be processed and vetted had reached capacity by Friday morning.
“The sites at Qatar were just at capacity,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said at the Friday afternoon briefing. “There was just no room to flow in additional people.”
CBS News has confirmed that approximately 5,000 to 6,000 Afghans and U.S. citizens are crammed into the air base. One woman told CBS News that many had gone hours without food.
But while conditions were uncomfortable in Doha, chaos still reigned in Afghanistan, with tens of thousands of people desperate for a way out. Many gathered at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport in hopes of getting on a flight, but some — even those with an invitation from the state department — have struggled to get through the gate.
One woman, a permanent legal U.S resident, told CBS News the Taliban tried to stop her from entering the airport. She says they beat her nephew, who was escorting her, and she lost track of him in the crowd. Now, she said, she’s been stuck in Doha, unable to leave the base to catch a flight home and worried the Taliban will punish her nephew for getting her out.
Taylor said approximately 13,000 people have been evacuated from the airport since Saturday. President Biden has estimated that between 50,000 and 65,000 people — including Americans, their families, and vulnerable Afghans — are seeking to leave the country.
Mr. Biden has said that while he aims to end the mission in Afghanistan by August 31, troops will stay in the country as long as it takes to get Americans out. He has not made the same promise to Afghans.
Christina Ruffini and Roxana Saberi contributed reporting.