WASHINGTON – Local staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul are “deeply discouraged” by U.S. evacuation efforts and have expressed a sense of betrayal and distrust of the U.S. government, according to a State Department diplomatic cable obtained by NBC News.
The cable, which was sent on Saturday, said notes were sent on Wednesday inviting Afghan staff at the embassy to take off at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. It told them to take food and prepare for difficult conditions.
“However, no one foresaw the brutal experience that occurred,” the cable said.
Staff reported being pushed, hit, spat on and cursed by Taliban fighters at checkpoints near the airport, it said, adding that criminals took advantage of the chaos while the U.S. military tried to maintain order “in an extreme physical situation.”
Some employees reported that they were almost separated from their children, while others collapsed in a love affair with people and had to be taken to hospitals with injuries, the cable said. Others said they had collapsed on the road due to heat exhaustion, it said.
“It would be better to die under the bullet of the Taliban” than to meet the crowds again, an employee was quoted as saying in the cable.
“Joy to die here, but with dignity and pride,” said another, while a third accused the United States of prioritizing Afghan government elites with contacts in the United States who already had the proper paperwork and other ways to escape the country.
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A local embassy official reported that his home had been spray-painted – a tactic used by the Taliban in the past to identify the residents of the home for further questioning, the cable said, adding that the family had been forced to flee their homes but could do not get to the airport.
Others shared concerns about the conditions in Qatar, where many refugees have been flown before heading elsewhere.
The United States began evacuating its citizens, diplomats and Afghans, who helped its mission in the country last week, after the Taliban took control of large parts of Afghanistan before finally entering Kabul last Sunday without firing a shot.
A State Department spokesman said the United States has a “special obligation” to local embassy staff who “have suffered hardship, pain and loss because of their dedication to working with us to build a better future for all Afghans.”
The spokesman added that the United States has “worked tirelessly to improve access to the airport” and to help people eligible for flights.
Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said on Sunday that 8,000 people had been evacuated from Kabul on 60 flights in the previous 24 hours and that the United States had entered into agreements with about two dozen countries across four continents that help or will soon help with the transit of people out of Kabul. .
“We’ve seen devastating images of people being injured, even killed, hitting you in the stomach,” Blinken told Fox News. “And it’s very important to do our best, because it’s such an unstable situation that we’re doing something about the congestion at the airport gates, and that’s exactly what we are doing.”
Thousands of people have been evacuated, but President Joe Biden has been criticized at home and abroad for the chaos at Kabul airport since the Taliban took over.
Biden promised Friday to bring Americans home and help Afghans who had helped U.S. forces in the country and others who might be in danger, but time is running out ahead of his August 31 deadline to pull most remaining American troops left. However, he said the deadline could be extended until all troops were withdrawn.
The Ministry of Defense said on Sunday that it would develop commercial aircraft to help transport people once they have been evacuated from Afghanistan.
Outside the airport in Kabul in an area controlled by the Taliban, there were reports of violence and that people were killed either by gunfire or in storms.
The British government said on Sunday that seven Afghans had died after being crushed in the crowds around the airport.
To complicate matters, the U.S. embassy said Saturday that U.S. citizens trying to leave should not travel to Kabul airport unless they are individually asked to do so because of “potential security threats.”
Two defense officials said the United States tracked down specific threats against Americans and the airport from Islamic State, the terrorist group better known as ISIS.
Abigail Williams reported from Washington and Yuliya Talmazan from London.