US halts Kabul flights for 8 hours after saving only 3,000 overnight
20th August 2021

US halts rescue flights as Doha airbase that was receiving refugees reaches capacity and only 3,000 are flown out overnight – including just 350 Americans – on sixth day of catastrophic mission

  • The Al Udeid Air Force Base in Doha, which can house 10,000 troops, is no longer accepting refugees
  • On Friday, US rescue flights stopped while officials scrambled to find somewhere to send the planes
  • Bases in Germany and Bahrain are now preparing to welcome people on board the C-17 rescue flights
  • Over a period of eight hours on Friday, not a single US military jet took off from Kabul airport
  • Overnight, only 3,000 people total were rescued including just 350 American citizens by US planes
  • They were taken out on 12 C-17 jets which can carry 800 each but left with just 250 on board 
  • In the last six days, America has rescued just 9,000 people and 50,000 are still waiting to get out   
  • They include Afghan interpreters and translators who helped the US in the war but may now die at the hands of Taliban, along with NGO workers, journalists and desperate Afghan nationals 
  • There are also questions over why US troops aren’t going into Kabul to save its citizens when Britain’s are
  • No one in the White House, State Department or Pentagon knows how many Americans are still stuck in Kabul 
  • Biden – who has been avoiding the crisis – is due to give a speech at 1pm Eastern 

US evacuation flights out of Kabul were suspended for eight hours on Friday while troops scrambled to find somewhere new to send them after the air base in Doha that was accepting everyone reached capacity overnight in yet another stumbling point in the catastrophic rescue effort in Afghanistan.

The US flights have so far all been going to the Al Udeid Air Force Base in Doha, Qatar, which has the capacity to accommodate 10,000 people. 

On Friday, the base reached capacity after receiving thousands of Afghans over the last five days and it has turned into a ‘full-blown humanitarian disaster,’ according to people there. 

Now, flights are expected to go to airbases in Bahrain and Germany but by 12pm EST on Friday, none had taken off for more than eight hours. They were due to resume on Friday afternoon but it’s unclear if any have taken off yet. 

Only 3,000 people were evacuated from Kabul on US planes on Thursday and of them, only 350 were American.

They were carried out on 12 C-17 jets which can take 800 people each but left yesterday with just 250 on board because not enough people have been ‘processed’ with paperwork, despite the White House claiming 5,000 were ready at the airport on Thursday waiting to be removed. 

At the same time, thousands more people were trying to make their way to the airport in Kabul but were blocked by Taliban fighters in the streets. 

No one from the White House, Pentagon or State Department can give a firm number on how many Americans are still trapped in Afghanistan and with every passing minute that they are not saved, the likelihood of them becoming Taliban hostages grows.  

U.S. Marines assist at the airport in Kabul on Friday. There are still some 50,000 people waiting to get in but none can get through without paperwork

U.S. Marine escorts evacuees to the Evacuation Control Center at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Aug. 19. U.S. service members are assisting the Department of State with a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) in Afghanistan. No flights have taken off in at least eight hours 


The Al Udeid Air Base in Doha has been accepting refugee flights all week but is now full, according to military officials. The base can take 10,000 troops but is now full and turning into a ‘humanitarian disaster’, according to people there


The troops are using gunfire to disperse the crowds, which are unrelenting for the sixth day. No one is thought to have been shot dead at the airport but there are reports of people being trampled 

A sea of desperate Afghans waiting to be let through the gates at Kabul airport to be put on one of any of the evacuation flights 

A US soldier shoots in the air with his pistol whiel standing guard behind barbed wire as Afghans sit on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on August 20, 2021, hoping to flee from the country after the Taliban’s military takeover of Afghanistan

In one of the most harrowing images from the crisis, a newborn baby in a diaper is handed over to US Marines at the airport gate in Kabul. The baby was taken to a medical center on the other side. It’s unclear if the infant’s parents got through 

The US is telling its citizens they must navigate their way through the fighters and crowds to somehow get to get to the front of the line at the airport, where around 50,000 are waiting to board flights. 

There is growing criticism of the fact that US troops remain holed up at the airport, unable to leave to fetch American citizens, when Britain is sending troops behind enemy lines to get its people, bring them back to the airport safely and put them on planes. 

The shambolic response and flow of information from the White House, Pentagon and State Department continued on Friday morning with the White House Director of Communications, Kate Bedingfield. 

She was unable to confirm how many Americans remain stuck in Afghanistan, or promise that all would get out before the August 31 withdrawal deadline. 

She was also unable to promise that Afghans who helped the US Army in the war and are now at risk would be saved. 

Bedingfield, in multiple interviews on morning television, parroted what officials have been saying for days – that they will do ‘everything they can’ to get people out but won’t make any promises. 

President Biden is due to address the crisis at 1pm Eastern. He has refused to take questions.  

Many want to know why America won’t send its troops into the city to retrieve terrified citizens when other countries are doing just that. 

There are now Night Hawk Special Op helicopters in Kabul, along with F-18 Super Hornet jets, all of which point to an increasingly hostile resolution if the chaos continues much longer. 

At a press briefing on Friday, Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor said the US did not have the capacity to send troops into the city because all of them were at the airport. 

Those at the airport have been filmed firing warning shots into crowds and using tear gas to try to control the number of people trying to board flights.  

The heroic US Airmen who ignored red tape restrictions to save 823 Afghans from Kabul on Sunday by cramming them into a C-17 cargo jet spoke out on Friday about the mission, revealing they saved 183 more than previously reported. 

At first it had been reported that the crew took 640 Afghans out of Kabul but the true number was 823 and includes 183 kids whose presence on board wasn’t previously accounted for.  

A U.S. Marine assigned to 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit guide an evacuee during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, August 18, 2021. Picture taken August 18, 2021. U.S

UK coalition forces, Turkish coalition forces, and U.S. Marines assist a child during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 20. U.S. service members are assisting the Department of State with a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) in Afghanistan

Taliban fighters stand guard as Afghans gather outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport to flee the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan, 20 August 2021

U.S. Marines prepare to receive evacuees arriving at an Evacuate Control Center at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Aug. 19

A U.S. Navy Sailor checks a child arriving at an Evacuate Control Center at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Aug. 19

A U.S. Marine checks a child arriving at an Evacuate Control Center at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Aug. 19

Turkish soldiers take care of a baby at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 20, 2021

Afghans gather on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on August 20, 2021, hoping to flee from the country after the Taliban’s military takeover of Afghanistan

A Marine assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) calms an infant during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 20

The flight breaks the record for the number of people to have ever been flown on a C-17 jet and disgraces the other C-17 jets that have left Kabul with only 100 people on board this week, while thousands wait at the airport gates desperate to be saved. 

They are not being allowed through to board planes because they don’t have the right paperwork and thousands of Westerners and others in the city remain unable to even get to the airport because they’re being stopped by the Taliban.   

On Friday, Lt. Colonel Eric Kut, who made the decision to leave the airport with as many Afghans on board, said he was more interested in saving lives than checking paperwork and abiding by red tape rules. 

‘First and foremost, a lot of people talk about rules and capacity. We were trained to handle that to max perform that aircraft. 

‘When you have women and children and people’s lives at stake, it’s not about capacity or rules or regulations. It’s about the training to make sure we could handle we could that many people out.

‘We were there to do what we were trained to do. We were there to deliver hope and freedom,’ he told CNN’s New Day on Friday from Joint Base Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. 

The Airmen appeared on CNN on Friday morning to talk about their flight on Sunday. At first it had been reported that they took 640 Afghans out of Kabul.’ When you have women and children and people’s lives at stake, it’s not about capacity or rules or regulations. It’s about the training to make sure we could handle we could that many people out. ‘We were there to do what we were trained to do. We were there to deliver hope and freedom,’ Lt. Colonel Eric Kut, who ultimately made the call to take off, told CNN’s New Day. 

At first it had been reported that they took 640 Afghans out of Kabul. They revealed the true number was 823 and that 183 children weren’t counted in the first reports

He said the refugees had been ‘anxious’ to get out but were ‘excited and thrilled’ once they took off. 

‘They were definitely anxious to get out of the area and we were happy to accommodate them. 

‘They were definitely excited when we were airborne. 

‘Everybody was very thrilled to actually leave,’ he said.

The flight on Sunday is one of the few success stories to have come out of Kabul. 

Since then, tens of thousands have been unable to get to the airport or on planes because they are either being held back by the Taliban on the roads in the city, or stopped by paperwork backlogs at the airport. 

Now, the US is considering destroying its most sophisticated equipment to stop the Taliban from using it against the Afghan people once the last American boots leave the ground. 

Neither the White House nor the State Department knows how many Americans remain stuck in Kabul or Afghanistan, unable to get to the airport.   

It’s unclear how much the equipment cost. 

Since 2003 the United States has provided Afghan forces with at least 600,000 infantry weapons including M16 assault rifles, 162,000 pieces of communication equipment, and 16,000 night-vision goggle devices.

‘The ability to operate at night is a real game-changer,’ one congressional aide told Reuters. 

‘Everything that hasn’t been destroyed is the Taliban’s now,’ one U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters.  

The officials said launching airstrikes against the larger equipment, such as helicopters, has not been ruled out, but there is concern that would antagonize the Taliban at a time the United States’ main goal is evacuating people.

The Taliban now controls 2,000 armored vehicles, including US Humvees, 40 aircraft which could include UH-60 Black Hawks,.   

‘We have already seen Taliban fighters armed with U.S.-made weapons they seized from the Afghan forces. 

‘This poses a significant threat to the United States and our allies,’ Representative Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, told Reuters in an email.  

US is considering BLOWING UP its own equipment to stop Taliban from using it 

About a month ago, Afghanistan’s ministry of defense posted on social media photographs of seven brand new helicopters arriving in Kabul delivered by the United States.

‘They’ll continue to see a steady drumbeat of that kind of support, going forward,’ U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters a few days later at the Pentagon.

In a matter of weeks, however, the Taliban had seized most of the country, as well as any weapons and equipment left behind by fleeing Afghan forces.

Video showed the advancing insurgents inspecting long lines of vehicles and opening crates of new firearms, communications gear and even military drones.

‘Everything that hasn’t been destroyed is the Taliban’s now,’ one U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

Current and former U.S. officials say there is concern those weapons could be used to kill civilians, be seized by other militant groups such as Islamic State to attack U.S.-interests in the region, or even potentially be handed over to adversaries including China and Russia.

President Joe Biden’s administration is so concerned about the weapons that it is considering a number of options to pursue.

The officials said launching airstrikes against the larger equipment, such as helicopters, has not been ruled out, but there is concern that would antagonize the Taliban at a time the United States’ main goal is evacuating people.

Another official said that while there are no definitive numbers yet, the current intelligence assessment was that the Taliban are believed to control more than 2,000 armored vehicles, including U.S. Humvees, and up to 40 aircraft potentially including UH-60 Black Hawks, scout attack helicopters, and ScanEagle military drones.

A US Black Hawk military helicopter fly over the Kabul Airport, after Taliban took control of Kabul, Afghanistan, 16 August 2021. There are now concerns over what will become of the equipment left behind by the US Army 

‘We have already seen Taliban fighters armed with U.S.-made weapons they seized from the Afghan forces. This poses a significant threat to the United States and our allies,’ Representative Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, told Reuters in an email. 

The speed with which the Taliban swept across Afghanistan is reminiscent of Islamic State militants taking weapons from U.S.-supplied Iraqi forces who offered little resistance in 2014.

Between 2002 and 2017, the United States gave the Afghan military an estimated $28 billion in weaponry, including guns, rockets, night-vision goggles and even small drones for intelligence gathering.

But aircraft like the Blackhawk helicopters have been the most visible sign of U.S. military assistance, and were supposed to be the Afghan military’ biggest advantage over the Taliban.

Between 2003 and 2016 the United States provided Afghan forces with 208 aircraft, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

In the last week, many of those aircraft were most useful for Afghan pilots to escape the Taliban.

One of the U.S. officials said that between 40 and 50 aircraft had been flown to Uzbekistan by Afghan pilots seeking refuge. Even before taking power in Kabul over the weekend, the Taliban had started a campaign of assassinating pilots. 

Some planes were in the United States for maintenance and will stay. Those en route to Afghan forces will instead be used by the U.S. military to help in the evacuation from Kabul.

Current and former officials say that while they are concerned about the Taliban having access to the helicopters, the aircraft require frequent maintenance and many are complicated to fly without extensive training.

‘Ironically, the fact that our equipment breaks down so often is a life-saver here,’ a third official said.

Retired U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, who oversaw U.S. military operations in Afghanistan as head of U.S. Central Command from 2016 to 2019, said most of the high-end hardware captured by the Taliban, including the aircraft, was not equipped with sensitive U.S. technology.

‘In some cases, some of these will be more like trophies,’ Votel said. 

There is a more immediate concern about some of the easier- to-use weapons and equipment, such as night-vision goggles.

Since 2003 the United States has provided Afghan forces with at least 600,000 infantry weapons including M16 assault rifles, 162,000 pieces of communication equipment, and 16,000 night-vision goggle devices.

‘The ability to operate at night is a real game-changer,’ one congressional aide told Reuters.

Votel and others said smalls arms seized by the insurgents such as machine guns, mortars, as well as artillery pieces including howitzers, could give the Taliban an advantage against any resistance that could surface in historic anti-Taliban strongholds such as the Panjshir Valley northeast of Kabul.

U.S. officials said the expectation was that most of the weapons would be used by the Taliban themselves, but it was far too early to tell what they planned to do – including possibly sharing the equipment with rival states such as China.

Andrew Small, a Chinese foreign policy expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said the Taliban was likely to grant Beijing access to any U.S. weapons they may now have control over.

One of the U.S. officials said it was not likely China would gain much, because Beijing likely already has access to the weapons and equipment.

The situation, experts say, shows the United States needs a better way to monitor equipment it gives to allies. It could have done much more to ensure those supplies to Afghan forces were closely monitored and inventoried, said Justine Fleischner of UK-based Conflict Armament Research.

‘But the time has passed for these efforts to have any impact in Afghanistan,’ Fleischner said.

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