Marina LeGree, founder and executive director of a small US non-governmental organization active in Afghanistan, said on Monday that some 600 to 1,300 people, including girls from her group, have been waiting near Mazar-i-Sharif airport since as long as a week, amid the confusion involving the Taliban and US officials.
That number would include 19 Americans, although none are part of LeGree’s group. Those waiting are being accommodated in various locations around the city, she said.
“It’s been seven days and nothing is moving,” LeGree told AFP, adding that six chartered planes were waiting at the airport to evacuate what some officials call “the group of NGOs”.
“The Taliban are just not letting anything move. “
Her Virginia-based organization, which trains Afghan girls in leadership through physical activities like rock climbing, is trying to evacuate a small group of girls and young women, all between the ages of 16 and 23, and a few members of their family. family.
All are Hazara, an ethnic minority in Afghanistan who faced severe repression when the Taliban last controlled the country from 1996 to 2001.
She told US broadcaster MSNBC on Monday that some members of her group were called to go to Kabul airport last week, where they were featured on plane manifests, but were unable to enter. during the chaotic American airlift.
Some of his group are “really frustrated and confused as to why they are still sitting” in Mazar-i-Sharif.
“We’re not aware of the big picture, so I don’t know if it’s all about the money or what exactly is at stake here, but what we do know is that we have women at risk and they cannot go back. We have to go.
LeGree, who has worked in Afghanistan since 2005 for US aid groups and agencies, expressed frustration with the State Department’s role in authorizing flights.
The group’s departure had seemed imminent until a few days ago, when planning suddenly stopped.
A State Department spokesperson said Monday that while the United States is committed to helping Americans and Afghans at risk to leave, their resources in Afghanistan are severely limited.
“We have no ground personnel, we have no air assets in the country, we do not control the airspace – whether over Afghanistan or elsewhere in the region,” he said. the spokesperson told AFP.
“Given these constraints, we also don’t have a reliable way to confirm the basic details of charter flights, including who can arrange them, the number of U.S. citizens and other priority groups on board, the accuracy of the rest of the manifesto, and where they plan to land.
The spokesperson added, “We will keep the Taliban in their commitment to let people leave Afghanistan freely.
Satellite images of the airport from September 3 show six planes, one on a runway and others outside the terminals.
Biden’s Republican opposition has seized on the situation, which came at a time when its popularity fell sharply amid concerns over the evacuation from Afghanistan and the surge in COVID-19 cases in the midst of ‘year.
Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, suggested on Sunday that the Taliban were holding the group in high-pressure negotiations with Washington.
The case, he told Fox News, “turns into a hostage situation where they won’t allow American citizens to leave until they are fully recognized by the United States.” “.
But LeGree said she wouldn’t characterize the situation that way.
“No one is guarding the door,” she said, though her concern grew over the days.
“If this is not resolved very soon, we are concerned for the physical safety of our daughters,” she said.
A small group of Afghan women marched through the streets of Mazar-i-Sharif on Monday, calling on the Taliban to respect their rights. “We don’t see a turning back,” said one banner.
The Taliban said women’s rights would be respected under Sharia law, but did not say what that would mean. Some women in Kabul have been fired from their jobs.
A US Democratic Senator, Richard Blumenthal, has expressed his impatience. “For days my staff and I focused on getting these planes off the ground… The delays are not only frustrating, they are inexcusable,” he said in a statement.
“It is imperative that the State Department now do everything in its power to facilitate the safe arrival of these planes at our air base in Doha, where they are authorized to land,” he said. added.
Eric Montalvo, a former US Marine Corps officer and lawyer working with groups that chartered two of the six planes, was more direct.
“The Taliban are not holding these planes hostage,” he said in a statement to AFP.
“The problem is the US government. All the State Department has to do is make a phone call and they can leave immediately. “
The United States completed its military withdrawal from Afghanistan on August 31 after weeks of chaos following the surprisingly rapid takeover of the country by the Taliban.
More than 120,000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan in one of the largest such air operations in history, although US officials have admitted leaving a few hundred Americans behind, along with scores of Afghans. vulnerable.
The Biden administration has repeatedly pledged to do everything possible to help those who want to leave.
On Monday, the US State Department announced that four US citizens were able to leave Afghanistan by road, arriving in an unidentified neighboring country without any resistance from the Taliban.
These were the first officially recognized American departures since August 31.