WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — US officials confirmed that evacuation operations from Afghanistan stalled for several hours Friday because the receiving base in Qatar was overflowing and could not receive evacuees.
US airlift flights out of the Kabul airport stopped for around seven hours as thousands of Afghans already flown to a US base in Qatar overwhelmed its capacity, said Major General Hank Taylor.
That left thousands more Afghans already cleared to leave their country for the United States waiting at the Kabul airport.
“It was early this morning, and it lasted about six to seven hours,” Taylor told reporters.
“And that has been cleaned up, flights have departed there, and it has allowed us to continue with those that are ready to fly in Kabul to leave.”
“The sites at Qatar were just at capacity,” said Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby.
“There was just no room to flow in additional people.”
The US State Department has been criticized for being overly bureaucratic and not having enough staff to process thousands of Afghans seeking to come to the United States.
Evacuee accounts from Qatar describe sleeping on the floor in sweltering heat in a US aircraft hanger for three days or more, with limited facilities.
Taylor said US aircraft flew some 6,000 people, all but a few hundred Afghans, out of Kabul over that past day, until the bottleneck halted flights.
The flights from Kabul resumed late Friday after US operations in Qatar arranged for flights for many evacuees onward to the US military base in Ramstein, Germany.
US citizens and Afghans who worked for the US forces in Afghanistan continued to attempt to get to the airport in Kabul to leave the country.
There were numerous accounts of some finding it difficult to reach and enter the airport, some impeded by Taliban fighters who now control Kabul.
US President Joe Biden said Friday that US troops had to go beyond the perimeter of the airport to help 169 Americans enter it, potentially risking a conflict with the Taliban.
Kirby downplayed the incident.
“They were very close to the perimeter of the airport. Very close,” he said.
“And in a short amount of time, with a short amount of distance, some of our troops were able to go out there and retrieve them and bring them in,” he said.
Taylor said that the Taliban have mostly been cooperating with US officials to allow those with US passports or visas to get to the airport.
“There’s constant communication and it’s being received,” he said.
And we’re seeing that things that we are asking for, passage and that, is happening and getting better.”
© Agence France-Presse