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Afghan staff at U.S. Embassy losing faith in evacuation efforts, diplomatic cable says

Exclusive: “It would be better to die under the Taliban’s bullet,” said one local staff member quoted in the cable.
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WASHINGTON — Local staff members at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul are “deeply disheartened” by U.S. evacuation efforts and have expressed a sense of betrayal and distrust in the U.S. government, according to a State Department diplomatic cable obtained by NBC News.

The cable, which was sent Saturday, said memos were sent Wednesday inviting Afghan staff members at the embassy to head to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. It told them to take food and to prepare for difficult conditions.

“However, no one anticipated the brutal experience that occurred,” the cable said.

Staffers reported being jostled, hit, spat on and cursed at by Taliban fighters at checkpoints near the airport, it said, adding that criminals were taking advantage of the chaos while the U.S. military tried to maintain order “in an extremely physical situation.”

Some staff members reported that they were almost separated from their children, while others collapsed in a crush of people and had to be taken to hospitals with injuries, the cable said. Others said they had collapsed on the road because of heat exhaustion, it said.

“It would be better to die under the Taliban’s bullet” than face the crowds again, a staff member was quoted as saying in the cable.

“Happy to die here, but with dignity and pride,” another said, while a third accused the U.S. of prioritizing Afghan government elites with contacts in the U.S., who already had the correct paperwork and other ways to flee the country.

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A local embassy staff member reported that his home had been tagged with spray paint — a tactic the Taliban have used in the past to identify homes’ occupants for further questioning, the cable said, adding that the family had been forced to flee their home but was unable to get to the airport.

Others shared concerns about conditions in Qatar, where many refugees have been flown before they make their way to other locations.

The U.S. began evacuating its citizens, diplomatic staff members and Afghans who aided its mission in the country last week after the Taliban seized control of much of Afghanistan before they finally walked into Kabul last Sunday without firing a shot.

A State Department spokesperson said the U.S. has a “special commitment” to local embassy staff members who “have suffered hardship, pain and loss because of their dedication to working with us to build a better future for all Afghans.”

The spokesperson added that the U.S. has been “working tirelessly to improve access to the airport” and to assist people eligible for flights.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that 8,000 people were evacuated from Kabul on 60 flights in the previous 24 hours and that the U.S. had reached agreements with about two dozen countries over four continents, which are helping or will soon help with the transit of people out of Kabul.

“We’ve seen wrenching images of people hurt, even killed, that hit you in the gut,” Blinken told Fox News. ”And it’s very important to make sure to the best of our ability, because it's such a volatile situation, that we do something about the crowding at the gates of the airport, and that's exactly what we’re doing.”

Thousands of people have been evacuated, but President Joe Biden has faced criticism at home and abroad for the chaos at the Kabul airport since the Taliban took over.

Biden vowed Friday to get Americans home and to help Afghans who had assisted U.S. forces in the country and others who might be in danger, but time is running out ahead of his Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw most remaining U.S. troops. However, he said, the deadline could extend until all troops were withdrawn.

The Defense Department said Sunday that it would draft 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 stampedes.

The U.K. government said Sunday that seven Afghans died after they were crushed in the crowds around the airport.

Complicating matters, the U.S. Embassy advised Saturday that U.S. citizens trying to leave should not travel to Kabul’s airport unless they are individually told to because of “potential security threats.”

Two defense officials said the U.S. was tracking specific threats against Americans and the airport from the Islamic State, the terrorist group better known as ISIS.

Abigail Williams reported from Washington and Yuliya Talmazan from London.