The State Department was preparing Friday to resume the evacuation of U.S. citizens and vulnerable Afghans from Kabul as thousands of terrified men, women and children remained trapped at the city’s main airport amid a growing humanitarian crisis.
For at least eight hours, no rescue flights had been able to take off from Hamid Karzai International Airport because Qatar, where the first group of evacuees were taken, does not have the capacity to take any more, sources told NBC News.
The U.S. has been working with its NATO allies to find locations in Europe and Asia that have the capability to take in and start processing the evacuees, the sources said.
President Joe Biden, under fire for failing to anticipate the quick Taliban takeover of Afghanistan after the U.S. began pulling its troops out of the country, said later Friday the evacuation flights were resuming and provided more details about what steps his administration is taking to restore order to the increasingly chaotic evacuation.
Biden also said the U.S. would not abandon "those Afghans who have worked alongside us, served alongside of us, gone into combat with us, and provided invaluable assistance to us, such as translators and interpreters."
"The United States stands by its commitment that we’ve made to these people, and it includes other vulnerable Afghans, such as women leaders and journalists," he said.
So far, Biden said, the U.S. has evacuated approximately 13,000 people since last weekend and 18,000 since July, including a number of vulnerable Afghans.
"We have already secured a number of agreements for these passengers to temporarily transit through other countries, and have been working aggressively to secure additional agreements," a senior White House official said after Biden's address. "We are deeply grateful for the generosity of our international allies and partners, including those who are working shoulder-to-shoulder with us on the ground in Kabul to support what is already one of the largest airlifts in history."
With the Taliban patrolling the perimeter of the airport and trying to stymie the exodus by blocking access roads and forcing escapees to present their papers at checkpoints, NATO called on Afghanistan’s new leaders to “respect and facilitate their safe and orderly departure, including through Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.”
“Our immediate task is now to meet our commitments to continue the safe evacuation of our citizens, partner country nationals, and at-risk Afghans, in particular those who have assisted our efforts,” NATO said in a communique.
But a former U.S. Army interpreter, whom NBC News is not identifying, said he hasn’t even tried to get to the airport with his wife and children because even venturing out in his neighborhood has gotten increasingly dangerous.
Via email, the interpreter acknowledged that there are concerns about attracting the attention of people who might turn them over to the Taliban.
The Taliban has already been going door-to-door in search of people who worked with U.S. forces or the recently ousted Afghan government. Meanwhile, Afghans have been scrubbing their social media accounts of anything that could link them to contacts in the West, international human rights groups, and other groups the Taliban views as enemies.
There was at least one bright spot amid the terror and chaos. A baby who was passed over an airport wall topped with with barbed wire to a U.S. Marine, has been reunited with their father, said Maj. Jim Stenger, a Marine Corps spokesperson. Video of the moment came to personify the unfolding crisis.
"The baby seen in the video was taken to a medical treatment facility on site and cared for by medical professionals," Stenger said in a statement.