'Heaps of Garbage' on Kabul Airport Tarmac Causes Sole Commercial Airline to Suspend Flights

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), the only commercial airline operating to and from Kabul, said Saturday that it temporarily suspended flights due to a lack of facilities and heaps of garbage at the airport tarmac.

Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan's capital last week, PIA said there have been no immigration officials and security checks at the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) in Kabul. Sanitation workers were also not performing their duties, resulting in dangerous levels of garbage piling onto the airport tarmac, according to Pakistani TV station Geo News.

PIA officials feared that the amount of garbage could cause an accident, according to the news outlet. The state-run airline was the only commercial operation that had been flying to the city over the past four days to help with the evacuation of diplomats and foreign nationals. Other nations, including the U.S., have instead been operating military flights for evacuations.

PIA spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez said the flight operation will likely remain closed for a couple of days.

"We have talked to Afghan Civil Aviation Authority for restoration of all required facilities at Kabul airport as soon as possible so that PIA could resume its flight operation," Hafeez told WION. He said PIA has so far evacuated 1,500 people in five flights, including journalists, UN officials and Pakistani nationals.

Kabul Airport
The sole commercial airline operating to and from Kabul right now has suspended flights due to garbage on the tarmac. In this handout provided by the U.S. Army, paratroopers with the XVIII Airborne Corp assist in the evacuation of non-combatants at Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 21, 2021 in Kabul, Afghanistan. U.S. Army via Getty Images/Getty Images

On Monday, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the U.S. is also "very aware" of reports of sanitation and sustainment issues at the airport as the country continues to evacuate thousands of Americans.

"We're doing the best we can, under extraordinary circumstances and believe me, the pain and the suffering, the fear, the anxiety, all of that none of it is lost on U.S. troops," Kirby said during a press conference.

The U.S. and other foreign nations have been rushing to evacuate citizens and allies from Kabul after the country rapidly fell to the Taliban last week. On Sunday, President Joe Biden said the military successfully evacuated 11,000 individuals in less than 36 hours over the weekend.

In total, the U.S. has evacuated 28,000 individuals from Afghanistan over the past eight days and a total of 33,000 individuals since July.

Earlier on Sunday, the U.S. Defense Department called upon commercial airlines to assist in the ongoing efforts by activating the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) for only the third time in history. However, the commercial jets are not expected to fly in or out of the Kabul airport, but rather to help ferry thousands stranded at U.S. bases in Qatar, Bahrain and Germany.

Biden has maintained that his deadline for completing a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is August 31, but noted that it may be extended if there are still Americans in the country. However, on Monday, the Taliban said the U.S. would "provoke a reaction" if it does extend the deadline.

"If the U.S. or U.K. were to seek additional time to continue evacuations, the answer is no. Or there would be consequences. It will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation it will provoke a reaction," the militant group warned.

The Kabul airport is now one of the only ways out of Afghanistan and at least seven Afghans were crushed to death after thousands swarmed the tarmac, the British military said Sunday. Three other Afghans died last week after they clung to the undercarriage of a U.S. military plane as it flew away.

Newsweek contacted PIA for additional comment but did not hear back in time for publication.