Taliban Reportedly Blocking Americans, Green Card Holders From Boarding Planes in 1 City

The Taliban reportedly is blocking hundreds of Afghan green card holders and Americans from boarding evacuation flights out of the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, the Associated Press reported.

All passengers, even those with proper travel papers, reportedly have been barred from accessing the airport, despite the Taliban agreeing to allow those with proper authorization to leave the country. The would-be evacuees have been stuck in Mazar-e-Sharif for more than a week awaiting permission.

An Afghan man who worked with the U.S. military as an interpreter for 15 years said he, his eight children and his wife have been moving from hotel to hotel in the city as they wait for the Taliban to let them leave. The man's visa was approved before the U.S. completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan, but it wasn't stamped into his passport because the U.S. Embassy shut down.

"I'm frightened I will be left behind," said the interpreter, whose name was withheld by AP for his safety. "I don't know what the issue is—is it a political issue, or they don't care about us?"

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Afghan Refugees
Hundreds of people are reportedly being barred from boarding charter flights out of the Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, including Americans and green card holders. Above, Afghan refugees are being processed inside Hangar 5 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on September 8, 2021. Olivier Douliery, Pool/AFP via Getty Images

An evacuation flight out of Kabul on Thursday, run by the Persian Gulf state of Qatar and the first of its kind since U.S.-led military evacuations ended, focused on U.S. passport and green card holders and other foreigners.

For the U.S. lawmakers, veterans groups and other Americans who've been scrambling to get former U.S. military interpreters and other at-risk Afghans on charter flights out, the relaunch of evacuation flights did little to soothe fears that the U.S. might abandon countless Afghan allies.

A particular worry are those whose U.S. special immigrant visas—meant for Afghans who helped Americans during the 20-year war—still were in the works when the Taliban took Kabul in a lightning offensive on August 15. The U.S. abandoned its embassy building that same weekend.

"For all intents and purposes, these people's chances of escaping the Taliban ended the day we left them behind," said Afghanistan war veteran Matt Zeller, founder of No One Left Behind. It's among dozens of grassroots U.S. groups working to get out Afghan translators and others who supported Americans.

In the U.S., National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said Thursday's flight was the result of "careful and hard diplomacy and engagement" and said the Taliban "have shown flexibility, and they have been businesslike and professional in our dealings with them in this effort."

Zeller pointed to the Taliban appointment this week of a hardline government. It includes Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is on the FBI's most-wanted list with a $5 million bounty for alleged attacks and kidnappings, as interior minister, a position putting him in charge of granting passports.

The Trump administration all but stopped approval of the Afghan special immigrant visas, or SIVs, in its final months. The Biden administration, too, was criticized for failing to move faster on evacuating Afghans before Kabul fell to the Taliban.

The U.S. had also required some visa-seekers to go outside the country to apply, a requirement that became far more dangerous with the Taliban takeover last month.

"There are all of these major logistical obstacles," said Betsy Fisher of the International Refugee Assistance Project, which provides legal services to SIV applicants. "How will people leave Afghanistan?"

She said with no clear plan in place, the U.S. government could wind up encouraging people to go on risky journeys.

In July, after President Joe Biden welcomed home the first airlift, he made clear the U.S. would help even those Afghans with pending visa applications get out of Afghanistan "so that they can wait in safety while they finish their visa applications."

Since the military airlifts ended, however, the Biden administration and Taliban have emphasized that Afghans needed passports and visas. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday the administration was looking at steps like electronic visas.

Biden, already criticized for his handling of the evacuation, is being pushed by Democrats and also on both sides by Republicans, with some saying he's not doing enough to help America's former allies and others that he's not doing enough to keep potential threats out of the U.S.

Senator Lindsey Graham and Representative Mike Waltz, both Republicans, said in a statement that hundreds of those at-risk Afghans and U.S. residents remain "trapped behind enemy lines." The Biden administration "must provide Congress and the American people...with a plan to get them safely out of Afghanistan."

The Association of War Time Allies estimates that tens of thousands of special immigrant visa applicants remain in Afghanistan.

An American citizen in New York is trying to get two cousins out of the country who applied for SIVs late last year and were still waiting for approval when the U.S. Embassy shut down. She said both cousins worked for a U.S. aid group for a combined eight years and are frightened the Taliban will find them.

"They're scared, they feel abandoned. They put their entire lives at risk, and when the U.S. was exiting, they were told they would get out," said the American, Fahima, whose last name and the name of the aid group are being withheld to protect her cousins. "Where is the helping hand?"

Evacuation Flights
U.S. veterans, lawmakers and others say the relaunch of evacuation flights from Kabul has done little to soothe fears that the U.S. might abandon countless Afghan allies who risked their lives working alongside American troops. Above, a Qatar Airways aircraft takes off with foreigners from the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on September 9, 2021. Bernat Armangue/AP Photo