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Frustrated by ill-prepared evacuation plan, anxious Afghans rush airport gates

The U.S. says it has assurances from the Taliban that evacuations of Afghans who want to leave the country can continue after the withdrawal deadline of August 31st. But the Taliban continues to harass and impede passage throughout Kabul. Even with more evacuation flights out, throngs of people desperate to flee keep trying. Jane Ferguson reports from Kabul, with support from the Pulitzer Center.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The U.S. says it has assurances from the Taliban that evacuations of Afghans who want to leave the country can continue after President Biden's evacuation deadline of August 31.

    But the Taliban continues to harass and impede passage throughout Kabul.

    As Jane Ferguson reports, again with the support of the Pulitzer Center, even with more evacuation flights out, throngs of people desperate to flee keep coming.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Afghanistan has known much tragedy in recent decades, but the cruelty of this moment in history is staggering. The desperation here intensifies every day. People know the Americans will leave soon, and quite likely, leave them behind.

    U.S. Marines and British soldiers hold the line against a swell of terrified, pleading humanity. Nearby, Taliban fighters watch over the crowds, crowds of people fleeing their rule, and fire live rounds over their heads.

    The British forces throw stun grenades when they fear the crowd will overwhelm them. Children suffer under the punishing summer's heat, while desperate parents pass children to the soldiers above.

    Presidential Protective Services.

    At another entrance point, thousands of men who worked with or for the U.S. war effort push I.D.s and paperwork through the razor wire at onlooking American Marines. The soldiers can't help them.

  • Man:

    I'm working with CIA, but nobody let me in. What can I do? That's all my documents!

  • Jane Ferguson:

    But no one's letting you in?

  • Man:

    No. Look at my documents. Eleven years, I worked with the CIA. This is my card I.D.

  • Man:

    I have all documents to go U.S. for years. We send our voice to President Biden Joe.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Even after all of these days, there doesn't really appear to be a clear system in place. People are just coming in massive crowds and begging for help behind the razor wire, with rows of soldiers all the way down here.

    And the soldiers themselves are having to handle people passing over paperwork. There's very little that they can do.

  • Man:

    How can I contact you? Can I send you some — like a name or something? I really need the help.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Inside the airport compound, the fortunate few.

    These young up couples tried to pass the Taliban checkpoint four times, each time beaten back by the militants.

  • Woman:

    Hurry, but it's — everything is dangerous.

  • Man:

    It's dangerous.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    After running a terrible gauntlet, they made it.

    Everyone smiles when they get in here. There's such relief.

  • Woman:

    Yes.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Look at you guys. You're so happy. But it's such an emotional change.

    But is there any part of you that has processed yet leaving your homeland?

  • Man:

    We are leaving our families.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Man:

    But we are happy that we are…

  • Woman:

    We are hopeful we can do something for them.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Yes. Yes.

  • Man:

    Mostly financial support for our families, at least.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    So you can send money back?

    They are part of a generation of young Afghan talent and enterprise fleeing as the Taliban takes over. The emergency evacuation from Afghanistan is spiraling into a deepening and dangerous crisis.

    More than 5,000 U.S. and allied troops are trying to get thousands more citizens and local partners out of the country. But a slow and chaotic visa program and ill-prepared evacuation plan has caused crowds to rush Kabul's airport, halting flights and overwhelming entry points.

    At least 12 people are believed to have died in the gunfire and crush. The urgent need to ramp up evacuations was top of mind at the White House today.

  • Joe Biden:

    Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home. I cannot promise what the final outcome will be or what it will be — that it will be without risk of loss.

    But, as commander in chief, I can assure you that I will mobilize every resource necessary.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    President Biden also said that flying out Afghans who may be targeted by the Taliban is a top priority.

  • Joe Biden:

    We're also trying to get out as many NGOs, non-government organizations, women's organizations, et cetera.

    We're doing all we can. In the meantime, Secretary Blinken and I am going to be working with our allies to see to it that we can bring international pressure on the Taliban. And there's going to be harsh conditions we're — strong conditions we're going to apply. And it will depend on whether they get help, based on whether or not how and well they treat women and girls, how they treat their citizens.

    Meredith Lee of "PBS NewsHour."

  • Meredith Lee:

    Why haven't you ordered the military to expand the security perimeter around the Kabul Airport? Do you have any plans to do so, given that will likely require more U.S. troops? And are you considering rescue operations to recover Americans and Afghan allies stuck behind Taliban checkpoints?

  • Joe Biden:

    Yes to the last question. We're considering every opportunity and every means by which we could get folks to the airport. That's number one.

    Number two, the reason why we have not gone out and started — and set up a perimeter way outside the airport in Kabul is that it's likely to draw an awful lot of unintended consequences in terms of people who, in fact, are not part of the Taliban.

    We have been in constant contact with the Taliban leadership on the ground in Kabul.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    U.S. helicopters have also now ferried out at least 96 Afghans to be evacuated. That marks the first U.S. military flights outside the perimeter of the Kabul Airport.

    Are you at the gate?

    Back at Kabul Airport, we get news two prominent Afghan female photographers we know are coming to the gates. Roya Hadari (ph) and Fatimah Hossaini spent five days in hiding together before making a break for it to the airport.

    They call to say they're making their way through terrifying Taliban checkpoints and panicked crowds.

    Go down that road. Go down that road. That will take you to the gate and I'll be there.

    They try one gate and can't get through the crush of people, so we rush to meet them at another. The soldiers let us look for them from their watch tower.

    At dusk, they make it through.

  • Fatimah Hossaini:

    Every media is talking about the Taliban has been changed. How?

    We both, me and Roya were, like, hiding ourselves for five days at home. She deactivated her Instagram. Me too. We deleted our profile pictures.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Oh, my God.

  • Fatimah Hossaini:

    You know?

  • Jane Ferguson:

    They spot an old friend in the crowd. It's one last chance to embrace each other before everyone scatters. From this place, these new refugees, displaced by war, are flown out and all over the world.

    People still waiting for evacuation flights sleep anywhere they can, and keep the nighttime chill off their children with whatever they can find. Some children have been separated from their parents, like this baby, handed across the wire with an American passport.

    In the morning, those who didn't make it the day before will try again. The growing crowds each day show few are dissuaded by the dangers. Desperation leaves most to believe that the only way to escape what America is leaving behind it is to leave with it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Jane joins us again tonight live from Kabul. And it is late at night there.

    Jane, so, as we heard President Biden today, he said that it is possible for people to get to the airport. But your report underlined again how chaotic it is.

    Elaborate for us, if you will, on what people have to go through to get to an evacuation plane.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    You have seen from some of those images there, Judy, that it's almost a combat zone that people have to navigate.

    And by people, I mean men, women, children completely unarmed. They have to, first of all, go from their homes towards the airport, which includes many Taliban checkpoints. And we know that, at this stage, the Taliban are looking for certain people. They're hunting down certain former service members and people within the government.

    Then, if they get to anywhere near the perimeter of the airport, typically, most people eventually have to abandon cars and go on foot. And that's where they start to have Taliban beating them with sticks and whips or firing guns in the air.

    And once — if they manage to navigate that, then they get into an absolute crush, where you're seeing crowds of people, as you saw in some of those images, rushing towards gates. And, of course, this is not a gate that can ever be left open because of the incredibly chaotic nature of the very anxious crowd.

    I have been with soldiers who are trying to man those gates for several days now. And they can't — they can't — often, they have to close them for hours, because they can't open the door because there's a huge crowd of people rushing towards them and trying to basically overrun and — overrun them and rush into the airport, which makes it impossible for them to process people, which makes it impossible for people to get in.

    This keeps happening. And that has slowed the process down so much. So, yes, it is possible to get in to the airport, but it's very — it's a tiny, tiny minority whenever you're standing on a wall looking out over those who are not getting in.

    And it's worth pointing out as well that what's really causing these chokes is panic. It's people rushing all at once. And when you're standing in the street seeing this and seeing soldiers having to hold them back with everything from stun bombs to huge riot shields, you realize that it is very much so the last-minute nature of what is going on that has — that has sort of caused this panic.

    People are very much so afraid of being left behind.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we are hearing President Biden's pledges, so we will see whether the reality matches that.

    Jane Ferguson reporting for us for another day from Kabul.

    Thank you, Jane. And please, again, stay safe.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Thank you, Judy.

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