Afghan refugees living in 'dire conditions' at US air base: report

Afghan refugees living in 'dire conditions' at US air base: report
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Afghan refugees have been living in “dire” conditions at a U.S. airbase in Doha, Qatar, according to leaked internal emails shared with Axios.

A U.S. Central Command official, supervisory special agent Colin Sullivan, on Friday sent an email to State Department and Pentagon officials with the subject line “dire conditions at Doha,” referring to the Al Udeid Air Base.

In the email, Sullivan describes a “life-threatening humanitarian disaster … that I want to make sure all of you are fully tracking,” according to Axios.

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“While not in any way downplaying the conditions in Kabul nor the conditions the Afghanis [sic] are escaping from, the current conditions in Doha are of our own doing,” Sullivan wrote.

Sullivan’s email further shared “excerpts from Doha Embassy staff communications” about conditions at the base.

“A humid day today. Where the Afghans are housed is a living hell. Trash, urine, fecal matter, spilled liquids and vomit cover the floors,” one communication read.

In a comment about the email, Navy Capt. William BurnsWilliam Burns'Havana syndrome' suspected in attacks on US diplomats in Switzerland, France: report Ukraine military leaders say forces don't stand much of a chance against Russia without help from West Expect 'shock and awe' if Russia invades Ukraine MORE, a spokesperson for U.S. Central Command, told The Hill, “We recognize this is a challenging and difficult situation for these vulnerable individuals and families, and we remain committed to providing a secure, safe and sanitary environment.”

Burns added that the command has “rapidly built up capacity and facilities to provide essential humanitarian assistance to evacuees. At intermediate staging bases, we have been focused on building capacity, rapidly processing, and facilitating onward movement.”

The Pentagon later on Tuesday acknowledged “what had been some terrible conditions” at the air base, according to Pentagon press secretary John Kirby.

“We are aware of and as concerned as anybody about what had been some terrible sanitation conditions at Qatar that were facilitated by the sheer numbers and the speed with which those numbers got there,” Kirby told reporters. “We all recognize that, and nobody, nobody here wants anyone to be less than safe, secure, comfortable and well cared for as they go through this process.”

Kirby said the conditions are “improving” but not perfect, and that the U.S. military is working to identify other temporary locations to send evacuees to “ease the pressure” at the base.

“We’ll be the first to admit that conditions at Al Udeid could have been better. They are improving now,” Kirby said. “I’m not going to stand up here and tell you that they’re perfect, because they’re not, because evacuees continue to flow into Qatar, and there’s a lot on the ground right now, and . . . we’re working hard to clear out that population so we can ease the pressure there and continue to move these people along their way to their new lives.”

The email from Sullivan highlights the chaotic situation the administration has faced as it seeks to complete evacuations of American citizens from Afghanistan before a self-imposed Aug. 31 deadline.

A government official who read Sullivan’s email to Axios told the news outlet that the State Department had done little to advise the Pentagon on building appropriate facilities for thousands of refugees.

Among the changes, Burns said that a little over 110 portable toilets have been installed and cleaning services for them have been increased to keep up with demand. He further said that catering services have been contracted to serve 7,000 traditional Afghan meals three times per day.

He further said an agreement had been established for multiple personal and religious needs, including diapers, formula, bed linens, shampoo and books. 

A State Department spokesperson told The Hill that the agency and the Defense Department have been "in incredibly close coordination at every level, along with the rest of the interagency, to stand up these transit points and ensure that they are safe and have adequate provisions for those temporarily being housed."

"We are working quickly to alleviate bottlenecks and are surging consular personnel in Qatar, in addition to expediting manifesting, to alleviate current conditions," the spokesperson said.

Ellen Mitchell contributed to this report, which was updated at 12:26 p.m.