US official acknowledges 'harassment' at Taliban checkpoints on road to airport

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on Wednesday said the U.S. is aware of reports that the Taliban are blocking Afghans from reaching the Kabul international airport, and that it contradicts public promises made by the group to allow safe passage for those wishing to leave the country. 

“We have seen reports that the Taliban, contrary to their public statements and their commitments to our government, are blocking Afghans who wish to leave the country from reaching the airport,” Sherman, the second ranking diplomat at the State Department, told reporters in the briefing room. 

“Our team in Doha, and our military partners on the ground in Kabul, are engaging directly with the Taliban to make clear that we expect them to allow all American citizens, all third country nationals and all Afghans who wish to leave, to do so safely and without harassment,” she said.

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The deputy secretary’s remarks to the press came at the same time the U.S. Embassy in Kabul sent out an alert that it could not guarantee safe passage to the airport.

Congressional staffers have told The Hill that the administration is downplaying the difficulties and threats of violence and harm people face in an effort to reach the airport.   

Sherman said the U.S. is prepared to use “every economic, diplomatic, and political tool we have to hold the Taliban accountable to their words, and more.”

The deputy secretary further said that despite the violence at the checkpoints on the way to the airport, “many, many” Americans, Afghans with residency in the U.S. and Afghans at risk of violence from the Taliban are arriving at the airport. 

“I will tell you this, in spite of the obstacles, many, many Afghans in all of the categories, are finding their way to the airport,” she said. 

The deputy secretary said that U.S. military flights have evacuated 2,000 people over the past 24 hours, and over the last several days have “processed” 4,840 people for evacuation. 

There are at least 10,000 Americans and more than 80,000 Afghans at risk of violence from the Taliban, in particular Afghans who worked alongside U.S. military and government, who qualify for evacuation to the U.S. with special immigrant visas, looking to leave the country.

The Biden administration is coming under pressure from lawmakers and human rights advocates to more quickly scale up efforts to ensure evacuation of these groups and facilitate evacuation of vulnerable Afghans who fear reprisals from the Taliban for association with the U.S. or other international governments or organizations.

They also are calling for amnesty for activists, politicians, civil society leaders and women, in particular those who work in these roles.

Sherman stressed that the U.S. is working with the international community "to help those who are facing Taliban reprisals to get to safety."