Final stretch: Westerners being blocked, beaten by Taliban amid last-ditch evacuation efforts

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Taliban fighters beat an Australian man bloody and fired gunshots at a checkpoint near Kabul’s airport in a new video that gives a dramatic glimpse into the desperate struggle to pass militant roadblocks.

The footage was published just a week before President Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw US troops, which has triggered a mad dash to the airport by western citizens and Afghans who aided them.

“I’m an Australian citizen. They hit me,” the man said with blood streaming down his face. Bearded fighters menacingly brandished semiautomatic rifles nearby and one appeared to object to being filmed.

Five of the man’s Afghan-citizen family members were with him, but a member of the group said the relatives were split up, with some feared abducted, according to the Daily Mail.

Taliban leaders said Tuesday they will no longer allow Afghans to enter the airport after thousands mobbed the country’s exit when the radical group swept into Kabul last week — adding uncertainty for dual citizens and Afghans who helped US and allied forces in the 20-year conflict.

A man claiming to be an Australian citizen said he was injured by the Taliban at a checkpoint in Kabul.
Habib Alami/Facebook

The Australian man visited the war-torn country in June to see a sick relative and ended up trapped by the rapid fall of the US-backed government, the Mail reports.

The footage was posted as the Pentagon revealed that US helicopters made additional rescue missions into Kabul to help stranded Americans reach the airport, which is encircled by a sea of would-be refugees and ringed by Islamic fundamentalists checking IDs.

Army Major General Hank Taylor said Wednesday at a press conference that “last night, during the period of darkness, there was an operation to be able to go out and safely evacuated evacuees back into Kabul [airport].”

A Taliban fighter tries to encourage people and cars to move along, by pointing his rifle and firing shots to control the crowd, in the midst of the flood, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021.
Taliban fighters are trying to encourage people and cars to move along.
MARCUS YAM/LOS ANGELES TIMES/Shu

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that “less than 20” Americans were airlifted in three helicopter rescues. He declined to elaborate, but the missions happened after US citizens said they were trapped.

On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki offered to personally plug any gaps in the evacuation process by soliciting journalists to give her the contact information of US citizens who cannot reach the airport.

Although the UK, French and other allied militaries have been making rescue missions near the Kabul airport, American leaders have not disclosed many missions. 

Afghans make their way through a flooded street towards a nearby airport entrance to try their chance at evacuating out of the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021.
As evacuation efforts from Afghanistan enter their final stretch, Americans and allies are rushing to the airport only to be met by Taliban.
MARCUS YAM/LOS ANGELES TIMES/Shu

Last week, 169 Americans were airlifted from a hotel just 200 meters from the airport because they were unable to cross checkpoints, Pentagon officials said.

During a Tuesday interview with Fox News, retired Marine Corps. Sgt Ryan Rogers revealed that as special immigrant visa applicants have been blocked by Taliban checkpoints, non-government organizations are trying different options. 

“Everyone is p—ed about this even being necessary,” he said. “But if the president doesn’t want to step up and lead, someone else will.” 

Since Aug. 14, the United States has helped evacuate 82,300 people including Americans and Afghan allies. Over the course of 24 hours ending Wednesday morning, 19,000 people were evacuated from the capital city of Kabul, according to the White House.

Taliban fighters man a checkpoint outside Abbey Gate as they make Afghans with travel documents wait in the corner for their turn to proceed, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021.
Since Aug. 14, the United States has helped evacuate 82,300 people including Americans and Afghan allies from the Taliban.
MARCUS YAM/LOS ANGELES TIMES/Shu

While thousands are still attempting to evacuate, it is unclear how many Americans are still left in Afghanistan. 

Rogers’ former US-contracted Afghan interpreter remains in the embattled country as of Tuesday, reportedly hiding from the Taliban and trapped in Kabul. 

The retired Marine revealed his former interpreter is in touch with non-government sources to help him get out of the country. 

Inside Abbey Gate, British and American security forces maintain order amongst the Afghan evacuees waiting to leave, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021.
While thousands are still attempting to evacuate, it is unclear how many Americans are still left in Afghanistan.
MARCUS YAM/LOS ANGELES TIMES/Shu

“It’s embarrassing on an international scale that we are even in this situation,” Rogers said. “It’s insulting to not even have a number of Americans left to get out.” 

The Biden administration has received bipartisan backlash for their initial response to the Taliban takeover as well as their hesitancy to reveal the exact number of Americans evacuated or Americans left in Afghanistan. 

On Monday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan defended the administration’s vague language, explaining that not all Americans in the country registered or deregistered when they left, making it difficult to present an accurate number. 

Amid the chaotic evacuation, security screeners in Qatar detected at least one Afghan evacuee who has potential ties to ISIS, a US official confirmed to Defense One. 

Out of approximately 7,000 Afghans evacuated that are listed as potential recipients of Special Immigrant Visas, 100 reportedly have been flagged as potential matches to federal watch lists. 

Not only do evacuees face the looming deadline to escape, many reportedly fear the Taliban’s history with violence and have serious concerns about their safety, even when attempting to access the airport.

On Wednesday, thousands flooded to the airport in Kabul, sparking fears of a possible stampede. Men, women and children were reportedly seen attempting to climb over walls into the complex as some fear an attack from ISIS. 

Rogers said that his former interpreter told him last week that three former Afghan National Army officers were hanged by the Taliban after militants found them hiding. “They are still searching for us and government officials,” the ex-interpreter warned.

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