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Afghans promised U.S. evacuation face final obstacle: Getting to Kabul

WASHINGTON — Thousands of Afghans who are eligible for a U.S. evacuation out of the country now face one final life-and-death hurdle — getting to Kabul without being captured or killed by the Taliban.

The Biden administration this week emailed hundreds of Afghans who worked for the U.S. government telling them to prepare for evacuation to the U.S. in coming days, and has promised others will be flown to a third country soon. But the Afghans have to make their way to the capital of Kabul on their own in order to be evacuated.

With the Taliban advancing against Afghan security forces in every corner of the country as U.S. troops withdraw, several Afghans who are eligible for a U.S. visa told NBC News they fear they will be stranded in far-flung towns and are struggling to find the money and means to get themselves and their families to Kabul.

“Our city is surrounded,” said Mohammad, a 33-year-old IT technician in Kandahar who worked for the U.S. military. “It can fall to Taliban militants any time.”

Afghans contacted by the U.S. government and offered flights to a military base in Virginia “have reached out to us begging for help because they do not have the resources to fly to Kabul,” said Chris Purdy, project manager for Veterans for American Ideals at Human Rights First.

“These Afghans know they cannot travel by land because the Taliban have captured the roads, and they know if they stay where they are then the Taliban will find them and kill them in their homes,” he said.

For the first U.S. evacuation expected next week, the Afghans were told to show up to Kabul for a final medical exam as soon as Monday, according to an email shared with NBC News and accounts from refugee advocacy groups.

But for Afghans outside of Kabul, getting to the capital requires reaching an airport safely for a local flight, and having enough money to pay for airfare. Dozens of Afghans have written to the nonprofit Association of War Allies saying they lacked the funds for the plane ticket or could not safely reach a regional airport, said Kim Staffieri, co-founder and executive director of the group.

“By not providing a way for those individuals to fly to Kabul to board their flight, the U.S. government is essentially abandoning them to their fate,” said Purdy of Human Rights First.

But senior State Department officials told reporters on Wednesday that the U.S. could not transport the Afghans to Kabul as the U.S. military no longer had a country-wide presence and had pulled out most of its troops in line with a Sept. 11 deadline for withdrawal.

“In order to come on an evacuation flight, they would have to get themselves to Kabul,” one of the senior officials said. “Obviously, we don’t have national U.S. military presence. We don’t have an ability to provide transportation for them.”

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the administration was undertaking something “that was never initially envisioned” as part of the visa program for Afghans who worked as interpreters, drivers or other roles.

“And so, we are doing all that we can, consistent with conditions on the ground, consistent with the fact that the safety and security of the American people and our service members, our diplomats, other U.S. government personnel is also a priority for us,” Price told reporters on Thursday.

‘Pray for us’

Mohammad, the IT technician in Kandahar, asked not to be identified to avoid retribution by the Taliban. During his five-year stint working for the U.S. government, he said, he received three letters from the Taliban threatening to kill him if he didn’t quit his job working with the “infidel Americans.”

Refugee advocates vouched for his case, and he said he received an email from U.S. immigration authorities this week telling him…

Read More:Afghans promised U.S. evacuation face final obstacle: Getting to Kabul

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