The Biden administration has placed thousands of Afghan evacuees in facilities “awash with loose feces and urine and a rat infestation”, Axios reported on Tuesday, citing internal emails of a US Central Command official dated 20 August 2021.
Afghan refugees and their families were taken away from the Central Asian state amid a sweeping advance of the Taliban* and transported to Al Udeid Air Base in Doha, Qatar.
On 21 August, The Washington Post pointed out that the influx of Afghan civilians fleeing the Central Asian country “has threatened to overwhelm the air base [in Doha]… leaving many evacuees in a sweltering hangar without adequate toilets and showers”.
However, an email written by Colin Sullivan, who serves as a liaison between the State Department and US Central Command, has revealed that the lack of toilets and showers is only part of a bigger problem, shedding new light on the Biden administration’s unpreparedness for the Afghanistan pull-out.
To illustrate his point, the supervisory special agent quoted “excerpts from Doha Embassy staff communications”. One of the messages reads that the Afghan evacuees “are housed” in a “living hell”: “Trash, urine, fecal matter, spilled liquids and vomit covers the floors”. Other messages reveal that there is no ventilation in the hangars housing the refugees. Unbearable stenches and lack of fresh air are amplified by summer heat as high as 103°F – 107°F (39.4C – 41.6C). Furthermore, the hangars are infested with rats.
In addition to a lack of resources to solve the sanitation problem, there are also no procedures in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Axios particularly quotes Embassy Doha personnel who fear that their staff could catch COVID-19 from arriving Afghans.
For its part, a State Department spokesperson asserted to Axios that they are “working quickly to alleviate bottlenecks”, adding that on 23 April “more than 3,700 individuals were transported to follow-on destinations in the United States, Germany and Italy”.
Meanwhile, the flow of refugees from Afghanistan is not diminishing. The Biden administration has recently expressed optimism about the evacuation effort, citing the growing number of daily flights which carry thousands – “if not tens of thousands” – of Afghans daily.
The Biden administration has been subjected to criticism from both sides of the US political aisle over its handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal. In his public appearances, President Joe Biden has repeatedly defended his administration’s effort to withdraw troops and civilians from the region, insisting that “chaos” was “unavoidable”. The president also blamed his predecessor Donald Trump and the collapsed Afghan government for the botched US withdrawal.
It was expected that Biden could extend the evacuation deadline beyond 31 August. However, on Tuesday, the US president refused to postpone the pull-out, despite pleas from G7 countries. According to The Washington Post, CIA Director William Burns held a secret meeting with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar on 23 August, prior to Biden’s announcement of his final decision.