KABUL (Dispatches) – U.S. forces stationed at Kabul’s international airport have been extorting money from Afghans trying to flee chaos following the Taliban’s takeover of the country, reports said on Tuesday.
Iran’s Nour News U.S. Marines — who control sections of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul to oversee the evacuation of Americans — were demanding anything between $500 and $2000 from desperate Afghans for their flight out of the country.
Citing Afghans who have left the country, the report said the U.S. forces had turned away those who were unable to shell out the extortion money.
The Taliban, who laid siege to the Afghan capital last week after stunning military advances across the country, currently control Kabul, where the country’s only functional airport is located.
Up to 6,000 U.S. troops are presently deployed to the highly-fortified airport, primarily to facilitate the evacuation of stranded foreign diplomats and Afghans, especially those who worked with the U.S.
The Biden administration has pledged to evacuate thousands of Afghan refugees, allies and American civilians out of the war-torn country before the end of the month.
But, there have been reports that some Afghan military interpreters who worked for the Americans have been turned away from the airport, with the priority being given to U.S. citizens to leave the country.
A report in New York Times on Monday quoted both U.S. officials and Afghans stranded at the Kabul airport as saying that they had been pushed away despite receiving emails from the U.S. instructing them to get to the airport for evacuation.
The U.S. government and its allies have come under scathing criticism for the botched mission in Afghanistan followed by the disorderly exit, putting at risk the lives of millions of ordinary Afghans.
Kabul airport, situated a few miles from the U.S. Embassy in central Kabul, has witnessed chaotic scenes in recent days with thousands of vulnerable Afghans, including women and children, seeking evacuation.
A firefight involving Western forces erupted at Kabul airport on Monday when Afghan guards exchanged fire with unidentified gunmen, adding to the evacuation chaos.
At least 20 have been killed in the chaos at the airport, most in shootings
and stampedes in the heat and dust, penned in by concrete blast walls.
Last week, at least three Afghans fell to their death from a U.S. military plane after it sped away from the Kabul airport amid frenzied, heartbreaking scenes.
Biden sent CIA Director William Burns to meet Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul on Monday in the highest level official encounter since the militant group took over the Afghan capital, a U.S. official and a source familiar with government activity told Reuters on Tuesday.
The Washington Post, citing U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, first reported the meeting. The White House and a CIA representative declined to comment. A Taliban spokesman said he was not aware if Baradar met the CIA chief.
Baradar has served as the Taliban’s chief negotiator in peace talks with the U.S. in Qatar that resulted in an agreement with the Trump administration on the withdrawal of the American forces.
Biden last week said U.S. troops may stay in Afghanistan past his Aug. 31 deadline in order to evacuate Americans.
However, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Tuesday the group had not agreed to extend the deadline for evacuation and they wanted all foreign evacuations to be completed by Aug. 31.
The U.S. and its NATO allies invaded Afghanistan to remove the Taliban from power 20 years ago, but the invasion worsened the security situation in the country.
The Taliban laid siege to Kabul on August 15, and Afghanistan’s U.S.-allied president Ashraf Ghani fled on the same day.