The overcrowded airbase hanger in Qatar that’s housing thousands of Afghan evacuees has been described as a “living hell” covered in loose feces, urine and rats, a new report says.
The conditions at the al-Udeid Air Base in Doha were described in internal emails sent to State Department and Pentagon officials last Friday as the Biden administration continues to face mounting criticism over its botched handling of the evacuations, Axios reports.
After managing to flee Kabul on US military flights, thousands of Afghan refugees are being forced to crowd into the airbase so they can be processed by American officials and then cleared to fly to the United States.
The email describing the conditions inside the hangar was titled “dire conditions at Doha” and noted how the “human beings are in a living nightmare.”
It was sent by U.S. Central Command special agent Colin Sullivan and included notes from Doha Embassy staff about the conditions at the airbase.
Among the notes was the sanitation issues, lack of air conditioning and a rat infestation.
“A humid day today. Where the Afghans are housed is a living hell. Trash, urine, fecal matter, spilled liquids and vomit cover the floors,” one note included in the email read.
Another said: “We’re in the middle of humanitarian crises [sic] that compounds itself with every flight that lands in Doha.”
“Hangar update. They now have a rat problem,” another read.
Sullivan said in the email that he wanted US officials to be aware of and “fully tracking” these issues.
“While not in any way downplaying the conditions in Kabul nor the conditions the Afghanis [sic] are escaping from, the current conditions in Doha are of our own doing,” he wrote.
A U.S. Central Command spokesperson later acknowledged it had been difficult keeping up with the flow of arrivals after tens of thousands fled Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby acknowledged the situation on Tuesday, telling a press briefing: “Nobody’s making excuses.”
“Nobody’s ducking from this. We recognize that things were and in many ways still are not at the level of sanitation and good hygiene that we want. I can tell you that for the secretary on down everybody’s focused on trying to improve that,” he said.
“It’s something we’re going to watch, not just there but every other temporary safe haven that we’re operating from.
“Nobody here wants anyone to be less than safe, secure, comfortable and well cared for, as they go through this process. We take it very seriously.”
The Pentagon said it had taken steps to improve the conditions at the hangar, including adding 100 toilets.
The leaked emails adds to the criticism the Biden administration has faced amid the rushed evacuations after the Taliban seized control.
The Taliban on Tuesday demanded all US troops be out of Afghanistan by Aug. 31, saying they will not extend the deadline for evacuations.
The group’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said during a press conference they want all evacuations to stop at the end of the month despite thousands of Americans and Afghans still trying to flee.
He warned they would take over airport security in Kabul, which the US currently controls, after the deadline.
Mujahid said the crowds of desperate Afghans trying to get on evacuation flights at Kabul airport should return to their homes because the Taliban “guarantee their security.”
He also claimed there was no list of people they were targeting for helping the US during the war.
“We have forgotten everything in the past,” Mujahid said.
More than 17,000 US citizens and Afghans were evacuated from Kabul in 36 hours, White House officials said late Monday — but the deadly Taliban violence that has blocked many from entering the airport still remains.
Biden administration officials have repeatedly refused to say how many US citizens remain in Kabul.