The US evacuated about 3,000 people from the Kabul airport Thursday, according to a White House official — but some military planes have been forced to leave almost empty as the Taliban blocks access to the airfield.
“The United States evacuated approximately 3,000 people from Hamid Karzai International Airport on 16 C-17 flights,” the official said Friday, adding that nearly 350 were American citizens, according to Reuters.
“Additional evacuees include family members of US citizens, Special Immigrant Visa applicants and their families, and vulnerable Afghans,” the official said, for a tally of about 9,000 evacuated by the military since Saturday.
A NATO official said Friday that more than 18,000 people have been flown out of Kabul since the Taliban took over the capital – as he pledged to intensify evacuation efforts amid mounting criticism of how the West, including the US, handled the crisis, Reuters reported.
Thousands of desperate people trying to flee the conquered country are still descending on the airport — even though the Taliban have urged those without legal travel documents to go home, according to the news service.
Meanwhile, ex-British marine Paul “Pen” Farthing shared a startling photo of a nearly empty evacuation plane taking his wife, from whom he became separated during the chaos at the airport, out of the country.
“Kaisa is on her way home! BUT this aircraft is empty…scandalous as thousands wait outside #Kabul airport being crushed as they cannot get in. Sadly people will be left behind when this mission is over as we CANNOT get it right,” Farthing said in a tweet.
He shared a photo his wife apparently took inside a plane in which rows of empty seats are seen awash in a green glow.
“Going at night obviously has its own hazards – it was the choice of two evils and thankfully it paid off,” the former Royal Marine told Sky News.
Farthing, the founder of the Nowzad animal charity, had been trying to organize his wife’s escape on Tuesday, but said she became “crushed” in the chaos.
She eventually boarded the nearly empty C-17 Globemaster, which the UK Ministry of Defense said was not theirs.
Farthing, who has demanded Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “get a grip” on the evacuation effort, also has been trying to get all of his remaining 71 Afghan workers and their families out of the country, vowing he would not leave until they are all safely evacuated.
Farthing revealed how planes are taking off from the airport every hour “regardless of whether they’re full or not.”
“People can’t get in, they cannot get into the airport,” he told Sky News. “This is an absolute screw-up of an evacuation. We are going to be watching some absolutely horrific scenes.”
Satellite images show the massive traffic jams in Kabul as thousands of citizens and foreigners attempt to get to the besieged airport.
British Defense secretary Ben Wallace insisted that “every space possible” on British aircraft was being utilized — with any extra capacity being offered to the UK’s allies, Metro reported.
“Our people are getting through, we haven’t sent a single empty plane home. And I don’t think many other nations have,” Wallace told Times Radio on Thursday, according to Metro.
‘I can’t speak for other nations, obviously, but fundamentally the key here is when we have a plane, if we have a single empty seat, we will offer it to other nations,” he added, though he conceded earlier in the week that “there will be some people left behind.”
“We made that clear in the last few weeks, I’m not going to raise expectations,” he said.
Meanwhile, British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said that no Royal Air Force planes had left Afghanistan empty, but that some had not been “completely full.”
“The reason for that is landing and takeoff slots at Kabul airport are at a premium, so too is space on the ground and so the way we are generating volume is by having nine aircraft flying in in constant rotation,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.