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Biden’s bid to evacuate 22,000 at-risk Afghans faces Taliban barrier

US President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden's promise to evacuate over 20,000 at-risk Afghans who have been working with the U.S. government appears to have run into the Taliban barrier as many of these individuals are facing an uphill task in reaching the airport.

Some of these individuals are still in the provinces and have to go through several Taliban check-points before they can reach Kabul. Many of those who are in Kabul are unable to reach the airport as they cannot get past the gun-toting Taliban fighters who have set up barriers at crucial points.

An Afghan interpreter working with the Australian government was shot in the leg on Wednesday morning while he was on his way to the airport along with his family to board a military flight to Australia, according to a report in the Guardian.

Audio messages provided to the Guardian include voices of Australian personnel and their translators stationed inside the Kabul airport warning visa holders not to approach the area. Photographs show the Afghan national being treated for a gunshot wound to the leg.

Also read: Regional powers drive Afghan diplomacy as Washington’s star fades

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg admitted in an interview on CNN that at-risk Afghans were facing a problem in reaching the Kabul airport. He said that NATO was in touch with the Taliban leadership to allow such individuals to come to the airport.

India’s embassy staff in Kabul had also been held up for a day as they could not reach the Kabul airport on Monday but eventually contact was established with the Taliban leadership to enable them to board the Indian Air Force plane at the Hamid Karzai Airport on Tuesday. Armed Taliban fighters had escorted the Indian contingent to the airport.

CNN chief reporter in Kabul confirmed that the at-risk Afghans were terrified and facing a problem in reaching the airport.

The Taliban has agreed to “a safe passage” for civilians and this is what the US and NATO want to see unfolding on the ground. The Taliban also knows the world is watching and have become a lot savvier than their earlier rule as was reflected in the first press conference they hosted in Kabul on Tuesday.

A U.S. official told Reuters "too many things have to go 100 percent correctly" to execute the plan to move out those going through the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) process. The Pentagon had drawn up plans to evacuate up to 22,000 SIV applicants, their families and other at-risk people.

Also read: Human remains found in wheel well of US plane flown out of Kabul, issue being probed

Biden announced his intent to start evacuating at-risk Afghans in July, after which only 2,000 Afghans have been flown to the United States.

 "It's a nice goal to have, but realistically it's going to be a challenge," Reuters cited the U.S. official as saying.

US National security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Monday that the White House had received reports of people being beaten outside the airport even though the Taliban had agreed to allow civilians safe passage.

The deadline for the evacuation mission is Aug. 31 so it appears to be a race against time. But, of course, there is always the possibility of extending the last date.