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Planes Chartered To Evacuate Americans And Others From Afghanistan Remain Grounded

A plane flies over temporary camp for refugees from Afghanistan at the U.S. Army's Rhine Ordnance Barracks (ROB), where they are being temporarily housed, on August 30, 2021 in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Sascha Schuermann
Getty Images
A plane flies over temporary camp for refugees from Afghanistan at the U.S. Army's Rhine Ordnance Barracks (ROB), where they are being temporarily housed, on August 30, 2021 in Kaiserslautern, Germany.

Travelers have spent seven days waiting to depart from the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. At least 19 U.S. citizens and two green card holders are said to be among the group of about 600.

Multiple planes meant to ferry hundreds of people who say they are fearful of life under the Taliban's rule, including American citizens and green card holders, spent another day parked on an airstrip in northern Afghanistan Monday.

Marina LeGree, executive director of Ascend, a non-profit that teaches young Afghan women leadership through mountaineering and other athletics, told NPR's Jackie Northam that several Afghans affiliated with her group remained stuck. LeGree said that was in addition to more than 600 others, including at least 19 American citizens and two U.S. green card holders.

Among the hundreds of stranded travelers were members of nongovernmental organizations, journalists and women at risk, according to LeGree.

LeGree, from her home in Italy, said these travelers had now spent seven days in anticipation of clearance to take off, taking up residence near the airport in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

On Sunday, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Fox News that the Taliban were holding people "hostage" and that there were "six airplanes with American citizens on them as I speak."

While LeGree confirmed she'd been told there were six planes in total, she did clarify that the travelers were not waiting "physically on board" aircraft.

NPR could not independently confirm details of the situation in Mazar-e-Sharif.

McCaul said the Taliban was not letting the planes depart until its "demands" were met, possibly in the form of "cash or legitimacy as the government of Afghanistan."

A spokesperson with the State Department told NPR's Michele Kelemen that the U.S. is prepared to help all remaining U.S. citizens, green card holders and at risk Afghans who want to leave.

On Monday, a State Department official said the U.S. had "facilitated the safe departure of four Americans via overland route" that day. The official did not identify the Americans or specify the country to which they were taken.

But the department also said that it discourages chartered airplanes because – with no more of its personnel left on the ground in Afghanistan – it could not properly confirm the planes' passenger manifests.

An Afghan official at Mazar-e-Sharif airport told the Associated Press that many of the Afghan travelers did not have passports or visas.

The U.S. government says there has to be screening for everyone arriving into U.S. military bases due to security concerns.

LeGree said her understanding from speaking with sources on the ground is that the primary issue now is a negotiation between the Taliban and Kam Air, which is operating the flights, over the cost of using the airport.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jackie Northam
Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.
Chris Benderev
Chris Benderev is a founding producer of and also reports stories for NPR's documentary-style podcast, Embedded. He's driven into coal mines, watched as a town had to shutter its only public school after 100 years in operation, and, recently, he's followed the survivors of a mass shooting for two years to understand what happens after they fade from the news. He's also investigated the pseudoscience behind a national chain of autism treatment facilities. As a producer, he's made stories about ISIS, voting rights and Donald Trump's business history. Earlier in his career, he was a producer at NPR's Weekend Edition, Morning Edition, Hidden Brain and the TED Radio Hour.