The U.S. has halted all U.S.-bound flights of Afghan evacuees from two main bases overseas for unspecified “health safety concerns,” a move U.S. officials warn will have a severe impact on the evacuation operation, according to a U.S. government document seen Friday by The Associated Press.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection made the decision on the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to halt the flights from U.S. bases in Germany and Qatar, according to the document.
It was the latest problem in the Biden administration’s rushed and often violence-plagued evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghans and Americans and other foreigners from Afghanistan, which peaked with a more than two-week military airlift out of the Kabul airport. In that chaos, 13 U.S. troops and scores of Afghans were killed by a suicide bomber at an airport gate. The military evacuation effort shut down Aug. 30, when American troops withdrew. Thousands of Afghan evacuees remain in third-country transit sites, before being moved to the United States or other countries.
National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said Friday that 32 Americans and U.S. green-card holders had left Afghanistan on Friday, 19 on a Qatar Airways flight and 13 others by land. It was only the second such evacuation flight allowed by the Taliban since U.S. troops left.
The U.S. government believes about 100 American citizens remain in Afghanistan, a State Department spokeswoman, Jalina Porter, said.
It was the same number the U.S. had given before the latest evacuation flights took out Americans. Porter said she could not immediately explain why the number had not changed.
American officials gave no immediate explanation of the health concerns at the U.S. bases in Germany and Qatar. U.S. officials last month announced they were suspending the requirement of a COVID test for Afghan evacuees leaving Afghanistan.
The U.S. has been conducting security screening and other processing of evacuees at those two main overseas sites and others after evacuating them from Afghanistan.
The halting of the flights is a problem for the United States in part because many of the evacuees already have been at the Ramstein military base longer than the 10-day limit Germany set in allowing the U.S. to use the country as a transit site.
Germany and Qatar, along with Spain, Kosovo, Kuwait and other countries, agreed to temporarily host U.S. processing sites for evacuees after Kabul fell, after allies initially balked over worries of getting stuck with U.S. security problems.
The U.S document viewed by the AP said the halt would “severely impact” operations at the U.S. base in Germany and have an “adverse effect” on the nearly 10,000 evacuees at Ramstein, many of whom have been there more than 10 days and are increasingly fatigued.