Afghan Christians have spent nearly four days outside the gates of the Kabul airport trying to board flights to safety. Among a group that began with more than 100 people are 22 leaders in the Afghan church whom the Taliban have identified and in some cases targeted with its Aug. 15 takeover of the city.
U.S. forces have repeatedly turned away Afghan Christians at airport entrances, despite the group’s following instructions from the State Department and U.S. military. Unable to return to their homes due to Taliban checkpoints, members of the group—including children and at least two pregnant women—have for two nights slept on the ground nearby, waiting for permission to enter the airport and board flights they’ve been assigned to. A Taliban fighter stationed at the airport shot one man in the group Wednesday. He sustained minor injuries.
By early Wednesday, 31 people from the group had been allowed into the airport. But the team that’s working to secure the Afghans’ evacuation is growing increasingly worried: Many believe the Afghans have only about 48 hours to make it aboard departing flights before the U.S. forces begin to close out operations at the chaotic airport, turn over operations to the Taliban, and themselves exit.
The United States and its allies say they have mounted one of the largest air evacuations ever, bringing out more than 88,000 people, including 19,000 in the last 24 hours. But with tens of thousands of targeted Afghans and a large number of Americans and other foreign citizens still stranded, private contractors have joined the effort. Seeing the challenges for what began as a haphazard U.S. operation, they’ve deployed extraction teams to Kabul and to staging points in the Persian Gulf to bring out additional foreigners and Afghans. The Kabul airport remains the only real departure point, with the United States running air traffic control.
Advocates earlier this week helped organize the extraction operation for these Hazara Christians—part of an ethnic minority and a religious group threatened by the Taliban—after it became clear the Christians were in danger. As WORLD has reported, the Taliban sent a letter Aug. 12 threatening one of the leaders of a 500-member house church network and later visited his home. He and others went into hiding, saying they did not want to leave Afghanistan.
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