Chad Robichaux has five planes that each carry up to 500 passengers on standby overseas. They should be destined for the Kabul international airport to begin evacuations from Afghanistan. But the U.S. military—in charge of air travel since it took over air traffic control from Afghan authorities on Sunday night—won’t let them in.
Tracking Tuesday night into Wednesday showed a notable drop in transports in and out of the airport—the only legitimate exit from Afghanistan. Departing military aircraft designed to carry hundreds of passengers instead had fewer than 50. As a backlog of evacuees builds, so does tension—and danger.
Gunfire is increasingly frequent near the airport, say eyewitnesses, and security experts are warning of the potential for open conflict between Taliban fighters stationed there and the U.S. Marine contingent supervising evacuations.
At least 10,000 Americans remain in Afghanistan, along with other Westerners. Tens of thousands of Afghans also are desperate to escape Taliban rule. Many have exit documents and already have booked flights yet cannot access the only commercial airport in the country. The Taliban controls all but a few remote border areas. So the Kabul airport, which should be the relief valve in a chaotic and incomplete U.S. withdrawal, instead could become a flashpoint.
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