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U.S. Forces Continue To Evacuate Thousands Of Afghans Still In Kabul

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The U.S. military has ramped up evacuation efforts out of Kabul. More than 16,000 people have been flown out within 24 hours. But Democratic chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, says that may not be enough to get every American and Afghan allies of the U.S. out by the August 31 withdrawal deadline.

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ADAM SCHIFF: I think it's possible, but I think it's very unlikely.

FADEL: President Biden is facing pressure to extend the deadline, and he's meeting with G-7 leaders today to discuss the withdrawal. Meanwhile, Afghans who've made the harrowing journey out of Kabul are being taken to transit centers and military bases around the world before moving on to a third country. One of those places is a U.S. airbase in Qatar. Joining us now is Jamal Elshayyal. He's a senior correspondent with Al-Jazeera in Doha, Qatar, and recently visited that base. Good morning, Jamal. Thanks for joining us.

JAMAL ELSHAYYAL: Morning. How are you guys?

FADEL: So you were at the Al Udeid Air Base. Walk us through who's being housed there now.

ELSHAYYAL: So it's a mix. There's two kind of operations that are taking place in conjunction simultaneously. One is being led by the Qataris themselves. So Qatari Air Force planes that are going in are bringing in mainly students, women and family from Afghanistan, those who want to leave, and they're coming in. Qatar is processing. Those number in the hundreds, close to a thousand maybe. And then there is another operation that the Americans are doing and the American military is doing, but being also facilitated or helped by the Qataris, and that's bringing in people in the thousands. And those are mainly translators, those who worked for either the U.S. military there or the embassy and other collaborators or those who worked with them in different fields.

I say it's being facilitated by the Qataris because on the ground in Kabul, for example, the Qatari ambassador is ensuring, through negotiations with the Taliban, safe passage for those people to reach Kabul Airport and then, when the plane comes here, the American base. Although it's a U.S. military base, obviously, it's being hosted by the Qataris, so in terms of certain equipment and other things like that, that's something that the Qataris are assisting with, too.

FADEL: So you're talking about thousands of people on this base. What are the conditions?

ELSHAYYAL: Well, initially, they were a lot worse than they are now. That's based on both testimony of those who first came in, as well as the military personnel and officials that we spoke to when we were at the base. And simply, that is because it's a military base. It's not equipped to house thousands of civilians, certainly not in huge droves coming within, you know, the space of hours, if not just a couple of days. So initially, what was happening was, you know, hundreds of refugees were being put into these airplane hangars, which weren't equipped - were not equipped with toilets, not equipped with beds, not equipped with air conditioning. The temperature in Qatar in this summer month is probably the highest it is throughout the year. But swiftly, the Americans have tried to bring about some sort of assistance in this. So they've brought portable toilets. They've housed them now in maybe halls, gathering halls. But still, it's nowhere near ideal. There isn't really warm food and stuff like that.

FADEL: It sounds like a scramble to deal with incoming people. Does the U.S. personnel have enough staff to process everyone?

ELSHAYYAL: They don't, and that's by their own admission. I think a big part of that is because even, you know, from the president all the way down to the generals and those on the ground, nobody expected things to develop as swiftly as they did. And therefore, they weren't equipped. They weren't equipped either from the basics that I explained in terms of living services or were - nor were they equipped from a security perspective in terms of processing these visas. So we are told that the people at the base here in Al Udeid are hoping that there are TSA staff and other immigration officials and security staff that are meant to be flying in from the United States here to help process these thousands of refugees.

FADEL: Jamal Elshayyal with Al-Jazeera, reporting from Doha, Qatar. Thank you so much for joining us.

ELSHAYYAL: Thank you.

FADEL: We should note here that Al-Jazeera is funded by the government of Qatar. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.