A toddler and six others were killed Saturday in the area around the Kabul airport, according to British military officials, bringing the death toll from evacuation violence in the past week to well over a dozen.
The U.K. Defense Ministry revealed the deaths Sunday and said they were sending their “sincere thoughts” to the families of those who “died in crowds,” reported Yahoo News. While the causes of death remain unclear, one young girl — the daughter of a woman who provided interpreting services to an American company — was crushed to death.
“I felt pure terror,” the woman told The New York Times by phone. She said her whole family was knocked over while trying to reach the gate, and at one point she was kicked in the head. Her daughter was trampled in the chaos. “I couldn’t save her.”
Across Kabul, Americans and Afghan allies have struggled to get to the safety of the international airport. It remains one of the only ways to get out of the country — the government of which collapsed in a matter of days amidst a Taliban blitz only last week — and as such, has drawn crowds among Afghans desperate to flee the Taliban by any means necessary.
But the U.S. Embassy, citing ongoing security concerns, has warned Americans against traveling to the airport unless specifically asked to do so. Only days ago, President Joe Biden suggested that Americans weren’t struggling to reach the airport in Kabul.
Biden suggested in a press conference Sunday, however, that the perimeter of the airport had since been expanded to make evacuations easier. “We’re working hard and as fast as we can to get people out. That’s our mission. That’s our goal,” said the president, who declined to provide details, reported POLITICO.
However, POLITICO later clarified that access to the airport was expanded, not the perimeter itself. An administration official told CNN that the opening of more entry points was the source of the expansion.
It’s unclear exactly how many Americans remain in Kabul. Also on Sunday, Biden said the United States and its allies have evacuated 28,000 people since August 14, reports The Washington Post. Earlier this week, estimates indicated that between 10,000 and 15,000 Americans seeking to escape were stuck — which is to say nothing of the Afghan allies who the president, only last month, publicly told, “[t]here is a home for you in the United States, if you so choose.”
According to NBC News, which obtained a state department cable, Afghan staff at the U.S. embassy have become “deeply disheartened” by the state of the U.S. evacuation — an effort that has drawn parallels to the Fall of Saigon in 1975. The cable reportedly told of Afghan staffers who were instructed to head to the airport, past Taliban-controlled checkpoints.
“However, no one anticipated the brutal experience that occurred,” the cable that NBC News obtained said.
One staff member, according to the cable, said after a purportedly unsuccessful trip that it would be “better to die under the Taliban’s bullet” than to do it again. Some were hospitalized, others were almost separated from their children, reported NBC.
This article has been revised for clarity.