Qatar has been praised on a global scale for its swift evacuation of Afghans in “the largest airlift of people in history”.
The Pentagon is reportedly working on improving the dire conditions of thousands of Afghan evacuees at the US Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar following harrowing footage and images released by evacuees at the military site.
“Nobody’s making excuses, nobody’s ducking from this. We recognise that things were, and in many ways still are, not at the level of sanitation and good hygiene that we want,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said on Tuesday, as quoted by Axios, following the release of leaked emails of officials expressing concerns over the situation at Al Udeid.
Local Afghan media outlet:
Afghans who recently fled Afghanistan and are staying at a "refugee camp" in Qatar say they have no air-conditioning and only one toilet and shower for all, and that there's hot weather and lack of services. #Afghanistan pic.twitter.com/O1OaNrnmCj
— FJ (@Natsecjeff) August 19, 2021
Kirby said poor conditions were “facilitated by the sheer numbers, and the speed with which those numbers got there”.
“Nobody, nobody here, wants anyone to be less than safe, secure, comfortable and well-cared for as they go through this process,” he said.
‘A living hell’
In the leaked exchanges, under the subject line “Dire conditions at Doha”, a US official at the Central Command said described the situation at the American-run air base as “a living hell”.
Obtained by Axios on Tuesday, the emails were sent by supervisory special agent, Colin Sullivan to officials at the State Department and the Pentagon, urging them to track “a life-threatening humanitarian disaster” at the American military post.
“While not in any way downplaying the conditions in Kabul nor the conditions the Afghanis [sic] are escaping from, the current conditions in Doha are of our own doing,” said Sullivan, a veteran member of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service now serving as a liaison to US Central Command.
On top of a lack of facilities, urine, fecal matter, spilled liquids and vomit have been reported to cover the floors at the air base. Afghan evacuees are also being placed in hot conditions without air conditioning, with rats roaming the area.
The Pentagon later told Axios that it is working on installing more than 100 toilets and offering 7,000 traditional Afghan meals, three times a day.
In other leaked conversations obtained by ABC, Qatar Foreign Ministry officials also had concerns over the situation at the Al Udeid Air Base and Camp As Sayliyah.
Qatar’s Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah Al Khater, told US Ambassador John Desrocher that both bases “had hit maximum capacity to house in a safe and secure manner” while warning of a “growing crises” at the two places.
Al Khater has been on the frontline of the evacuation process, navigating between different locations around Qatar to check in on Afghans that have been temporarily housed.
The senior Qatari diplomat also told US officials that there was a “danger of human trafficking in such circumstances and highlighted the cases of unaccompanied minors coming from Kabul”.
Al Udied has some 4,500 Afghans while 4,000 others have been placed at Camp As Sayliyah, where Qatari officials warned of “increased tensions among the Afghan population”.
Furthermore, Khalifa Jassim al Kuwari, Qatar’s foreign aid and development chief, also “doubted that the USG [US government] had sufficient personnel, food, medicine at CAS [Camp As Sayliyah] to care properly for Afghans there”.
To lessen the crises at the camps, Qatar’s Red Crescent Society [QRCS] had to step in to provide mobile shower trucks and hygiene kits as Doha’s foreign ministry arranged for cleaning services.
A State Department spokesperson told ABC News on Tuesday that “Qatar has been at the forefront” of evacuation efforts as the main site.
“We are grateful to the Government of Qatar for their generous assistance that has allowed us to take-in over 20,000 people and sent hundreds of US citizens to the United States and thousands of Afghans to the United States, Germany, and Italy for further processing,” they added in a statement.
Centcom, however, said that the situation at the base has improved over the past few days.
Lack of US planning
The lates Afghan refugee crisis was triggered by a rapid Taliban takeover of Kabul last week, forcing many to flee the country.
The insurgents launched a major offensive to capture control of key areas in Afghanistan after US President Joe Biden announced his decision to withdraw American and NATO forces from Afghanistan after 20 years.
Biden has since faced criticism for not providing a strategic plan that ensures the safety of Afghans and foreign nationals as US and NATO troops continue to withdraw.
Shortly after the Taliban entered the capital city, scenes of chaos erupted at Kabul airport, forcing the Biden administration to immediately evacuate its military, Afghans who worked with the west and other civilians.
Critics have pointed towards the dire conditions at the US base as yet another example of bad planning by the Biden adminstration.
Qatar’s evacuation efforts
Meanwhile, Qatar has managed to evacuate thousands of Afghans and foreign nationals since the Taliban took over the country last week.
On Sunday, Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani told Fox News that Qatar has taken “full responsibility” for evacuating Afghan civilians and foreigners from Afghanistan.
إنطلاقا من التزامها الأخلاقي تجاه القضايا الإنسانية، وفرت دولة #قطر السكن اللائق والرعاية الصحية المناسبة لجميع الذين تم إجلاؤهم من أفغانستان ويقيمون حاليًا في الدولة بشكل مؤقت، كما سهلت المرور الآمن للأفغان والصحفيين والدبلوماسيين وممثلي المنظمات الدولية. pic.twitter.com/nuoDFZIOkt
— مكتب الاتصال الحكومي (@GCOQatar) August 24, 2021
“We are taking the full responsibility for them [evacuees], taking them to the airport and ensuring their safety throughout. We are trying to facilitate for other countries who don’t have access to reach people who are there on the ground,” said the foreign minister in a televised interview with the American outlet.
So far, Qatar has evacuated more than 40,000 people from Afghanistan with the number expected to increase over the next few days and weeks. In a separate interview with CNN, the foreign minister said evacuations are expected to take place for another week or two.
Qatar is currently working with the UN, the US and other international partners to ensure Afghans and foreigners are safely evacuated from Kabul.
More than 500 Afghan evacuees were placed in temporary housing at a compound in Qatar, with families and students placed in separate villas. Daily activities have been arranged for the children at the compound, including football, arts and crafts and much more.
During Doha News’ visit to the compound, Qatari personnel were seen supervising the compound to ensure families are receiving adequate care and are provided with their hygiene and food necessities.
A health centre is also available on site, where those with health conditions can go to receive medication and PCR tests on arrival.