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U.S. Has Less Than A Week To Finish Afghan Evacuations Before Aug. 31 Deadline

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Early this morning, Kabul time, the U.S. Embassy warned U.S. citizens at the airport to leave immediately due to security threats outside the gates. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke of the complexity of the evacuations and its dangers yesterday.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: We're operating in a hostile environment in a city and country now controlled by the Taliban with the very real possibility of an ISIS-K attack.

FADEL: Other nations have issued similar warnings. The U.S. has evacuated more than 95,000 people. But as the rush to leave Afghanistan is now in its final days, as many as 1,500 U.S. citizens are among those still waiting for evacuations, not to mention tens of thousands of Afghans who helped the U.S. PBS NewsHour special correspondent Jane Ferguson left Kabul yesterday, and she joins us now from Doha, Qatar. Hi, Jane.

JANE FERGUSON: Hi.

FADEL: Jane, let's start with that security alert. What do you know about the possible threat that prompted these warnings?

FERGUSON: We don't know any specifics about the intelligence around this threat, but we do know that the U.S. government has been increasingly talking about this in the last few days as a concern. It's worth mentioning that ISIS have menaced Kabul for years and have...

FADEL: Right.

FERGUSON: ...Been responsible for devastating attacks against civilians, essentially, in the city for a long time. Now, we know that the area that they're talking about, just outside the airport, is impossible to secure. It is thousands of civilians, roads cut off by Taliban checkpoints. You also have Western soldiers there from Britain, the United States, Canada, all over. It's - when you're in the street, it's almost like a strange convention of militaries where you'll see little groups of different soldiers from different nations. You know, when it comes to security, no one is being checked. There's no metal detectors. There's no order. It's chaos. So from the perspective of trying to send in a suicide bomber or an attack or an IED, it is extremely vulnerable point.

Worth pointing out also, just quickly, that ISIS are sworn enemy of the Taliban. So it's within their interests to really try to make the Taliban look like they can't keep control and order. And for the Taliban, you know, order and control and some semblance of peace in the areas that they control is something that they're desperate to try to convey right now.

FADEL: What was the scene at the Kabul airport yesterday when you left?

FERGUSON: Outside the airport, at the gates, which is where the real chokehold has been, there's still crowds of people. There's still an element of chaos. The crowds are slightly smaller. That is in part because the Taliban have been preventing people from getting to the airport. They've said they're not going to let any Afghans go. That's been unclear. They've clearly been letting some through but others not, adding to the confusion and panic. You also have a situation where it's just harder to get in. There's been a sort of informal policy of U.S. passport holders and green card holders only. This is what we're hearing from everybody we speak to down there when we went down. And so that means that there's a panic there. But on the flight line, more planes are getting off the ground. There is - inside the airport, there is a degree of people being able to get on, being able to get registered. That's moving much more quickly now.

FADEL: Let me just ask you. We're hearing, though, numerous accounts of Americans who can't get to the airport and if they get to the gates, can't get through despite their best attempts. Have you heard anything about this and why that's happening?

FERGUSON: It's hard to overstate just how chaotic it is. People would have to get through Taliban checkpoints, then they have to get through a crush. What I'm hearing from people is that those with the elderly, the injured, small children, it's extremely dangerous. So even if you have a U.S. passport, unless you can get to the gate, it is useless to you. So that's really going to be holding people back.

FADEL: PBS NewsHour special correspondent Jane Ferguson, thank you so much.

FERGUSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.