With children, suitcases and strollers in tow, they waited hours on the airstrip in the relentless heat, hoping for a flight to freedom that never came. More than 200 Afghans from all walks of life – cooks, gardeners, translators, drivers, journalists – gathered on the tarmac at Kabul airport, looking for a way to escape a country whose government had failed. collapsed with shocking speed.
When Taliban forces stormed the overcrowded airport, the group – made up of local officials from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, along with their families – heard gunshots. People quickly dispersed and eventually returned home, where their safety was not guaranteed.
It would take several days for some members of the group to leave Afghanistan last Thursday (19). The stealth escape came after a global effort that spanned from newsrooms in the United States and from Pentagon rooms to the Emir’s Palace in Qatar. A NYT correspondent, a former US Navy, who had been evacuated but returned to assist his Afghan counterparts, remained at the airport to help coordinate the escape.
As the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated in recent days, editors at the NYT, WSJ and Washington Post have joined forces to withdraw staff. Security officials and editors shared information during morning phone calls. The editors appealed to the Biden administration for help, and discussions with the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department followed.
As of Sunday (15), branches had already closed and the situation in the streets of Kabul had become chaotic. As US troops, contractors and security personnel left the country, newsroom officials had less and less information about the situation on the ground. Afghan officials feared Taliban forces would go door-to-door, intimidating or even kidnapping journalists known to have worked for American vehicles.
The US military had provided security in part of Hamid Karzai International Airport, but getting there and accessing the terminal became nearly impossible. On Sunday, the group of more than 200 people linked to the three newspapers, including employees and their families, took to the airport runway, hoping to make contact with the US military. The account comes from three people briefed on what happened, some of whom requested anonymity.
Instead, the group faced a scene of chaos, with hundreds of other panicked Afghans seeking refuge. When the Taliban forces arrived, the situation became even more dangerous. The band members left, thirsty, hungry, mindless, and with no clear idea of what was going to happen next.
One option emerged when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered Afghan officials seats on a chartered flight her team was trying to organize to help Afghan women at risk, people familiar with the discussions said. The employees ultimately did not take the flight.
On Tuesday, 13 people from the Washington Post, including two Afghan officials, their families and an American correspondent, were able to board an American military plane bound for Qatar, with the help of “a series of people who coordinated on different fronts “. according to spokesperson Kristine Coratti Kelly.
Fred Ryan, the Post’s editor, had emailed National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan asking for help.
Three Wall Street Journal correspondents had left Afghanistan on Tuesday, and the newspaper continued to work to evacuate dozens of Afghan officials. A spokesperson said on Thursday (19) that positive progress had been made. “Our colleagues are about to go to safety.”
A big step forward was taken for a group of 128 people from the NYT when the government of Qatar, a country with ties to Afghanistan and the United States, agreed to help. Qatar is home to an American military base; in addition, it has an embassy in Kabul and maintains relations with the Taliban leadership.
AG Sulzberger, editor of the New York Times, said the company is deeply indebted to the government of Qatar, which has provided “truly invaluable assistance in bringing our Afghan colleagues and their families to safety.”
Throughout Thursday night, NYT officials and family members made another attempt to get to the airport. Barred by crowds and guards at a Taliban checkpoint, the group eventually found an open entry point.
The group was aided by two foreign NYT correspondents, Mujib Mashal and Thomas Gibson-Neff – the former Marine who returned to Kabul and remained in the US-occupied airport wing, hence he advised his Afghan colleagues how and when to try. to arrive.
The next steps taken by media organizations are unclear. For the English-speaking correspondents who remain in Kabul, the development of the situation has become even more dangerous.
“People will now go much more underground to get news because they are forced to,” said John Lippman, acting director of programming for Voice of America. “We will cover Afghanistan from outside Afghanistan if necessary.”
One media organization has increased its staff in Afghanistan: the Qatar-based media and television network Al Jazeera.
Mohamed Moawad, the network’s editor, said this week that his correspondents had been able to travel inside Afghanistan, in most cases without restrictions, and that he had dispatched more journalists to the country, some of which had left from Doha and neighboring countries.
A veteran correspondent from Afghanistan helped the network obtain exclusive footage of the Taliban taking control of the presidential palace.
“It is vital and crucial for the Afghan people to focus on Afghanistan at this time so that the Taliban keep the promises they have put on the table,” he said.