Desperation at both ends of the frantic Afghan evacuation route

Doha, Qatar — Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers have been quashing scattered protests with gunfire, whips and sticks, while the group’s leaders insist they will not harbor terrorists in the country again. At Kabul airport, people were seen handing young children over the perimeter wall to U.S. troops this week, desperate for their kids to avoid life under the Islamic extremists who’ve retaken control after 20 years, hot on the heels of the American withdrawal.

CBS News’ Roxana Saberi reported that the mayhem outside the U.S.-controlled airport continued on Friday, with hundreds of desperate Afghans still gathering — despite Taliban warnings and violence — in hopes of escaping the militants’ reign. Gunfire was heard again on Friday as Taliban gunmen tried to disperse crowds.

But the situation on the other end, where U.S. military evacuation flights have been landing in Doha, Qatar, was also deteriorating. The cavernous hanger at the al-Udeid Air Base being used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection staff to process fleeing Afghans and American nationals had reached capacity on Friday, CBS News’ Christina Ruffini reported.

Sources on the ground described the situation at al-Udeid as “pretty much a full-blown humanitarian disaster.”

In a bid to ease the pressure on al-Udeid, the U.S. reached an agreement with the government in Bahrain to let American military planes start flying evacuees from Kabul to the Isa Air Base, where flights were expected to start landing later on Friday. The base had capacity to temporarily shelter up to 1,000 people, and the Bahraini authorities gave the U.S. permission to keep people there for onward processing for up to 14 days.   

Biden adviser on evacuating Americans from Af… 02:10

One man at the al-Udeid base in Doha told CBS News that about 2,000 Afghans and U.S citizens were crowded into the building. He said it was hot, and many people were waiting hours for food, but that he and the others who had made it that far were grateful to the U.S., and relieved to be out of Kabul.

Saberi was in Doha on Friday after getting out of Kabul on a U.S. evacuation flight two days earlier, along with about 300 Afghan nationals. A senior U.S. border protection official told CBS News that his agency was busy screening Afghans in Doha to clear them for travel on to military bases in the U.S.

But many still can’t make it that far.   

“Left behind”

The main route out of Afghanistan, Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, remained a scene of despair, with thousands pushing, waiting, and longing for a flight to freedom.

“Hopefully I’m going to be able to get in the airplane,” Omid Mahmoodi, who worked as a translator for the U.S. military, said as he filmed his attempt to get into the airport and escape earlier this week. Then he posted an update: “Unfortunately I’m still here. Unfortunately the Taliban are still keeping firing on people.”

Twice he failed.

Afghan interpreters hope for new start in U.S… 02:30

In June, Mahmoodi told CBS News’ Charlie D’Agata that he had risked his own life to save the lives of American soldiers, and he knew the troops appreciated his efforts.

“When I come to the base, all the U.S. advisors, they hug me and they kiss me and they told me: ‘From now, you are not our interpreter, from now you are my brother,'” he told D’Agata.  

Now, with Taliban back in power, he said he was in more danger than ever.

“They will kill me and they will behead me,” he said. “I have already [been] left behind. But, you know, I’m just struggling to be alive.”

Evacuees from Afghanistan arrive at Al-Udeid airbase in Doha
Evacuees from Afghanistan arrive at Al-Udeid Air Base in Doha, Qatar, in this recent undated handout photo provided by the Qatari goverment.  QATAR COMMUNICATIONS OFFICE/Reuters

U.S. forces have evacuated around 9,000 people from Kabul’s airport since Saturday, mostly U.S. citizens and Afghans who once worked for the U.S. Earlier in the week, President Biden estimated that there were between 60 and 80,000 people still wanting evacuation, including Americans, their families and vulnerable Afghans.

Mamoodi got back in touch on Friday morning. He still hadn’t been able to get onto a flight. On his latest attempt, he said he was turned back by U.S. troops, not the Taliban.