(WASHINGTON) — Tens of thousands of Americans, Afghans and other foreigners have been evacuated from Kabul’s international airport to U.S. military installations in Qatar, a key U.S. partner in the Middle East that has received public shout-outs from President Joe Biden and his top officials.
But privately, Qatari officials are warning their American counterparts that the situation at U.S. facilities, where thousands of Afghan evacuees are being housed, is growing more dire, according to an internal State Department report obtained by ABC News.
Some Afghans and Americans who have been housed at the bases have spoken publicly about the lack of space, food and water or facilities. But the urgent warnings from Qatari officials to their American counterparts speak to how thin-stretched facilities have become — and the risks that it entails, including for human trafficking.
Asked about conditions on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the administration was “aware” of issues, but “worked quickly to improve” them.
“Certainly, we want the individuals who are being evacuated to be treated with respect. We also want them to be safe, hence the speed necessity, but we worked to improve the conditions as soon as we learned,” she said.
In meetings Monday, however, Qatar Foreign Ministry officials were still expressing concerns about “deteriorating health and security conditions” and over-crowding at Al Udeid Air Base and Camp As Sayliyah, according to the internal report.
In particular, Lolwah al Khater, a Qatari assistant foreign minister, told U.S. Ambassador John Desrocher that both bases “had hit maximum capacity to house in a safe and secure manner” and warned of “growing crises” at each.
Both Qatari bases include U.S. military installations that are hosting thousands of evacuees, although the pressure on them has decreased in recent days as more U.S. allies accept evacuation flights, especially Germany.
“The fact that we now have more than two dozen countries, across four continents, taking part in this operation has already provided relief to crowding in Doha,” a State Department spokesperson told ABC News Tuesday, adding they are “working closely to improve conditions on the ground in Qatar.”
Qatari officials were especially concerned about Al Udeid’s “ill-famed ‘Afghan hangar,'” according to the internal report, which houses some 4,500 Afghans. There are another 4,000 Afghans at Camp As Sayliyah, where the Qatari officials warned there were “increased tensions among the Afghan population,” according to the report, which provided no other details.
Khalifa Jassim al Kuwari, Qatar’s foreign aid and development chief, also “doubted that the USG (U.S. government) had sufficient personnel, food, medicine at CAS (Camp As Sayliyah) to care properly for Afghans there,” the report said he told U.S. officials.
The U.S. facility there lacks sufficient toilets and basic sanitation, the Qatari officials told their American counterparts. In fact, Qatar’s Red Crescent Society had already provided mobile shower trucks and hygiene kits in recent days to help address the desperate needs, and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs arranged for cleaning services.
A State Department spokesperson told ABC News on Tuesday that the administration was working to improve conditions, including by bringing in air-conditioning units, improving sanitation, increasing supplies, expanding housing and surging staff to more quickly process some people out of Qatar.
“Qatar has been at the forefront of our efforts as the first evacuation 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 U.S. citizens to the United States and thousands of Afghans to the United States, Germany, and Italy for further processing,” they added in a statement.
Beyond food and water, Qatari officials expressed concern about “whether the USG could provide sufficient medicine and health care requirements for the large numbers of Afghans incoming,” the report said. Al Khater urged U.S. military officials to “muster greater health care resources … to care for the relocating Afghans,” it said.
Qatar also has safety concerns.
Al Khater told U.S. officials there was a “danger of human trafficking in such circumstances and highlighted the cases of unaccompanied minors coming from Kabul,” according to the internal report.
The U.S. government has been working to reunite some unaccompanied minors separated from their families amid evacuation efforts, a second State Department spokesperson told ABC News on Saturday, adding they had already successfully reunited “a number” of them with parents and loved ones.
State Department and Defense Department officials at the Kabul airport were “assisting” a number of unaccompanied minors “sheltering” at a “reunification center” run by Norway, according to an internal situation report from Monday that was also obtained by ABC News.
Additionally, al Khater and other Qatari officials asked the U.S. for manifests of all incoming and outgoing flights — saying they appreciated U.S. efforts, but were concerned there wasn’t a “rigorous filtering system to board those flights” in Kabul.
U.S. intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism officials are conducting screening and security vetting on all Afghans before they can enter the U.S., the first State Department spokesperson told ABC News on Tuesday. But it’s unclear what steps are being taken to assure Qatari officials.
Despite the high-level concerns, the internal State Department report noted that cooperation between the two countries on the “Afghan relocation crisis has improved markedly in recent days,” praising the “unprecedented level of senior- and working-level teamwork.”
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