Afghan Refugees Flee To Bordering Uzbekistan, U.S. Military Evacuation Continues After Taliban Takeover

The government of Uzbekistan, Afghanistan’s northern neighbour, reportedly sent 150 Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan on August 20th as part of an agreement with the Taliban. The refugees were given security guarantees and have returned home safely, according to a statement from the Uzbek foreign ministry. 

While it remains unknown how many Afghans entered Uzbekistan in the week following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, this move came just hours before United States Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman spoke with Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov about the “need for an inclusive political settlement that protects human rights.”

According to the press release from the U.S. State Department, “Deputy Secretary Sherman thanked the government of Uzbekistan for facilitating the repatriation of Americans and welcomed continued cooperation on the temporary relocation of vulnerable Afghans.” According to Reuters, over 580 Afghan soldiers fled into Uzbekistan via military aircraft, and 158 more crossed the border into the former Soviet state on August 16th. A total of 22 Afghan military planes and 24 helicopters arrived just hours after the unexpectedly rapid fall of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government. 

As the Taliban closed in on Kabul on August 15th, former President Ghani swiftly fled the capital “with only the clothes on his back,” according to CNN. The former Afghan President first arrived in Termez, an Uzbek city bordering Afghanistan, where he spent the night before relocating to the United Arab Emirates, where he has been reportedly seeking refuge in the week following the fall of the government.

Ghani has faced widespread criticism from both Afghans and international actors for seemingly abandoning the citizens of Afghanistan and leaving them to face an unknown future with the Taliban. In a Facebook video posted on August 18th and shared by CNN, Ghani claimed he “left the country to avoid bloodshed,” and “wanted to prevent Afghanistan from becoming like Syria and Yemen.” 

As hundreds of thousands of Afghans attempt to seek refuge from the country a week after the fall of Kabul, three Balkan countries have offered to help by temporarily taking in refugees from Afghanistan. However, no refugees have been flown into these countries on American flights yet. According to NBC, officials in North Macedonia, Kosovo, and Albania all extended offers of assistance on August 22nd but have been left without any definitive dates or plans for the arrival of any Afghan refugees. The U.S. has been left with the grossly complicated undertaking of evacuating American citizens and Afghan refugees from Kabul after thousands of people seeking to escape the country crowded into the airport and out onto the tarmac. 

On August 22nd, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III ordered six commercial airlines to assist with evacuations in Kabul. According to the New York Times, the Defense Secretary activated Stage One of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, which called for “18 aircraft to help ferry passengers arriving at bases in the Middle East from Afghanistan.” The six airlines: United Airlines, American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, Omni Air, and Hawaiian Airlines, would help the thousands of Afghan refugees arriving at U.S. military bases in Qatar, the UAE, and Bahrain. 

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has created an acutely severe humanitarian crisis that is continuing to develop day-to-day. All Western nations, including the U.S., Canada, and members of the European Union, must step up to assist in the evacuation and relocation efforts. Despite pushback from some members of the Republican Party, the U.S. should begin accepting Afghan refugees on a large scale. While the designation of commercial airlines to assist in U.S. military evacuation efforts is an important and promising step, nations, including those bordering Afghanistan, must make concerted diplomatic efforts to allow temporary relocation of refugees as the situation under the Taliban continues to unfold.