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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Measles cases halt Afghan evacuee flights from two key US bases

The halting of the flights is a problem for the United States in part because many of the evacuees already have been at the Ramstein base longer than the 10-day limit Germany set in allowing the US to use the country as a transit site.

By: AP | Washington |
September 11, 2021 5:13:05 pm
Evacuees from Afghanistan disembark from a U.S. airforce plane at the Naval Station in Rota, southern Spain. (AP)

The US has halted all US-bound flights of Afghan evacuees from two main bases overseas after discovering a limited measles outbreak among Afghans arriving in the United States, a hitch that American officials warned will have a severe impact on an often-troubled US-run evacuation.

US Customs and Border Protection made the decision on the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to halt the flights from US bases in Germany and Qatar, according to a US government document seen Friday by The Associated Press. The document cited unspecified “health safety concerns.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the temporary halt stemmed from discovery of measles among four arrivals in the United States.

The government document viewed by the AP said the halt would “severely impact” operations at Ramstein Air Base in Germany and have an “adverse effect” on the nearly 10,000 evacuees, many of whom it said have been there more than 10 days and are increasingly fatigued.

It was the latest problem in the Biden administration’s rushed, chaotic and often violence-plagued evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghans and Americans and other foreigners from Afghanistan, which peaked with a more than two-week military airlift out of the Kabul airport. That shut down August 30 when American troops withdrew. Thousands of Afghan evacuees remain in third-country transit sites, before being moved to the United States or other countries.

The halting of the flights is a problem for the United States in part because many of the evacuees already have been at the Ramstein base longer than the 10-day limit Germany set in allowing the US to use the country as a transit site.

Germany and Qatar, along with Spain, Kosovo, Kuwait and other countries, agreed to temporarily host US processing sites for evacuees after Kabul fell, after allies initially balked over worries of getting stuck with US security problems.

Processing at many of the transit sites largely appears to be taking place in a peaceful and orderly fashion. That follows a suicide bombing and other attacks and violent incidents during the US-run evacuation in Kabul, which killed more than 180 Afghans and 13 US service members.

National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said Friday that 32 Americans and US green-card holders had left Afghanistan on Friday, 19 on a Qatar Airways flight and 13 others by land. It was only the second such evacuation flight allowed by the Taliban since US troops left.

The US government believes about 100 American citizens remain in Afghanistan, a State Department spokeswoman, Jalina Porter, said.

It was the same number the US had given before the latest evacuation flights took out Americans. Porter said she could not immediately explain why the number had not changed.

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