Astonishing photos show a two-mile RUNWAY at Ramstein Air Base as a tent city for Afghan evacuees

Remarkable new photos show the scale of the U.S. operations at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, as thousands of Afghans evacuated from Kabul are processed for their journey on to the United States.

The base, in south west Germany, has turned one of its two runways – which are both around two miles long – into an enormous tent city to provide living quarters for the tens of thousands of Afghans who have been evacuated there.

Those tents – which have been photographed from the air to show the sheer scale of the evacuation operation, are split into pods to give their occupants’ privacy, with hundreds of porta potties also visible along the edges of the air strip. 

Only men sleep in the tents, with women and children housed separately in hangars normally used to store military aircraft at the base, which is run jointly by the US Air Force and Army.  

About a fifth of all people evacuated by the U.S. from Kabul were brought to Ramstein, 100 miles south west of Frankfurt. The rest went mainly to Qatar and Kuwait, with some traveling via Italy and Spain.

Those evacuees then fly through Philadelphia or Washington Dulles airports for resettling in the United States – with most of those flying out unaware of where their final destination will be.

The first arrivals landed on August 20, after Qatar quickly reached capacity.

At the time, Brigadier General Joshua Olson, commander of the 86th Airlift Wing and Ramstein’s installation commander, said that the base could hold 5,000 evacuees. Two weeks later, it is housing nearly three times as many: as of September 1, almost 12,000 evacuees had left the base, while another 14,900 remained.

Since August 20, about 106 planes have landed there – mostly the C-17 jets which have become synonymous with the Kabul airlift.

A two-mile-long runway at Ramstein Air Base in south west Germany is pictured on Monday covered in tents, used to house Afghan evacuees who were transported out of Kabul and are awaiting the next stage of their journey

A two-mile-long runway at Ramstein Air Base in south west Germany is pictured on Monday covered in tents, used to house Afghan evacuees who were transported out of Kabul and are awaiting the next stage of their journey

Afghan evacuees are pictured on August 30 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Under the U.S. agreement with Germany, evacuees can remain on the base for no longer than 10 days

Afghan evacuees are pictured on August 30 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Under the U.S. agreement with Germany, evacuees can remain on the base for no longer than 10 days

Women and children are seen sitting inside a hangar at Ramstein. The men sleep in tents, while the women are housed indoors

Women and children are seen sitting inside a hangar at Ramstein. The men sleep in tents, while the women are housed indoors

‘We were maxed out and the flow kept coming,’ said Olson, speaking to CNN.

‘I had to close part of the base for Afghan evacuees. Because you can’t put them in the elements. It’s 50 degrees Fahrenheit outside and raining. I can’t put people out in that. Especially kids.

‘So, that was one of the things that inflow and outflow. We were bringing them in faster than we could get them out. And that’s hard.’ 

Olson said he believes the operation will be over in the next few weeks. 

Women and children sleep in cots inside the enormous hangars of the airbase while the men sleep 40 to a tent.

Children from Afghanistan wait with other evacuees to fly to the United States or another safe location in a makeshift departure gate inside a hangar on September 1

Children from Afghanistan wait with other evacuees to fly to the United States or another safe location in a makeshift departure gate inside a hangar on September 1

The row of tents stretches far along the two-mile runway – one of only two runways on the base.

Hot meals are distributed three times a day in insulated boxes. Portable toilets and washing stations provide basic sanitation.

The facility is being operated by the Department of Defense, State Department and Department of Homeland Security.

One problem is how to deal with the 6,000 children currently on the base, Olson told CNN.

Captain Danielle Holland, an OB-GYN with the Air Force, said she had sent three mothers in labor to a nearby Army hospital, but three other babies were coming so quickly they were delivered in the emergency medical tent set up on base.

A total of 12 babies have been born to women on the site.

There are around 6,000 children on Ramstein Air Base, according to U.S. officials - and 12 babies have been born

There are around 6,000 children on Ramstein Air Base, according to U.S. officials – and 12 babies have been born

The aim was to get evacuees transferred out within 48 hours and, according to the US agreement with Germany, evacuees cannot stay beyond 10 days.

Soldiers are working 12 hour shifts, and pilots 24 hours, according to Vice News correspondent Elizabeth Landers, speaking to CBS News. 

The screening and processing of evacuees is taking longer than anticipated, however. It is a multi-agency effort involving the State Department, Customs and Border Patrol, the Department of Homeland Security and Transport Safety Administration. 

TSA checkpoints have been set up at Ramstein to process refugees, with reporters who have visited the base likening it to a US airport arrivals hall.  

Elizabeth Horst, US Minister Counselor for Public Diplomacy and the Senior Civilian Interagency Coordinator, has pleaded with those on the base to be patient.

‘We are doing our best to help the people who worked with us in Afghanistan. We are using everything in our power,’ she said on August 28.

‘We have a personal and professional interest in making sure that the Afghans that come get out, get medical care and get to the US where they can start fresh. And become Americans if they choose too.’

The State Department plans to spend as much as $2,275 for each evacuee as the relocation effort unfolds in communities across the country over the next few months, according to a department official.

The money is to be used for housing, food, other necessities and enrolling children in school.

Evacuees are seen on September 1 awaiting their flight out of Ramstein. Most of those headed to the U.S. pass through Philadelphia or Washington DC, and then travel on to their final destination

Evacuees are seen on September 1 awaiting their flight out of Ramstein. Most of those headed to the U.S. pass through Philadelphia or Washington DC, and then travel on to their final destination

A group of Afghan men are seen on September 1 in Ramstein, awaiting their onwards transport

A group of Afghan men are seen on September 1 in Ramstein, awaiting their onwards transport

As many as 50,000 evacuees will arrive under so-called humanitarian parole, a stopgap program that gives them a year to apply for permanent visas.

Other Afghans, including those that worked directly for the U.S. government, will be under separate immigration categories.

On Friday Alejandro Mayorkas, the Homeland Security Secretary, said the U.S. has admitted about 40,000 people evacuated from Afghanistan — 31,600 of whom are special immigrant visa holders, special immigrant visa applicants, or other vulnerable Afghan nationals arriving under humanitarian parole.

The State Department is consulting with Congress on the eligibility of the Afghans for federal benefits, including Medicaid, an official told Al Jazeera.

Humanitarian parolees will be eligible for federally funded health insurance through the end of September, according to a resettlement director familiar with the matter.

On Wednesday Anthony Blinken, the Secretary of State, will arrive at Ramstein to see the facility for himself.

From the base, he will hold a virtual 20-nation ministerial meeting on the crisis alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

U.S. soldiers walk past a row of tents and a young Afghan evacuee at Ramstein Air Base. Anthony Blinken, the Secretary of State, will visit the base on Wednesday

U.S. soldiers walk past a row of tents and a young Afghan evacuee at Ramstein Air Base. Anthony Blinken, the Secretary of State, will visit the base on Wednesday

A woman and girl are seen walking among the tents which are providing a temporary home to thousands of Afghan refugees

A woman and girl are seen walking among the tents which are providing a temporary home to thousands of Afghan refugees

Afghan refugees are seen on August 30, lined up with their belongings and ready for their evacuation flight

Afghan refugees are seen on August 30, lined up with their belongings and ready for their evacuation flight

Two U.S. soldiers walk alongside the tents where thousands of Afghans are awaiting the next stage of their journey

Two U.S. soldiers walk alongside the tents where thousands of Afghans are awaiting the next stage of their journey

Blinken flew to Qatar Sunday to thank its leaders for supporting the US evacuation effort and amid the unfolding chaos in Mazar-i-Sharif

Blinken flew to Qatar Sunday to thank its leaders for supporting the US evacuation effort and amid the unfolding chaos in Mazar-i-Sharif

On Monday he arrived in Qatar, and was joined by Lloyd Austin, the Defense Secretary, to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.

Qatar has been the gateway for 55,000 people airlifted out of Afghanistan, nearly half the total evacuated by U.S.-led troops since August 15.

All of those traveling on to the U.S. will have passed security screening before their resettlement proceedings begin.

Many will have undergone years of screenings to gain the necessary credentials to work in Afghanistan with U.S. troops and diplomats.

On Saturday Kosovo agreed to take in Afghanistan evacuees who fail to clear initial rounds of screening and host them for up to a year, a U.S. official said.

The U.S. Embassy in Kosovo in a statement later Saturday stressed that the arrangement did not mean Kosovo was taking evacuees who had been deemed ineligible for admission to the United States. ‘Some applicants are still in the process of obtaining needed documents and providing all the information required to qualify under U.S law for immediate entry,’ the embassy statement said.

Several other countries for a time balked at temporarily hosting the United States’ Afghan evacuees, for fear of getting stuck with the Americans’ security problems.

That all presented major obstacles in U.S. preparations for evacuation of vulnerable Afghans, even before Kabul fell to the Taliban on August 15.

Major companies have also pitched in, with Airbnb Inc. promising temporary housing for 20,000 displaced Afghans worldwide and Walmart pledging $1 million to aid groups. 

The U.S. military withdrawal from Kabul was completed a week ago, and efforts to rescue American citizens still stuck in Afghanistan has reached an impasse with reports that six private charter planes sent there to evacuate at least 1,000 people have been grounded in an Afghan city 260 miles north of Kabul.

This handout satellite image released by Maxar Technologies shows satellite imagery of the Mazar-i-Sharif and grounded planes at the airport in northern Afghanistan on September 3

This handout satellite image released by Maxar Technologies shows satellite imagery of the Mazar-i-Sharif and grounded planes at the airport in northern Afghanistan on September 3

The flights were chartered by Mercury One, a charity founded by right-wing commentator Glenn Beck, Newsweek reports. 

Beck’s fleet of two Airbus 340s and four Boeing 737s from Kam Air are sitting empty in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif as their passengers – including at least 142 Americans – have been told they do not have permission to fly away. 

On Sunday, Reuters reported that the delay had been caused by Biden administration officials not telling Taliban leaders it had approved the departures of the chartered flights from Mazar-i-Sharif.

An exasperated flight organizer hit out at the State Department over the fiasco, saying: ‘They need to be held accountable for putting these people’s lives in danger.’ 

Other groups trying to organize their own chartered flights have also hit out at the State Department, with Rick Clay from private rescue firm PlanB claiming it’s the only thing stopping him fulfilling his brief.

Biden flew to Delaware on Friday night and is expected to return Monday evening

Biden flew to Delaware on Friday night and is expected to return Monday evening

The six flights chartered by right-wing commentator Glenn Beck's charity reportedly cost $750,000 each

The six flights chartered by right-wing commentator Glenn Beck’s charity reportedly cost $750,000 each

Two other organizers have also torn into the Blinken-headed department, with one – who didn’t give their name – telling Fox: ‘This is zero place to be negotiating with American lives. Those are our people standing on the tarmac and all it takes is a f****ing phone call.

‘If one life is lost as a result of this, the blood is on the White House’s hands. The blood is on their hands. It is not the Taliban that is holding this up – as much as it sickens me to say that – it is the United States government.’

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said he was ‘frustrated, even furious’ at the government’s delay in pulling them out.  

‘There will be plenty of time to seek accountability for the inexcusable bureaucratic red tape that stranded so many of our Afghan allies,’ Blumenthal told The Hill. 

‘For now, my singular focus remains getting these planes in the air and safely to our airbase in Doha, where they have already been cleared to land.’

One NGO official told Newsweek the remaining passengers are special immigrant visa applicants and that everyone is ‘waiting in their safe houses for clearance for takeoff from the Taliban’ amid the diplomatic stalemate. 

The evacuation flights reportedly cost Beck’s charity $750,000 each. 

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