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Evacuation flights of Afghans to the US halted over four measles cases

The United States has halted flights of Afghan evacuees, pulling some off planes, after discovering a few cases of measles among new arrivals in the US.

A US government document warned the development would have a severe impact on an evacuation that since August 15 has moved many thousands of people out of Taliban-held Afghanistan, but also been grindingly drawn out for Afghan evacuees and Americans alike, and was plagued by attacks and other deadly violence.

The decision was made by Customs and Border Protection on the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the halt stemmed from discovery of measles among four Afghans who had arrived in the United States. It was not immediately clear from Psaki’s remarks whether the stop applied to flights from all transit sites overseas, or only two of the biggest ones, in Qatar and in Germany.

Passengers waiting to board a flight from Kabul’s reopened international airport.

Passengers waiting to board a flight from Kabul’s reopened international airport. Credit:Victor J Blue

Customs and Border Protection spokespeople did not immediately respond to questions, including how long the halt would last.

The development had American officials overseas Friday removing from planes Afghan families who already had struggled through a gruelling, dangerous escape to safety after Kabul fell to the Taliban on August 15. Afghans faced Taliban checkpoints and crushing crowds to enter the Kabul airport. A suicide attack at an airport gate killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. military members.

A government document said the halt would “severely impact” operations at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, one of the biggest transit sites. It also said US-bound flights would stop from the American al-Udeid base in Qatar.

A child walks through Fort Bliss, New Mexico, where Afghans evacuated from Kabul are being housed.

A child walks through Fort Bliss, New Mexico, where Afghans evacuated from Kabul are being housed. Credit:AP

Many thousands of Afghan evacuees airlifted out of Kabul are still en route to new homes in the United States. Some face relocation for further screening in Kosovo.

The government document said the flight halt announced Friday would an “adverse effect” on the nearly 10,000 evacuees at Ramstein. It noted many had been there more than 10 days and were increasingly fatigued.

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