Covid outbreak forces lockdown at U.S. Embassy in Kabul as cases surge in Afghanistan

Key Points
  • The U.S. Embassy in Kabul was placed on lockdown Thursday as Covid cases surge in Afghanistan.
  • More than 100 employees have tested positive for Covid-19 and are currently in isolation, one person has died and several people have been medically evacuated.
  • Afghan hospitals are rapidly running out of medical equipment and other resources as infections rise by 2,400% over the past month.
A US Marine stands guard in front of the US embassy December 21, 2001 in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Paula Bronstein | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Thursday was placed on lockdown as Covid cases surge in Afghanistan, pushing the nation's fragile health care system to its limits.

At the embassy, 114 employees have tested positive for the coronavirus and are currently in isolation, one person has died and several people have been medically evacuated.

"Military hospital ICU resources are at full capacity, forcing our health units to create temporary, on-compound Covid-19 wards to care for oxygen-dependent patients. 95% of our cases are individuals who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated," the Embassy wrote in a statement.

Effective immediately, the Embassy said, personnel would be confined to their quarters except to get food from dining facilities or to exercise or relax alone outdoors.

"Individuals may walk, run, or relax outdoors without masks provided that they are ALONE, which means at least 20 feet from others. Any closer requires a mask," the statement continued, adding that in-person indoor meetings are prohibited unless "absolutely mission-critical."

People who don't follow the policies could face removal from the post "on the next available flight," the Embassy added.

"Restrictions will continue until the chain of transmission is broken," the statement said.

Afghan hospitals are rapidly running out of medical equipment and other resources as cases see a rise of 2,400% over the past month, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said Thursday.

Last week, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul suspended all consular visa services in order to deal with an "intense third wave of Covid-19 cases," potentially hampering the visa status for thousands of Afghans who assisted the U.S. military through the conflict.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill raised concern Thursday on whether the backlog of more than 10,000 Afghan translators and their families would be cleared before the remaining U.S. troops withdraw from the war-weary country.

Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing on the Pentagon's budget request that "planning is ongoing" to safeguard Afghans who served alongside U.S. and NATO troops.

The nation's top-ranking military officer added that the U.S. military was capable of carrying out any request as the State Department works through the thorough visa process for eligible Afghans.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon said it surpassed the midpoint in its herculean task of withdrawing troops and equipment out of Afghanistan.

The U.S. military has removed the equivalent of approximately 611 loads of material flown out of the country by large cargo aircraft, according to an update from U.S. Central Command.

Aircrew assigned to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, carry their gear into a C-17 Globemaster III assigned to Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, April 27, 2021.
Staff Sgt. Kylee Gardner | U.S. Air Force photo

Approximately 14,000 pieces of equipment that will not be left to the Afghan military have also been handed over to the Defense Logistics Agency for destruction. The U.S. has officially handed over six facilities to the Afghan military.

Biden announced in April a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, which would end America's longest war.

Biden's withdrawal timeline breaks with a proposed deadline brokered last year by the Trump administration with the Taliban. According to that deal, all foreign forces would have had to leave Afghanistan by May 1.

The removal of approximately 3,000 U.S. service members coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which spurred America's entry into lengthy wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.

U.S. begins to end 'Forever War'
U.S. begins to end 'Forever War'