SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Time's running out for the U.S. evacuation effort from Afghanistan. The White House says more than 100,000 people have been evacuated, including more than 5,000 U.S. citizens. But people still continue to gather around Kabul Airport, even after this week's attacks by the group by ISIS-K. Master Sergeant Kevin Haunschild leads the team that's responsible for air traffic control at Hamid Karzai International and joins us now. Master Sergeant, thanks for being with us.
KEVIN HAUNSCHILD: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
SIMON: What are you seeing at the airport now, sir?
HAUNSCHILD: So at the airport now, we still have a steady flow of aircraft coming in and out. For the most part, it's been fairly calm the last 48 hours. We do have multiple aircraft, again, coming in, parking on all the ramps, making sure people are getting evacuated as they're waiting their turn.
SIMON: When you say waiting their turn, can you tell us without violating any confidences how many people are lined up, how many people have seats, how many people want them?
HAUNSCHILD: As far as I can tell, sir, there are still several - a hundred, maybe a couple thousand outside the gates. Again, from my perspective and position out on the airport while controlling, I can't see that. But we do have personnel that we can see loading aircraft from the passenger terminal all hours of the day and night.
SIMON: Master Sergeant, I have to ask you what could be a delicate question. Who controls the airport, you or the Taliban?
HAUNSCHILD: So it is us. It is the United States Marine Air Traffic Control team that I have with me here. It's myself and very few other individuals, approximately two or three of us that actually have been controlling since we got here approximately two weeks ago.
SIMON: Do you have to check with the Taliban? Do you have to ask for permission from the Taliban for a plane to land or take off?
HAUNSCHILD: No, we don't, sir. We actually control all of that.
SIMON: Who are you trying to evacuate now? What's your impression - fewer U.S. citizens, more Afghans?
HAUNSCHILD: From what I can see, they're still moving full speed ahead with evacuating as many Afghan citizens as they possibly can. I haven't seen anything different, again, whether it be American citizens in civilian attire. From my point of view, where I sit every day, I see a mixture of both, primarily Afghan citizens, again, from what I see, where I'm at on the airfield.
SIMON: And, Master Sergeant, has anybody said to you, the last plane out of here has to take off at X hour?
HAUNSCHILD: So, no, sir, not up until this point. I have been instructed by the commanding general to continue controlling aircraft and providing that safety measure until told not to, pretty much. We haven't been given a specific date, time or anything yet. We're still moving forward. And I will be out there until I'm told not to be.
SIMON: So nobody has said to you, this has to be done by 24:00 August 31?
HAUNSCHILD: Yeah, so other than what's been pushed out by the media up until now. I do know that the 31 August is kind of our deadline.
SIMON: It's been reported there's just one runway. It's kind of like what we might expect at a regional airport in the U.S. And you work outside in a tent.
HAUNSCHILD: That's correct, sir. We are just on or near one of the taxiways, which is where we've been since around August 13. So I can give that date since we got here then. And that's where we've been controlling aircraft out of, correct, one runway, approximately averaging about a hundred airplanes a day for cargo.
SIMON: And are you told there are still what are called specific credible threats against the airport by ISIS-K and perhaps others?
HAUNSCHILD: Yes, that's correct. We have been briefed. And we receive daily briefings, obviously. And there are still credible threats to the airport, as I guess to be expected, unfortunately.
SIMON: Yeah. May we ask if your method of operation has changed since the attack?
HAUNSCHILD: No, sir. Our method of operation has not changed. We've had to adjust maybe a few things here and there, but outside of that, we have maintained a steady flow of aircraft in and out of the airport with the one runway that we have and evacuating those Afghan citizens as per instructed by the White House.
SIMON: And this is a 24-hour-a-day operation?
HAUNSCHILD: Correct, sir. We are operating and controlling the aircraft in and out of the airport 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
SIMON: When the deadline comes, how do you get out of there?
HAUNSCHILD: They point to the plane, sir, and we start walking.
SIMON: Master Sergeant Kevin Haunschild, a senior air traffic controller for the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit that's leading the evacuation operation in Kabul. Thanks so much for being with us, sir.
HAUNSCHILD: Thank you for having me, sir. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.