'It's just heartbreaking' LA Times photojournalist Marcus Yam describes reporting from Kabul

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ByLiz Kreutz KGO logo
Tuesday, August 31, 2021
LA Times photojournalist Marcus Yam describes reporting from Kabul
Marcus Yam, a photojournalist and foreign correspondent with the Los Angeles Times, speaks to ABC7 about covering the Taliban takeover in Kabul.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Marcus Yam, a photojournalist and foreign correspondent with the Los Angeles Times, is one of only a handful of U.S. journalists still in Kabul. He has been there for weeks now covering the Taliban takeover and refugee evacuations. His images of the conflict and devastation have been shared around the world.

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ABC7 News spoke to Yam on Sunday while he was at the Taliban-controlled side of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. He was there waiting for the U.S. troop withdrawal, which he said could be imminent.

"It's just heartbreaking for everybody," Yam said of the situation in Afghanistan. "There's so many people here that can't leave. I've met so many SIV applicants, I've met so many people, so many women activists who are supposed to be on those planes out."

By Yam's estimation, there are still thousands of people stuck in Afghanistan who are eligible to get out.

"There are so many Afghan air force pilots that are still stuck here that can't leave," Yam said. "U.S. trained Afghan air force pilots that are literally left to the whim of the Taliban."

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Yam blamed much of this on the lack of process and procedures at the airport, which he described as a "fiasco" and a "free for all."

Some of Yam's most striking images have been from the aftermath of the sucicide bombings last week in Kabul by ISIS-K. He photographed Afghans attending funerals for their loved ones who were killed as they waited for entry into the airport.

"'The mood is somber. It's very solemn," Yam said. "Afghans are already mourning the loss of their country, the loss of their way of life, and the attacks have basically just rubbed salt into the wound...they're now burying the dead."

Yam said, like everybody there, he is exhausted after spending weeks in Kabul, but that he "can't complain" given the trauma experienced by so many Afghan refugees.

He described how many refugees haven't slept for days standing outside the airport -- their eyes blood-shot -- "a clear indication they haven't slept in a while," he said.

Yam said one woman approached him and told him she is very suicidal.

"It's really a really hard reality here for a lot of the Afghans," Yam said.

Yam said the Taliban have allowed him, and other foreign journalists, to remain in Afghanistan. He said the new-Afghan leaders want to present a new image on the international stage.

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After the deadly attacks in Kabul, it is becoming more urgent for people in the United States to get their families in Afghanistan out to safety.

Yam said he hopes to remain in Kabul even after the August 31st withdrawal of U.S. troops. His plan is to stay there through September 11th.

"We're committed to covering this story for as a long as we can," Yam said.

See more stories and videos about the fall of Afghanistan here.