US Steps Up for the Evacuation of people trapped in Kabul.
Washington: The White House said Tuesday that the Taliban had promised civilians would be able to travel safely to the Kabul airport as the US military stepped up its airlift for Americans and Afghans fleeing the Islamist group.
Some 3,200 people have been evacuated by the US military so far, a White House official said, including 1,100 on Tuesday alone: US citizens, permanent residents, and their families on 13 flights.
Earlier Tuesday, the White House had said 11,000 US citizens remain inside the country, including diplomats, contractors and others, most waiting to be evacuated after the Taliban take power.
Washington wants to complete the exodus before the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, and thousands of American soldiers were at the airport as the Pentagon planned to increase the flights of its massive C-17 transport jets to as many as two dozen a day.
“Now that we have established the flow, we expect those numbers to increase,” said the White House official who gave updated evacuation figures Tuesday and spoke on condition of anonymity.
US officials said they were in contact with Taliban commanders to ensure that flight operations at Hamid Karzai International Airport remained safe from attack and that citizens and Afghans seeking to leave had safe passage.
“We have had no hostile interactions, no attacks or threats from the Taliban,” Major General Hank Taylor said at the Pentagon.
But State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday that the United States could decide to maintain its main diplomatic presence, which now operates out of the airport after the closure of the US embassy, after August 31.
“If it’s safe and responsible for us to potentially stay longer, that’s something we can consider,” Price said.
He also called on the Taliban to honor their promises to respect the rights of citizens, including women.
Afghans who received US refugee visas are also airlifted, primarily for having worked as translators for US and NATO forces, other foreign nationals and other unspecified “at-risk” Afghans.
Despite some reports that people are being harassed and even beaten as they try to leave, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said “large numbers” were able to make it to the airport.
“The Taliban have informed us that they are prepared to provide safe passage for civilians to the airport, and we intend to keep them in that commitment,” he told reporters.
The US Department of Defense has sent troops to the airport since Saturday to protect the exodus when Taliban insurgents entered Kabul after a nationwide blitzkrieg and seized power.
Taylor said the number of US troops would rise from 2,500 on Monday to around 4,000 on Tuesday night.
He said the United States was aiming to increase its airlift to one plane per hour so that between 5,000 and 9,000 passengers per day could be carried.
Some other countries, including Germany and France, have also been able to pick up their qualified Afghans and nationals to travel to those countries.
Taylor spoke a day after security broke down at the airport, with a video showing hundreds of Afghans running alongside a C-17, some clinging to it.
The videos appeared to show two people falling to their deaths from a plane after it took off. Later, another person was found dead in a wheel well.
US Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said they were investigating the incidents.
“Before the aircrew could unload the cargo, the aircraft was surrounded by hundreds of Afghan civilians,” he said.
“Faced with a rapidly deteriorating security situation around the aircraft, the C-17 crew decided to leave the airfield as quickly as possible.”
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