Rest of Asia

US says Taliban cooperating as Afghanistan airlift accelerates

Filed on August 19, 2021
Afghan civilians prepare to board a plane during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport. —AP

The US flew 12 giant C-17 cargo aircraft with 2,000 evacuees from the airport in the past 24 hours

The United States has airlifted out of Afghanistan some 7,000 people since August 14 as the Taliban appears to be cooperating with evacuation efforts from Kabul airport, a senior general said on Thursday.

Major-General Hank Taylor said that the pace of evacuating US citizens, Afghans with US immigrant visas and other nationals has accelerated at the US military-controlled airport despite reports of the Taliban continuing to impede people trying to enter the airport gates.

Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby said that the Taliban appeared to be cooperating to allow Afghan nationals who have registered for US special immigrant visas to get to the airport gate.

“We have indications this morning that that process is working,” Kirby said.

The Pentagon said the Taliban, who captured Kabul on Sunday to claim control of the country from the US-backed government, were not interfering with the airlift.

“We have not experienced any security incidents, nor interference” in recent days, said Taylor.

The US commander on the ground is in regular contact with Taliban officials to ensure that US nationals have a safe passage to the airport.

The US flew 12 giant C-17 cargo aircraft with 2,000 evacuees from the airport in the past 24 hours, he said.

Other countries like France and Britain have also flown their nationals and Afghans out as well.

“This increase is reflective of both a ramp-up of aircraft and airlift capability, faster processing of evacuees and greater information and fidelity in reporting,” Taylor said.

The US now has more than 5,200 troops to secure the airport and the capacity to take as many as 9,000 people out every 24 hours.

“We’re ready to increase throughput and have scheduled aircraft departures accordingly,” Taylor said.

US officials said this week that as many as 10,000 US citizens remained in Kabul, and thousands of Afghans who had worked for US forces were also seeking to flee to the United States.

Since July, as the Taliban offensives picked up and the US neared its own August 31 deadline for withdrawal from the country after 20 years of war, the US has moved nearly 12,000 people out of the country.

Taylor confirmed that US F-18 combat jets had been flying high-altitude missions over Kabul.

“Those are overwatch flights over Kabul to ensure enhanced security,” Taylor said.

Kirby said the US forces continue focus on getting the airlift completed by August 31.

But on Wednesday President Joe Biden allowed that US troops could stay longer if necessary for the evacuations.

“Americans should understand that we’re going to try to get it done before August 31,” he told ABC, adding: “If there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay to get them all out.”

The officials declined to say whether the Taliban — who only weeks ago were the targets of US bombings in support of now-routed Afghan government forces — were putting pressure on the Americans to leave by the end of the month.

Kirby stressed that the US focus was evacuating Americans and Afghans who worked for them.

“We’re going to do everything that we can to make sure that we can protect our force, protect the people that we are trying to move onto the airport, and protect their movement out of Kabul, as well as protecting the entire operation at the airport,” he said.

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