US ramps up Kabul evacuation, saying Taliban assure ‘safe passage’

Aug 18, 2021: The White House said Tuesday that the Taliban had promised that civilians could travel safely to Kabul airport as the US military increased its aircraft for Americans and Afghans fleeing the country.

A White House official said the US military had evacuated about 3,300 people so far, including 1,100-13 U.S. citizens, permanent residents and their families on Tuesday alone. Earlier on Tuesday, the White House said 11,000 Americans were inside the country, including diplomats, contractors and others, most of whom were awaiting evacuation after the Taliban took over.

Washington wants to complete the evacuation before the August 31 deadline, and thousands of US troops were at the airport when the Pentagon planned to increase the number of flights of its large C-17 transport jets to two dozen a day.

A White House official who gave the latest evacuation figures Tuesday and spoke on condition of anonymity said, “Now that we’ve established the flow, we expect that number to rise.” 

US officials say they are in contact with Taliban commanders to ensure that the flight operation at Hamid Karzai International Airport is safe from attack and that civilians and Afghans traveling there have a safe passage.

“We had no hostile talks, no attacks and no threats,” Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor said at the Pentagon.

But US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday that the United States could decide to maintain its core diplomatic presence, operating outside the airport after the US embassy closed on August 31.

Passengers returning from Afghanistan disembarked from RAF Airbus KC2 Voyager after landing on RAF Brize Norton in southern England. 

“If it is safe and responsible for us to potentially stay longer, that is something we may be able to look at,” Price said.

He also called on the Taliban to honor promises to respect the rights of citizens, including women.

In addition, Afghans are granted US refugee visas, mostly for working as interpreters for US and NATO forces, other foreign nationals and other undeclared “at-risk” Afghans.

Despite reports of people being harassed and even beaten, White House National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan said “large numbers” had managed to reach the airport. “The Taliban have informed us that they are ready to provide a safe passage for citizens to the airport, and we intend to keep them committed,” he told reporters.

The US Department of Defense has deployed troops at the airport since Saturday to protect migrants as Taliban fighters entered Kabul after a nationwide power siege and seized power. Taylor said the number of US troops would rise from 2,500 on Monday to 4,000 by the end of Tuesday. He said the United States aims to increase an airplane from one hour to one hour to carry 5,000 to 9,000 passengers a day.

Some other countries, including Germany and France, have also been able to allow their citizens and Afghans to travel to those countries.

Taylor spoke a day after security was breached at the airport, with videos showing hundreds of Afghans running with a C-17, some wrapped around it. The videos show two people dying after falling from the plane in flight. Another man was later found dead in a one-wheeled well. US. Air Force spokeswoman Anne Stefanek said the incidents were being investigated.

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