Afghans on Thursday hurried to escape Taliban rule, but Western officials said the group had made assurances that some evacuations would be permitted after next week’s US withdrawal deadline.
Over 80,000 people have been evacuated since August 14, but huge crowds remain outside Kabul airport hoping to flee the threat of reprisals and repression in Taliban-led Afghanistan.
Washington and its allies have been flying out thousands of Afghans every day on hulking military transports, but it has become an increasingly difficult and desperate task.
The Taliban have also been accused of blocking or slowing access for many trying to reach the airport, although they have denied that charge.
Taliban will allow some departures after deadline, says Blinken
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday the Taliban had made commitments to allow departure of Americans, “at-risk” Afghans and people from other nations even following Tuesday’s cutoff.
“They have a responsibility to hold to that commitment and provide safe passage for anyone who wishes to leave the country,” Blinken told reporters.
Blinken spoke hours after Germany‘s envoy to Kabul said a Taliban negotiator had assured him Afghans bearing the right documents could leave after the deadline.
France 24 in Afghanistan
Up to 1500 Americans may still need to be evacuated
As many as 1,500 American citizens may still need to be evacuated from Afghanistan.
Blinken told reporters that at least 4,500 American citizens of the 6,000 Americans who wanted to leave Afghanistan have departed.
He said officials have been in “direct contact” with another 500 Americans who want to leave and have provided them with “specific instructions on how to get to the airport safely.”
Officials were “aggressively reaching out” to the remaining 1,000 Americans to “determine whether they still want to leave,” he said.
“Some may no longer be in the country,” Blinken said. “Some may have claimed to be Americans but turn out not to be. Some may choose to stay.”
“Of the approximately 1,000, we believe the number of Americans actively seeking assistance to leave Afghanistan is significantly lower,” he said.
Britain warns nationals away from Kabul airport
Britain late Wednesday warned its citizens away from Kabul’s airport, where huge crowds have gathered hoping to board evacuation flights after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
“Do not travel to Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport,” the Foreign and Commonwealth Office wrote in an update to travel advice posted to its website. “There is an ongoing and high threat of terrorist attack.”
“If you are in the area of the airport, move away to a safe location and await further advice,” it urged, adding that “if you can leave Afghanistan safely by other means, you should do so immediately”.
Turkey starts withdrawing its troops
Meanwhile, Turkey, which had more than 500 non-combat troops stationed in Afghanistan, said Wednesday it had started pulling out its forces.
Turkey troops were part of NATO’s now-abandoned mission in the war-torn country.
The withdrawal signalled an apparent abandonment of the plans it had been negotiating to help secure Kabul’s strategic airport after the American departure.
Turkey’s defence ministry said Wednesday it had started pulling troops out of Afghanistan, apparently abandoning its plans to help secure Kabul’s strategic airport.
“The Turkish Armed Forces are returning to our homeland with the pride of successfully fulfilling the tasks entrusted to it,” the ministry said in a statement.
Turkey had been negotiating with both the Taliban and Washington about playing a role in protecting the airport after the US troop withdrawal, which is scheduled to be completed on Tuesday.
But the Taliban’s swift capture of the Afghan capital left those plans in disarray.
“It is important for Afghanistan to stabilise,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said as the troop withdrawal was announced.
“Turkey will continue to be in close dialogue with all parties in Afghanistan in line with this goal.”
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)