The UK’s ability to process any more evacuations from Afghanistan is now “extremely reduced”, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has warned, as the focus turned to getting diplomats and service personnel out of the country.
The MoD said 14,543 people had now been extracted from Kabul since 13 August, a mix of Afghan and British nationals.
Some 8,000 of those were Afghans and their families under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) scheme, which applies to those who helped the UK and are at risk of persecution by the Taliban.
But Operation Pitting – the name for the evacuation effort – is drawing to a close.
Already the Baron Hotel facility, which was being used to process those leaving the country by British officials, has closed.
The MoD said this would allow a focus on evacuating the British nationals and others who have already been processed and are at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
But the department said “the UK’s ability to process further cases is now extremely reduced and additional numbers will be limited”, and no-one else would now be called forward.
Evacuating all those already processed will now free up space on military aircraft to bring diplomats and military personnel home, PA reports.
Texas governor Greg Abbott has confirmed US Marine David Lee Espinoza was among those killed in yesterday’s bombing.
Major General Charlie Herbert, who undertook three tours of Afghanistan, has criticised the decision to allow former Marine Pen Farthing to bring his animals onto a flight out of Kabul.
“You put his dogs and cats above the ten Afghan families that I’ve been trying to get into the EHC for the last 72 hours. You utter b*******. I will never forgive you,” he wrote on Twitter. The MoD earlier said Mr Farthing, who runs an animal shelter in Kabul, and his animals were cleared to take a flight they had privately chartered.
At the Pentagon, General Glen VanHerck, the head of the US Northern Command, has been briefing journalists on the military role in hosting the inflow of Afghan refugees.
He said over 6,000 have arrived in the US and are being housed in four military bases: Fort Lee in Virginia, Fort Bliss in Texas, Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.
VanHerck said his command had been instructed to build capacity to host 50,000 Afghans.
Three more bases have been authorised to house more Afghans as they arrive: Marine Corps Base Quantico, Fort Pickett in Virginia, and Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.
Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby, denied claims that the Taliban had taken over parts of Kabul airport.
“I saw that report. It’s false,” he said.
“The Taliban are not in charge of any of the gates.
“They are not in charge of any of the airport operations. That is still under US military control.”
The last German troops returned to the northern air base of Wunstorf on Friday, after evacuating more than 5,300 people from 45 nations out of Kabul airport over the past 11 days.
Three military aircraft landed on the base, greeted by fire engines spraying fountains of water for the planes to pass through as a welcome ceremony, Reuters reports. The aircraft brought home more than 300 soldiers involved in the evacuations, with paratroopers, special forces, military police, medical staff and dog handlers with their dogs among them. “You have seen the outrageous and achieved incredible things,” said German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who had welcomed the troops at their stop-over in the Uzbek capital Tashkent and travelled back with them. The German military ended its airlift from Kabul airport late on Thursday after evacuating 5,347 people, including more than 4,100 Afghans.
Ned Price, the US state department spokesman, said that “the vast majority” of Afghan staff at the US embassy and their families “are now safely out of Afghanistan or at the airport compound for evacuation”.
Price said the state department was in touch with some 500 American nationals still in Afghanistan about the evacuation.
“They are making these decisions and sometimes reversing these decisions, multiple times a day,” Price said, stressing that the US obligation to extricate US citizens would not stop on 31 August.
Julian Borger Julian Borger
Ned Price, the US state department spokesman, has been briefing journalists on Afghanistan this afternoon.
On the question of whether there will continue to be a US diplomatic mission in Kabul after 31 August, Price said the Taliban had asked for US diplomats to stay but no final decision had been taken.
“They have made very clear to us in our communication, they would like to see an American diplomatic presence remain,” Price said.
“Ultimately of course it’s not up to the Taliban, it’s a determination that we will need to make consistent with our overriding responsibility and that is the safety and security of American officials.
“It is a decision we plan to discuss with our allies and partners as well.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said there is no reason to recognise the Taliban as an official government yet.
“I want to be really clear: there’s no rush to recognition of any sort by the United States or any international partners we have talked to,” she said.
Taliban wants US diplomatic presence to remain in Afghanistan
The Taliban has made clear it wants US diplomatic presence to remain in Afghanistan, according to the US State Department.
Joe Biden’s national security team has warned him that US troops remain under threat of another terrorist attack just 24 hours after the devastating suicide bomb at Kabul airport that killed 13 US service members and at least 170 Afghans.
As US troops brace themselves for a possible further terror attack, the US president was facing mounting bipartisan criticism over his handling of the mass evacuation. The recriminations following the deadliest day for the US military in a decade came not only from familiar Republican antagonists but also from prominent members of his own party.
US forces are racing against the clock to meet Tuesday’s deadline to complete the withdrawal from Afghanistan and bring to an end almost 20 years of the so-called “forever war”. But security risks continue to cause alarm.