As many as 1,500 American citizens may still need to be evacuated from Afghanistan and the Taliban has pledged to allow some departures after US troops leave on 31 August, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said.
Mr Blinken told reporters that at least 4,500 American citizens of the 6,000 Americans who wanted to leave Afghanistan have already departed the country.
He said officials have been in “direct contact” with another 500 Americans who want to leave and were “reaching out” to the other 1,000.
Mr Blinken also said the Taliban had agreed to allow Americans and “at-risk” Afghan nationals leave after the 31 August withdrawal of US troops.
“The Taliban have made public and private commitments to provide and permit safe passage for Americans, for third country nationals and for Afghans at risk going forward past August 31,” he said.
The US military earlier said it will continue evacuating people from Kabul airport until the 31 August deadline if needed, but will prioritise the removal of American troops and military equipment on the last couple of days.
Afghans are facing an increasingly desperate race to escape life under the Taliban after President Joe Biden confirmed US-led evacuations will end next week.
There are about 5,400 US troops at the airport, a number the president said is set to go down to zero by the end of the month, depending on cooperation from the Taliban.
Army Major General William Taylor, with the US military’s Joint Staff, earlier told a news briefing that more than 10,000 people were at Kabul airport waiting to be evacuated from Afghanistan.
He said that in the previous 24 hours, 90 US military and other international flights had transported 19,000 more people, bringing the total evacuation number so far to about 88,000.
He said one plane had departed every 39 minutes.
In addition to American citizens, both at-risk Afghans and people from other countries including Ireland have been evacuated over the past 11 days.
Meanwhile, Germany’s ambassador to Afghanistan has said the Taliban will continue to allow Afghans who have the correct documents to leave the country after the 31 August deadline.
Markus Potzel said on Twitter he had met Taliban deputy chief negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, who had “assured me that Afghans with legal documents will continue to have the opportunity to travel on commercial flights after 31 August”.
President Biden said yesterday that the United States would stick to his 31 August deadline to completely withdraw its troops despite warnings from European allies that not all vulnerable Afghans would be able to leave by then.
“The sooner we can finish, the better … each day of operations brings added risk to our troops,” he said.
“We are currently on the pace to finish by August 31.”
Washington and its allies have been flying out thousands of such Afghans every day on hulking military transports, but it has become an increasingly difficult and desperate task.
Many Afghans fear a repeat of the brutal five-year Taliban regime that was toppled in 2001, and violent retribution for working with foreign militaries, Western missions and the previous US-backed government.
There are particular concerns for women, who were largely banned from education and employment and could only leave the house with a male chaperone during the group’s rule in the 1990s.
Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the international community must maintain dialogue with the Taliban if it is to protect any progress made over the past 20 years.
“Our goal must be to preserve as much as possible what we have achieved,” she said.
Growing risk at Kabul airport
The Afghan capital’s airport has been gripped by chaos as US-led troops try to maintain a secure perimeter for evacuation flights, surrounded by desperate Afghans.
Some have foreign passports, visas, or eligibility to travel, but most do not. At least eight people have died in the chaos.
The Taliban has also been accused of blocking or slowing access for many trying to reach the airport, although they denied the charge again late yesterday.
Mr Biden said the Taliban was taking steps to assist, but there was also an “acute and growing risk” of an attack by the regional chapter of the so-called Islamic State jihadist group.
CIA Director William Burns flew to Kabul for a secret meeting with top Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar, US media reported yesterday, the highest-level meeting so far between the US government and the new rulers of Afghanistan.
The New York Times said he was there for general talks on “evacuation operations and terrorist threats”.