The latest on Afghanistan evacuation efforts

The US is set to withdraw troops from Afghanistan on August 31, hindering evacuation efforts of foreign governments.

Afghans disembark a plane at the Torrejon military base in Madrid, Spain [File: Andrea Comas/The Associated Press]

Facing the dire situation at Kabul international airport, which has left thousands of Afghans waiting to be evacuated amid fears of Taliban reprisal, and pressure from allies, the administration of President Joe Biden is considering extending the August 31 deadline for total US troop withdrawal.

The United States military remained in control of the airport on Tuesday, the hub of a chaotic international effort to evacuate foreign citizens and vulnerable Afghans in the wake of the lightning-fast offensive by the Taliban, who took Afghanistan’s capital on August 14.

The Taliban takeover came as the US sought to finish its complete troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, at the behest of military officials, Biden is expected to clarify the US position on keeping troops in the country after the deadline, which will have a knock-on effect for other country’s smaller-scale evacuation efforts.

The Taliban, meanwhile, has repeatedly warned against any extension of foreign troop deployments, saying it would cross a “red line”. A spokesperson for the group restated that position on Tuesday, saying there would be “no extensions”.

As foreign governments face a ticking clock, here is the status of those conducting the largest evacuations from Afghanistan.

United States

The US continues to conduct the widest evacuation effort from Afghanistan of any country.

US officials have said they are prioritising US citizens, Afghans who worked for the US government and are thus eligible for special visas, as well as Afghans who are eligible for refugee status – a category expanded in early August.

The overall number of Afghans seeking relocation to the US remains unclear, although the International Rescue Committee, a rights group, had previously said that some 300,000 Afghan civilians were affiliated with the US government during its 20 years in Afghanistan.

US Defense Department Spokesman John Kirby on Monday said that “thousands” of US citizens remain in the country, without elaborating.

In recent days, the US evacuation effort has surged, transporting individuals to 14 temporary installations across Europe and the Middle East, including in Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Italy, Spain and Germany as of Monday.

On Tuesday, the White House reported that during the 24-hour period from 07:00 GMT on August 23 to 07:00 GMT on August 24, US military flights had evacuated about 12,700 people.

In the previous 24 hours, 28 US military flights evacuated about 10,400 people, up from about 3,900 people evacuated on US flights in the 24-hour period before that, from Saturday to Sunday.

Since August 14, the US has “evacuated and facilitated the evacuation” of approximately 58,700 people, according to the White House.

With the US in control of the airport, that figure appeared to encompass all people evacuated by US and NATO allies since August 14.

United Kingdom

On Tuesday, the United Kingdom’s defence minister said the UK had evacuated more than 2,000 people from Kabul during the past 24 hours bringing the total number of people removed from the country since August 14 to 8,600.

The UK and other allies are pressing Biden to extend the evacuation past the end-of-the-month date. But Wallace told Sky News it is unlikely Biden will agree.

France

A French official on Tuesday said they will end their evacuations from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan later this week if the US sticks to a plan to pull its troops out at the end of August.

About 2,000 French nationals and Afghans have in recent days been evacuated by France via a military base in Abu Dhabi, after President Emmanuel Macron said the country was opening its arms to people under threat from the Taliban.

Germany

Germany has said it has evacuated some 2,700 people as of Monday, and that it was looking for ways to continue evacuations after Kabul airport is no longer under US control.

Italy

Italy on Monday said that its evacuation, Operation Aquila Omnia, which it launched in June, has airlifted some 2,100 people from Afghanistan, the vast majority since August 14.

Australia

Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews has said Canberra has helped evacuate more than 1,600 people from the Kabul airport in 17 flights since last Wednesday.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison had said earlier that Australian and New Zealand officials had evacuated more than 650 people from the airport during Monday night.

Turkey

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said Turkey has so far evacuated 1,404 people from Afghanistan – 1,061 of them Turkish nationals and 343 nationals of “various countries”.

Turkey was meant to secure the Kabul airport after foreign troops withdrew, but the plan was thrown into uncertainty amid the Taliban’s swift rise.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he is open to talking to the Taliban about Turkey’s future role in the country.

Other efforts

An array of countries continue to evacuate smaller numbers of their nationals and some Afghans.

Spain has said it has evacuated more than 800 Afghans from Kabul in recent days.

Switzerland’s Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis on Tuesday said the country had evacuated 292 people. All local workers from the Swiss development office as well as their close family members were able to leave Kabul or were safe at the capital’s airport, he said.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide on Tuesday called for the US withdrawal from Afghanistan to be extended beyond August 31, as a plane with 157 people who had been evacuated from Afghanistan landed in Oslo, bringing the country’s total evacuations to 374 people.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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