7,000 evacuated from Afghanistan since Aug 14; 5,200 US troops remain in Kabul: Pentagon

US soldiers prepare to depart from Kunduz, Afghanistan, by helicopter in 2017. President Joe Biden wants to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a senior administration official said on Tuesday. Photo: Brian Harris/Planet Pix/ZUMA/dpa/IANS
File Photo: IANS

Washington: A total of 7,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan since the start of evacuation operations on August 14 and over 5,200 US troops are in Kabul, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

Cumulatively, the number of people moved out of Afghanistan is somewhere near 12,000.

The Taliban took control of Afghanistan on Sunday. Their sudden victory, which comes as the US withdraws from the country following a 20-year-war, has sparked chaos at Kabul's airport, from where America and allied nations are trying to safely evacuate thousands of citizens and allies.

"The US military footprint and Kabul now has more than 5,200 total troops on the ground. Kabul airport remains secure and open for flight operations. There are now multiple gates that have access for entry into the airfield, which will help expedite processing in a safe and orderly manner," said Major General Hank Taylor, Commanding General of the Army Operational Test Command.

Major General Taylor, who has been given the responsibility to airlift US citizens from Afghanistan amid the Taliban crisis, said in the past 24 hours, 13 C-17s arrived with additional troops and equipment, and 12 C-17 military planes departed.

These flights, containing more than 2,000 passengers, left Kabul and arrived at designated safe havens and staging areas in the CENTCOM area of operation, he said.

"Since the start of evacuation operations on August 14, we have airlifted approximately 7,000 total evacuees. This increase is reflective of both a ramp up of aircraft and airlift capability, faster processing of evacuees, and greater information and fidelity in reporting, Taylor told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.

The US, he said, is ready to increase throughput and have scheduled aircraft departures accordingly.

6,000 people await evacuation at airport

At a separate news conference, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters that there are 6,000 people at the airport right now who've been fully processed by a consular team and will soon board planes.

"Overnight, we significantly expanded how many American citizens locally employed staff, SIV applicants, and other vulnerable Afghans who are eligible for departure, and we offered to consider transit to the airport. We're aware of congestion around the airport. We are working closely with the Department of Defense to facilitate safe and orderly access for consular processing on the airport compound, he said.

Secretary of State Tony Blinken spoke with the G7 foreign ministers and the high representative of the European Union to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, he said.

"All leaders underscored the imperative of safe passage for those who wish to leave Afghanistan and the need for an inclusive political resolution that protects the fundamental human rights of all Afghans, Price said.

He said the leaders agreed that the international community's relationship with the Taliban will depend on their actions and not their words.

NATO steps up efforts

More than 18,000 people have been flown out of Kabul since the Taliban took over Afghanistan's capital, a NATO official said on Friday, pledging to redouble evacuation efforts as criticism of the West's handling of the crisis mounted.

A witness told Reuters several people were killed in the eastern city of Asadabad on Thursday when Taliban militants fired on a crowd demonstrating their allegiance to the vanquished Afghan republic, as the Taliban set about establishing an emirate, governed by strict Islamic laws.

There were similar shows of defiance in two other cities - Jalalabad and Khost - in the east, as Afghans used celebrations of the nation's 1919 independence from British control to vent their anger with the Taliban takeover.

Another witness reported gunshots near a rally in Kabul, but they appeared to be Taliban firing into the air.

A Taliban spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in an interview with NBC News that the United States is "laser-focused" on "the potential for a terrorist attack" by a group such as Islamic State amid the evacuation.

Criticism of NATO and other Western powers has mounted as images of the chaos and desperation are shared around the world.

U.S. President Joe Biden is set to speak about the evacuation efforts at 1 p.m. (1700 GMT) on Friday, having faced a torrent of criticism for his handling of the troop withdrawal, negotiated by the previous U.S. administration

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