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16,000 evacuated from Kabul airport in past 24 hours: Pentagon

NICHOLAS GUEVARA / US MARINE CORPS / AFP
PM:11:56:23/08/2021

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SULAIMANI — Around 16,000 people were evacuated over the past 24 hours from Afghanistan through the Kabul airport, the Pentagon said Monday (August 23), as the US works toward completing its airlift by an August 31 deadline.

General Hank Taylor told reporters that 61 military, commercial and charter flights involving a number of countries flew out from Hamid Karzai International Airport in the 24 hours to 3:00 am Monday (0700 GMT) carrying people fleeing after the Taliban seized power.

Of the total evacuated that day, 11,000 were taken out by US military airlift operations, Taylor said.

Taylor said the number of people relocated from Afghanistan since July on US flights hit 42,000, with 37,000 of those since the intense airlift operations started on August 14 as the Taliban took Kabul.

That includes "several thousand" US citizens, and thousands of Afghans who worked for US forces, who had applied for or received special immigrant visas, and Afghans seen as at risk to Taliban attacks for their work in non-governmental organizations, the media, and other jobs, according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

Kirby said the focus remains on getting US evacuation operations done by the August 31 deadline that President Joe Biden has set for completing the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

That would require withdrawing the 5,800 US troops who have essentially run airport operations and maintained security since August 14, as well as large amounts of equipment brought in to support their mission.

German, British and French officials said Monday that evacuations on their part could continue after August 31, and said they want the US force to stay in place to help the international airlift.

On Tuesday leaders of the G7 group of wealthy nations will meet virtually on Afghanistan.

"Whether or not the US can be persuaded to stay is a matter for the prime minister (Boris Johnson) tomorrow in the G7 meeting," British armed forces minister James Heappey told Sky News.

Britain currently chairs the G7, also comprising Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

Kirby did not categorically rule out Washington extending the deadline, although the Taliban have said they will hold the US to it.

For the United States, Kirby said, "The goal is to get as many people out as fast as possible."

"The focus is on trying to do this as best we can, by the end of the month," he said.

At the White House, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan deferred questions on extending the US pullout deadline to the G7 talks on Tuesday, saying the White House is taking the situation "day by day."

He said Biden had already spoke with Johnson on Monday.

"We remain in close touch with allies and partners to coordinate the evacuation of their own citizens and their priority personnel," Sullivan said.

He said that there is enough time to evacuate all the US citizens in the country who have sought to leave.

"We believe that we have time between now and the 31st to get out any American who wants to get out," he said.

(NRT Digital Media/AFP)