19,000 people evacuated from Kabul in last 24 hours, says US govt

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The update came as the August 31 deadline to complete the evacuation process drew closer, with president Joe Biden resisting requests from G7 allies to extend the evacuations beyond the said date, reports Asian Lite News

In its latest update on the ongoing evacuation efforts in Afghanistan, the United States said on Wednesday approximately 19,000 people boarded 90 evacuation flights out of Kabul in the latest 24-hour period. These flights, the US government said, included those operated by the US military and the ones operated in coalition with its allies.

“From 3am Eastern Time on August 24 to 3am Eastern Time on August 25, 42 US military flights carried approximately 11,200 evacuees and 48 coalition flights carried 7800 people,” the White House shared on its official Twitter handle. On the United States’ own evacuation efforts till now, it said, “Since August 14, the US has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 82,300 people on US military and coalition flights. Since the end of July, we have re-located approximately 87,900 people on US military and coalition flights.”

The update came as the August 31 deadline to complete the evacuation process drew closer, with president Joe Biden resisting requests from G7 allies to extend the evacuations beyond the said date.

Earlier, the Taliban, which, by capturing Kabul on August 15, seized power in Afghanistan for a second time, had also warned the US against extending the deadline. It is the return to power of the Taliban which has led to the current crisis in Afghanistan. The Kabul Airport, in particular, has witnessed dramatic scenes as Afghans, desperate to leave their country, have thronged it, hoping for a way out.

In April this year, president Biden had announced all American troops in Afghanistan will have left by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. In July, however, he brought the date forward to August 31. The Americans have been in Afghanistan since 2001 when they arrived here following the 9/11 attacks, and defeated the Taliban. The insurgents first took power in 1996.

1,500 Americans may be awaiting evacuation from Afghanistan

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that as many as 1,500 Americans may be awaiting evacuation from Afghanistan, a figure that suggests the US may accomplish its highest priority for the Kabul airlift — rescuing US citizens — ahead of President Joe Biden’s Tuesday deadline.

Untold thousands of at-risk Afghans, however, still are struggling to get into the Kabul airport, while many thousands of other Afghans already have been flown to safety in 12 days of round-the-clock flights.

On Wednesday, several of the Americans working phones and pulling strings to get out former Afghan colleagues, women’s advocates, journalists and other vulnerable Afghans said they have seen little concrete US action so far to get those Afghans past Taliban checkpoints and through US-controlled airport gates to promised evacuation flights.

“It’s 100% up to the Afghans to take these risks and try to fight their way out,” said Sunil Varghese, policy director with the International Refugee Assistance Project.

Blinken, echoing Biden’s earlier declarations during the now 12-day-old evacuation, emphasized at a State Department briefing that “evacuating Americans is our top priority.”

He added, “We’re also committed to getting out as many Afghans at-risk as we can before the 31st,” when Biden plans to pull out the last of thousands of American troops.

Blinken said the State Department estimates there were about 6,000 Americans wanting to leave Afghanistan when the airlift began Aug. 14, as the Taliban took the capital after a stunning military conquest. About 4,500 Americans have been evacuated so far, Blinken said, and among the rest “some are understandably very scared.”

The 6,000 figure is the first firm estimate by the State Department of how many Americans were seeking to get out. US officials early in the evacuation estimated as many as 15,000, including dual citizens, lived in Afghanistan. The figure does not include US Green Card holders.

About 500 Americans have been contacted with instructions on when and how to get to the chaotic Kabul airport to catch evacuation flights.

In addition, 1,000 or perhaps fewer are being contacted to determine whether they still want to leave. Blinken said some of these may already have left the country, some may want to remain and some may not actually be American citizens.

“We are providing opportunity,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said of those Afghans, who include dual Afghan-American citizens. “We are finding ways to get them to the airport and evacuate them, but it is also their personal decision on whether they want to depart.”

The US Embassy has been evacuated; staff are operating from the Kabul airport and the last are to leave by Tuesday.

Biden said this week he had asked his national security team for contingency plans in case he decides to extend the deadline. Taliban leaders who took control of Afghanistan this month say they will not tolerate any extensions to the Tuesday deadline. But Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted that “people with legal documents” will still be able to fly out via commercial flights after Tuesday.

US troops are anchoring a multinational evacuation from the airport. The White House says the airlift overall has flown out 82,300 Afghans, Americans and others on a mix of US, international and private flights.

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