The State Department Thursday said 6,000 people were waiting for expected evacuation flights at Kabul’s beleaguered international airport as the U.S. struggled to get many more Americans and Afghan allies out of Afghanistan.
As Taliban fighters fired gunshots in the air to maintain order outside the airport, Ned Price, a State Department spokesman, said the stranded people were expected to be flown out of Afghanistan within a matter of hours.
But officials conceded that thousands of U.S. citizens and Afghans still need to be airlifted out of Afghanistan after the Taliban abruptly swept to power.
The Pentagon said the airport itself is now safe and secure and the U.S. military has the capacity to fly out more than 5,000 a day.
But the airlift operation faces huge hurdles and it’s not clear that any of them can be overcome before an Aug. 31 deadline for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan.
Taliban insurgents are manning checkpoints ringing the airport, making it difficult and risky for Afghans who worked with the former government to reach the safe haven.
The Taliban does not appear to be actively preventing Americans from reaching the airport, but may not have the capacity to keep a lid on a volatile and unsafe situation.
American officials say commanders on the ground have been in contact with Taliban counterparts to keep calm at the airport.
“I think it is just a fundamental fact of the reality of where we are, that communications and a certain measure of agreement with the Taliban on what we’re trying to accomplish has to occur,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
About 2,000 passengers have been flown out on each of the past two days, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
American officials claimed they are working to cut red tape, including adding State Department consular officers to verify paperwork of Afghans or foreigners who manage to get to the airport.
President Biden said Wednesday he would ensure no American was left behind, even if that meant staying beyond the end of August. It was not clear if Biden might consider extending the deadline for Afghan evacuees.
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