Over 16,000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan in the last 24 hours, the Pentagon said late on Monday (23 August) as the 31 August deadline for exit of foreign troops from the war-torn country nears.
US Army Major General William Taylor, who is serving as the deputy director of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, said 61 military, commercial and charter flights from multiple countries flew out of Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport in the 24 hours to 3 am Monday.
Out of the 16,000 people evacuated out of Afghanistan in this duration, at least 11,000 were flown out by the US alone. Apart from commercial flights, at least 25 C-17 and three C-130 transport aircraft of the US military took part in the evacuation effort during that period.
The evacuees are being brought to the "intermediate staging bases and safe havens" of the US military in Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Italy, Spain and Germany before being flown to the US.
As the 31 August deadline for the exit of foreign troops approaches, the US has significantly increased the speed of evacuation. At one point in the last 24 hours, at least a dozen heavy-lift US military aircraft were seen flying in and out of Afghanistan on live flight tracking websites.
The US is also deploying helicopters and troops at some spots in Kabul to extract people who can't reach the airport on their own. In two such cases, 350 Americans were picked up and taken to the airport. The US has around 5,800 Marines and soldiers in Kabul, the Pentagon said, and more can be deployed if the situation at the airport worsens.
India has evacuated 800 people from Kabul as part of "Operation Devi Shakti" using military transport aircraft such as C-17s. Some evacuees were flown out of Kabul on the smaller C-130Js to Dushanbe, from where they were brought to India on Air India flights.
The Taliban has warned of "consequences" if the exit of foreign forces is prolonged beyond the 31 August deadline that the two sides have agreed to.
Suhail Shaheen, spokesperson of the Taliban's Doha office, said the presence of US troops in Afghanistan beyond the deadline will be mean “extending occupation” and called it “a red line”.
Amid these developments, some of US' NATO partners, including the United Kingdom, have called on the Biden administration to keep troops in Afghanistan beyond the 31 August deadline to ensure that evacuation flights out of Kabul continue without disruption from the Taliban.
The issue could come up for discussion at the emergency meeting of leaders of G7 countries on Afghanistan taking place today (24 August).
As evacuations continue, Afghans are reaching the Kabul Airport in large numbers in a desperate bid to leave the country. Over the last few days, at least 20 have died as a result of the chaos at the airport, which is being guarded by troops from US and its NATO partners.
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