Afghans on Thursday hurried to escape Taliban rule, but Western officials said the group had made assurances that some evacuations would be permitted after next week’s US withdrawal deadline.
Over 80,000 people have been evacuated since August 14, but huge crowds remain outside Kabul airport hoping to flee the threat of reprisals and repression in Taliban-led Afghanistan.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday the Taliban had made commitments to allow departure of Americans, “at-risk” Afghans and people from other nations even following Tuesday’s cutoff.
“They have a responsibility to hold to that commitment and provide safe passage for anyone who wishes to leave the country,” Blinken told reporters.
He added that at least 4,500 American citizens of the 6,000 who said they wanted to leave Afghanistan have already departed.
Blinken spoke hours after Germany’s envoy to Kabul said a Taliban negotiator had assured him Afghans bearing the right documents could leave after the deadline, which was confirmed Tuesday by US President Joe Biden.
Washington and its allies have been flying out thousands of Afghans every day on hulking military transports, but it has become an increasingly difficult and desperate task.
Pleas for help
Many Afghans fear a repeat of the brutal five-year Taliban regime that was toppled in 2001, as well as violent retribution for working with foreign militaries, Western missions and the previous US-backed government.
There are particular concerns for women, who were largely banned from education and employment and could only leave the house with a male chaperone during the group’s 1996-2001 rule.
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The Afghan capital’s airport has been gripped by chaos as US-led troops try to maintain a secure perimeter for evacuation flights, surrounded by desperate Afghans.
Some have foreign passports, visas or eligibility to travel, but most do not. At least eight people have died in the chaos.
“Does anyone… ANYONE… have a contact inside the airport,” pleaded one American on a WhatsApp group set up to share information on how people can access the airport.
“My guy worked for us 2010-15 and needs to get out with 5 of his family. This is real bad.”
The Taliban have also been accused of blocking or slowing access for many trying to reach the airport, although they have denied that charge.