US steps up evacuation from Kabul, says no Taliban interference
The US military said that it was stepping up its evacuation from Afghanistan Tuesday and that the Taliban were not interrupting operations at the Kabul airport.
Major General Hank Taylor said that US military officials at the airport had been in communication with commanders of Taliban forces in recent days and that they were confident that the removal of thousands of US citizens and Afghans fleeing the country on US military aircraft would continue over the coming days.
"We have had no hostile interactions, no attack and no threat by the Taliban," said Taylor, a senior official with the Pentagon' Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Taylor said that since the airport was reopened early Tuesday following an hours-long closure for security problems, the US military has evacuated close to 800 people, among them 165 Americans, on seven flights.
The US Department of Defense has poured troops into the airport since Saturday to protect the exodus as the Taliban insurgents entered Kabul after a lightning siege across the country and seized power.
Taylor said the number of US troops would rise from 2,500 on Monday to around 4,000 by late Tuesday.
He said the US aimed to increase its airlift to one aircraft an hour so that between 5,000 and 9,000 passengers could be carried out per day.
"We are confident we have taken the right steps to resume safe and orderly operations at the airport," he said.
Some other countries, including Germany and France, have also been able to land aircraft to pick up their nationals and Afghans qualified to travel to those countries.
Taylor spoke a day after security broke down at the airport, with videos showing hundreds of Afghans on the runway trying to impede a giant C-17 transport and clinging to it.
Videos appeared to show two people falling to their deaths from the aircraft after it took off.
Another, according to the Washington Post, was later found dead in a wheel well.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said those incidents were being looked into by the US Air Force.
Taylor did not provide any figures on how many people, US citizens or other nationals, or Afghan citizens, were currently in the airport seeking to leave.
The United States has pledged to accept tens of thousands of people such as translators who worked for US forces and their families, as they fear retribution from the Taliban.
More than a thousand have been evacuated since the operations began three days ago.