US steps up Kabul evacuation, says Taliban pledged ‘safe passage’

Washington – The White House said Tuesday the Taliban had promised that civilians could travel safely to the Kabul airport as the US military stepped up its airlift for Americans and Afghans fleeing the Islamist group.

Some 3,200 people have been evacuated by the US military so far, A White House official said, including 1,100 on Tuesday alone, US citizens, permanent residents and their families on 13 flights. Earlier Tuesday, the White House said that 11,000 US nationals remain inside the country, including diplomats, contractors and others, most waiting to be evacuated after the Taliban takeover.

Washington wants to complete the exodus before its August 31 withdrawal deadline, and thousands of US soldiers were at the airport as the Pentagon planned to ramp up flights of its huge C-17 transport jets to as many as two dozen a day.

“Now that we have established the flow, we expect those numbers to escalate,” said the White House official who gave the updated evacuation figures Tuesday and who spoke on condition of anonymity.

US officials said they were in contact with Taliban commanders to ensure the flight operations at Hamid Karzai International Airport remained safe from attack and that citizens and Afghans seeking to leave had safe passage.

“We have had no hostile interactions, no attack and no threat by the Taliban,” said Major General Hank Taylor said at the Pentagon.

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