WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says the U.S. military is ramping up evacuations out of Afghanistan, and that 7,000 civilians have been taken out of the country since August 14.
Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor told reporters that 12 C-17 aircraft departed with 2,000 evacuees over the past 24 hours. Speaking at a Pentagon briefing Thursday, Taylor said the military now has enough aircraft to get 5,000-9,000 people out a day, depending on how many have been processed and other factors, such as weather.
There are now about 5,200 U.S. troops at the airport, a number that has been steadily increasing in recent days.
“We are ready to increase throughout,” said Taylor. His comments came amid ongoing chaos at the Kabul airport as Afghans and other civilians desperately try to get on flights out of the country in the wake of the Taliban takeover on Sunday.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said there has been no Taliban violence against U.S. personnel, and that the U.S. hasn’t seen the group obstruct American citizens trying to leave. There have been widespread reports of Taliban violence against Afghans, including efforts to prevent them from getting to the airport.
He declined to say whether Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin believes it will be necessary to continue the operation beyond August 31. And he said there have been no discussions with the Taliban for an extension.
President Joe Biden has said he will continue military evacuations of Americans until all those who want to leave are evacuated.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LONDON — Police say a five-year-old boy who fell to his death from a hotel in the north England city of Sheffield was an Afghan refugee.
South Yorkshire Police have appealed for information following the boy’s death in what was reported to be a fall from the ninth floor of Sheffield’s Metropolitan Hotel at around 2.30pm on Wednesday.
The boy’s family are being supported by specially trained officers and no formal identification has taken place yet. According to local media, the family had arrived in Sheffield just four days ago.
The hotel has been used to accommodate Afghan refugees who had assisted the British authorities in Afghanistan.
Like others, Britain is trying to evacuate its own nationals as well as Afghan allies after the Taliban seized control 20 years after being driven from power by a U.S.-led international force following the 9/11 attacks.
ROME — Italian Premier Mario Draghi and Russian President Vladimir Putin have together analyzed the “situation on the ground” in Afghanistan as well as its regional implications, Draghi’s office said.
During Thursday’s phone call, the two leaders “also assessed guidelines that could inspire action of the international community” in various contexts with the aim to “restore Afghanistan’s stability, fight terrorism and illegal trafficking and protect women’s rights,” a statement from the office said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is due to meet with Draghi and with his Italian counterpart next week in Rome, with Afghanistan high on the geo-political matters on the agenda.
Draghi on Thursday also discussed the Afghan crisis with French President Emmanuel Macron, including “management of the migration flows and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms” in the country.
PARIS — French non-governmental groups, lawyers and activists are asking President Emmanuel Macron take bold action to welcome Afghan migrants fleeing their Taliban-run country.
“We demand simplification of the immigration procedure, a faster reunion of families, a broad and long-term resettling of Afghan families seeking asylum, and the end of all expulsions toward Afghanistan,” Henry Masson, the president of La Cimade, a French NGO advocating for undocumented people, told The Associated Press on Thursday.
La Cimade is among six NGOs and unions circulating a petition to make those demands heard. It has been signed by more than 11,000 people so far.
France, which withdrew its military from Afghanistan in 2014, has brought out about 400 people from Kabul on three evacuation flights this week, primarily Afghans who worked with the French government or French groups in Afghanistan. But many more are trying to flee, fearing reprisals from the Taliban for their work with Western organizations.
Macron said Monday that France would “do its duty to protect those who are most at risk,” but also said Europeans must “protect ourselves against significant irregular migratory flows.”
ISLAMABAD — A delegation of prominent Afghan leaders and officials has warned that a Taliban government will not survive for long if it repeats past mistakes.
The delegation, headed by Afghan parliament speaker, Mir Rehman Rehmani, spoke to reporters in Islamabad on Thursday, after meeting Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and other government and military officials this week. The Afghans arrived in the Pakistani capital on Monday, a day after the Taliban swept into Kabul and took over Afghanistan.
A former Afghan vice president, Mohammad Younis Qanooni, said the future government in Afghanistan should be inclusive, with the participation of all ethnic groups.
“We oppose a rule by one party or group,” he said.
Khalid Noor, a prominent politician, said the Taliban cannot rule by force in Afghanistan. He says they have taken power by force, but warned their rule would be short-lived if they didn’t respect the rights of the people.
Other members of the Afghan delegation include Salahud-din-Rabbani, Ahmad Zia Massoud and Ahmad Wali Massoud.
MOSCOW — Russia has blamed Afghanistan’s president for precipitating the Taliban takeover of the country by dragging his feet on negotiating a comprehensive peace deal.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had “every opportunity over the past three years to ensure the success of an inter-Afghan peace process and help a gradual formation of an inclusive government involving all ethnic and political factions.”
She added that Ghani, who fled the country just as the Taliban swept into Kabul on Sunday in a lightning offensive, had missed the chance for a peaceful settlement and “bears responsibility for what happened.”
Moscow long has been critical of Ghani, accusing him of stonewalling proposals for an inclusive government during the protracted talks with the Taliban and other Afghan factions in the past.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said on Thursday that more than 300 locally hired people, interpreters, employees of non-governmental organizations and family members have been evacuated from Afghanistan.
The 320 people have been flown to Islamabad, Pakistan, from where they will fly in two planes to Denmark on Friday. He declined to say what nationalities they were.
Earlier in the day, a plane with 84 people evacuated from Afghanistan landed in Copenhagen. Danish media said that those aboard the plane reportedly were locally hired people and interpreters who had worked for Denmark. No further details were available.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden says the Taliban have not changed but are going through an “existential crisis” about whether they want legitimacy on the global stage as they’ve taken over Afghanistan.
In an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Biden said that he’s “not sure” the Taliban want to be “recognized by the international community as being a legitimate government.”
He also said that the threat from al-Qaida and their affiliate organizations is “greater in other parts of the world than it is in Afghanistan, adding that it’s “not rational” to ignore the “looming problems” posed by al-Qaida affiliates in Syria or East Africa, where he said the threat to the U.S. is “significantly greater.”
“We should be focusing on where the threat is the greatest,” Biden said, in defense of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Biden also pushed back against concerns about the treatment of women and girls in the country, arguing that it’s “not rational” to try to protect women’s rights around the globe through military force. Instead, it should be done through “diplomatic and international pressure” on human rights abusers to change their behavior.
MOSCOW — Russia has offered to provide its aircraft to fly Afghans willing to leave the country to any nations willing to host them.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday that Moscow would be ready to offer its planes to airlift “any number of Afghan citizens, including women and children to any foreign countries that would be interested in accommodating them.”
Zakharova’s statement came as thousands of Afghans are desperate to flee the country fearing that the Taliban will reimpose a brutal rule after taking over Kabul on Sunday.
Afghans and aid organizations have said that people desperate to leave are having a hard time getting past the Taliban and into Kabul’s international airport. Military evacuation flights have continued at the airport, but Taliban militants fired shots in the air on Thursday to try to control the crowds.
WARSAW, Poland — The Polish government says it has evacuated its last citizens from Afghanistan.
Marcin Przydacz, a deputy foreign minister, said on Thursday that “at the moment, all Poles with whom we had contact have left Afghanistan.” However, he also said he couldn’t exclude the possibility that others might still appear.
The evacuations being carried out so far by Polish authorities have included Poles and “people who actively worked for a democratic Afghanistan in cooperation with Poland,” Przydacz said.
PRAGUE — The Czech leaders declared the country’s effort to evacuate the Czech nationals and the Afghans who have worked with them a mission accomplished.
Three Czech evacuation flights in three days transported almost 200 people from Kabul to Prague by Wednesday night.
Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek says 170 Afghan nationals were among them, including all the local staffers at the Czech Embassy in Kabul and interpreters who helped the Czech armed forces during NATO missions and their families. Also, the Afghans who have a permanent residency in the Czech Republic were included.
Four Afghans were transported at the request of another European Union member state Slovakia. Czech embassy staff and two Polish nationals were also evacuated.
“We’ve saved everyone we wanted to,” Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Thursday. “The mission has been accomplished.”
A Czech NGO that helps army veterans says several interpreters with families who have helped the Czechs still need to be rescued.
Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek says that a possible transport in such cases will be coordinated with the allies.
Kulhanek said the successful rescue operation was “a big miracle.” He described the situation in Afghanistan as “a total and unexpected collapse… a tragedy that nobody could be ready for.”
ISTANBUL — A top Afghan official says he and other top officials left Kabul on Monday on board a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul with the help of the Turkish Embassy.
Babur Farahmand, deputy chief of Afghanistan High Council for National Reconciliation, told The Associated Press in Istanbul that other senior officials on board the flight included Second Vice President Sarwar Danish, Foreign Minister Hanif Atmar, intelligence chief Ahmad Zia Saraj, former foreign minister and politician Rangin Dadfar Spanta.
Farahmand said he and some other officials reached the Hamid Karzai International Airport’s military airfield in Kabul on Sunday evening. They spent the night inside the military compound waiting for the flight. Various countries facilitated the Afghan officials’ entry into airport but Turkish government facilitated the flight, he said.
Earlier, Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper reported that as many as 40 Afghan officials arrived in Istanbul on Monday on board a Turkish Airlines flight. The plane with 324 passengers on board, took off from Kabul with several hours of delay due to the chaos at the airport.
MOSCOW — Russia’s top diplomat on Thursday reiterated a call for a broad dialogue between all political forces in Afghanistan, noting that the Taliban do not control “the entire territory” of Afghanistan yet.
Speaking at a news conference in Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed to “reports … about the situation in the Panjshir Valley, where the resistance forces of Afghan Vice President (Amrullah) Saleh and Ahman Massod have been gathering.”
He said that it makes Moscow’s stance on the necessity of a dialogue between all rival forces and groups even more consistent. Russia has been calling for one when “all of Afghanistan was engulfed in a civil war,” and continues to urge it now, “when the Taliban have taken power in Kabul, in the majority of other cities, in the majority of Afghanistan’s provinces.”
“We support the same thing — a nationwide dialogue”″ that will lead to a representative government, Lavrov said. “”This, with the support of Afghan citizens, will work out agreements on the final make-up of this long-suffering country.”
Earlier this week, the minister stressed that Moscow was “in no rush” to recognize the Taliban as the new rulers of Afghanistan. Russia had labeled the Taliban a terrorist organization in 2003, but has since hosted several rounds of talks in Afghanistan, most recently in March, that involved the group.
Moscow, which fought a 10-year war in Afghanistan that ended with Soviet troops’ withdrawal in 1989, has made a diplomatic comeback as a mediator, reaching out to feuding Afghan factions and cultivating ties with the Taliban as it has jockeyed with the U.S. for influence in the country.
ROME — A plane carrying some 202 Afghans, including an activist and medical researchers affiliated with an Italian think-tank, have arrived in Rome in the latest airlift fleeing the country overtaken by the Taliban.
The Italian foreign ministry said Italy was committed to evacuating “those who collaborated with Italy and who are threatened, such as women and children.”
One of the passengers was Zahra Ahmadi, whose brother lives in Venice and apparently helped rally diplomatic efforts to get her out. Other passengers were affiliated with the Veronesi Foundation, which supports medical research, especially for women, and hosted Afghan doctors in the past.
Italy has been flying groups of Afghans out at a clip of two or more flights a day, transferring them to a plane in Kuwait and then onto Rome. The new arrivals are then tested for the coronavirus and placed in mandatory quarantine, as called for by current Italian health regulations.
Italy had one of the largest military contingents during the two-decade NATO and U.S.-led operation in Afghanistan.
BUDAPEST, Hungary — More than two dozen Hungarian nationals evacuated from Kabul arrived in Frankfurt, Germany early Thursday, and will likely be transported to Hungary later in the day, deputy foreign minister Levente Magyar told reporters.
The air evacuation of the 26 Hungarians was carried out by Hungary’s military allies with a stopover in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. The evacuees had worked as private security contractors at the Dutch embassy in Kabul before the city’s takeover by the Taliban. Magyar did not say which allies were involved in the operation.
A separate evacuation mission was launched from Hungary early Thursday, which will attempt to recover other Hungarians still in Afghanistan and some Afghan citizens who assisted Hungarian military forces, Magyar said. Not all of the Hungarian citizens awaiting evacuation have yet made it to Kabul airport, he added.
LONDON — Britain’s foreign secretary is rejecting calls to resign for not interrupting his holiday on the Greek island of Crete to make a call to help translators flee Afghanistan.
According to the Daily Mail newspaper, Dominic Raab did not call his Afghan counterpart Hanif Atmar on Friday after officials suggested he “urgently” do so in order to arrange help for those who supported British troops.
Two days later, the Taliban captured Kabul and Raab cut short his holiday and headed back to the U.K. to deal with the crisis.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told BBC radio that the suggested phone call would not have made “any difference whatsoever” given the Afghan government was “melting away quicker than ice.”
Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said on Twitter: “Who wouldn’t make a phone call if they were told it could save somebody’s life?”
Lisa Nandy, Labour’s foreign affairs spokesperson, was one of many to call for Raab’s resignation after what she described as “yet another catastrophic failure of judgment.”
On entering 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office, Raab was asked if he would resign. In response, he said “no.”
BEIRUT — An al-Qaida-linked group in Syria is congratulating the people of Afghanistan for the “dear victory” achieved by the Taliban.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or the Levant Liberation Committee, compared the Taliban’s control of much of Afghanistan with the early Muslim conquests.
The group, also known as HTS, is the most powerful faction in rebel-held parts of northwest Syria. Over the past months it has been working on improving its image by distancing itself from extremist ideology.
Some of the founding members of the group — which used to be known as the Nusra Front — include Arab commanders who were close to Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Many of them were killed in U.S. drone attacks in Syria over the past years.
In 2017, Brett McGurk, then top U.S. envoy for the coalition battling the Islamic State group, said that Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib had become the largest al-Qaida haven since Afghanistan in bin Laden’s days.
In a statement released late Wednesday, HTS said “no matter how long it takes, righteousness will end up victorious.” It added: “Occupiers don’t last on usurped lands no matter how much they harm its people.”
HTS said it hopes that insurgents in Syria will be also victorious by learning from the experience of the Taliban to remove the government of President Bashar Assad, its adversary in the country’s 10-year conflict.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — The first evacuation flight from Kabul organized by the Slovak government has landed in Slovakia.
Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok says a total of 20 passengers were onboard, 16 Slovak nationals and four Afghans among them, including a 10-month old baby. It was the full capacity of the military transport plane.
Four other Afghan nationals who were working with the Slovak armed forces were transported onboard of a Czech evacuation flight and flown to Slovakia overnight.
Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad said the members of Slovak army’s special forces had to use weapons to secure the passengers’ safe transport to the plane. He cited a deteriorating situation at the airport but declined to give details.
Prime Minister Eduard Heger says his country is coordinating further steps with allies.
WARSAW, Poland — A second airplane carrying people evacuated from Afghanistan has landed in Warsaw.
The plane landed on Thursday morning, following one that brought people late Wednesday.
Poland has deployed 100 soldiers to Afghanistan to help with the evacuations of Polish and Afghan citizens. Those evacuated are first transported to Uzbekistan by military transport and then brought to Poland on civilian airliners.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has shared images on Facebook of some of those being evacuated.
ROME — Two more Italian C130s have brought nearly 200 Afghan citizens out of Kabul, as Italy continues its evacuation of people who worked with Italian forces and their families following the Taliban takeover of the country.
The Defense Ministry said the passengers aboard the two flights were transferring Thursday to other aircraft in Kuwait, and from there would continue onto Rome.
Italy has vowed to evacuate as many Afghans as it can, particularly those who worked with Italian forces during the nearly two-decade long NATO and U.S.-led operation in the country.
With the arrival in Rome later Thursday of the latest evacuees Italy says it will have airlifted out some 500 Afghans.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s steel factories’ association is concerned scrap metal smuggling abroad has increased and exhausted supplies, putting thousands of workers at risk of losing their jobs.
Abdul Nasir Reshtia, chief executive of the association says that with borders reopening, Afghanistan’s scrap metal is being smuggled once again to neighboring countries.
Reshtia warns that in next ten days, the smuggling will push factories to close as they cannot operate without scrap metal.
Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had banned the export of scrap metal to support Afghan steel factories so they could compete with imported steel from neighboring countries.
Reshtia says that he has not been able to reach the Taliban leadership to share his concerns.
BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania’s foreign ministry says that a military aircraft has evacuated a single Romanian citizen from Kabul airport to Islamabad.
It said in a statement that “the particularly difficult security conditions in Kabul meant that the access of other groups of Romanian citizens to the airport could not be achieved.”
The C-130 Hercules aircraft, which evacuated a NATO employee on Wednesday evening, had military personnel and a mobile consular team onboard ready to provide “specialized assistance.” It is set to return to Kabul airport to continue evacuating Romanian citizens, officials said.
Authorities said that at the time of the operation there were 33 Romanian citizens registered as present in Afghanistan.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A Dutch military transport plane has arrived in Amsterdam carrying people evacuated from Kabul.
The Ministry of Defense says that a C-17 plane landed late Wednesday night at Schiphol airport. On board were 35 Dutch nationals along with citizens from Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom.
The government says it has now airlifted 50 Dutch nationals out of Kabul. A Dutch consular crisis team along with dozens of troops to protect the personnel flew into the Afghan capital on Wednesday.
BRUSSELS — The European Union said Thursday that 106 staff members of EU delegations and their families had safely left Afghanistan but said that some 300 still remained behind.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Thursday that the first plane with EU staff had landed in Madrid, from where they will be relocated among the 27 EU member states.
“There are still 300 more Afghani staff of European Union delegations blocked on the streets of Kabul trying to reach the airport and trying to have a seat on some of the European Union member state flights,” Borrell told a EU parliament committee.
He insisted that “these people have loyally promoted and defended the union’s interests and values in Afghanistan over many years,” adding that it was the EU’s “moral duty to protect them and to have to save as many people as possible.”
MADRID — Spain has evacuated 53 people from Afghanistan on its first flight to airlift Spanish citizens and Afghan workers and their families from Kabul.
The military cargo plane landed at an airport near Madrid on Thursday morning with five Spaniards and 48 Afghans on board. An unspecified number of children were included.
Spain has two more planes prepared to continue with the evacuation of Afghan workers and their families.
All the passengers received a COVID-19 test on arrival and were attended by police so that they could ask for “international protection,” the government said in a statement.
The airport also received a flight from the European Union External Action service with five Afghan families on board. Spain’s government has offered to take in additional evacuees from EU partners and care for them until they can be distributed to other countries of the bloc.
“We are still working to evacuate those Afghans who worked with Spain in the quickest manner possible and guarantee their security along with those people who have worked with the EU,” said Spanish Foreign Minister José Albares.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark says that a plane with 84 people who had been evacuated from Afghanistan has landed in Copenhagen and were now on “safe ground in Denmark.”
On Twitter, Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod wrote Thursday that the evacuation “is still in full swing and we are working hard to evacuate the last local staff, interpreters and other groups from Kabul.”
Danish media said that those aboard the plane reportedly were locally hired people and interpreters who had worked for Denmark. No further details were available.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s president has approved the deployment of a 100-person military contingent to Afghanistan to help secure the evacuation of Polish citizens and the citizens of other countries in coordination with allies.
President Andrzej Duda signed the order late Wednesday for the mission, and which is to last until Sept. 16.
Meanwhile, a first plane carrying a group of people who were evacuated from Afghanistan landed at Warsaw’s military airport late Wednesday, said Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak. The group was first taken from Kabul by military plane to Uzbekistan and from there was transported on to Warsaw.
Since Tuesday, Polish forces have been carrying out an operation to evacuate Poles and Afghans who previously cooperated with the Polish military or diplomatic mission or who helped otherwise with western groups.
Those who arrived in Warsaw will have to go into quarantine.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has suspended all arms sales to the government of Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover of the country.
In a notice to defense contractors posted Wednesday, the State Department’s Political/Military Affairs Bureau said pending or undelivered arms transfers to Afghanistan had been put under review.
“In light of rapidly evolving circumstances in Afghanistan, the Directorate of Defense Sales Controls is reviewing all pending and issued export licenses and other approvals to determine their suitability in furthering world peace, national security and the foreign policy of the United States,” it said.
The notice said it would issue updates for defense equipment exporters in the coming days.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden says he’s committed to keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan until every American is evacuated, even if that means maintaining a military presence there beyond his Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawal.
In an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on Wednesday, Biden said that the U.S. will do “everything in our power” to get Americans and U.S. allies in the nation out before the deadline. Pressed repeatedly on how the administration would help Americans left in the nation after Aug. 31, Biden finally affirmed, “if there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay till we get them all out.”
Up to 15,000 Americans remain in Afghanistan after the Taliban took full control of the nation. The Biden administration has received criticism for the scenes of violence and disorder in recent days as thousands attempted to flee while the Taliban advanced.
But during the same interview, Biden suggested there wasn’t anything the administration could’ve done to avoid such chaos. “The idea that somehow, there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens,” he said.
WASHINGTON — The International Monetary Fund says that the new Taliban government in Afghanistan will not at the current time be allowed to access loans or other resources from the 190-nation lending organization.
In a statement Wednesday, the IMF said it would be guided by the views of the international community.
The statement said, “There is currently a lack of clarity within the international community regarding recognition of a government in Afghanistan, as a consequence of which the country cannot access SDRs or other IMF resources.”
SDRs are special drawing rights which serve as a reserve that IMF member countries can tap into to meet payment obligations.