U.S. Estimates Over 82K People Evacuated from Afghanistan, Other Countries Ending Flights

The White House estimated that the U.S. has evacuated about 82,300 people from Afghanistan since the Taliban began reclaiming control of the country in mid-August, the Associated Press reported.

As the U.S. seeks to complete evacuations by the August 31 deadline, other countries have ended their evacuation efforts.

Despite the White House announcement on Wednesday that it had evacuated about 19,000 people from Afghanistan in a 24-hour period, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said up to 1,500 Americans might still be seeking evacuation. The State Department assessed that when the evacuation campaign commenced on August 14, around 6,000 Americans in Afghanistan were looking to be transported out.

President Joe Biden declined to extend the August 31 deadline for the completion of evacuation and the U.S. withdrawal. Poland and Belgium are among the countries that have halted evacuations, but other European countries assisting the effort pledged on Wednesday to continue transporting people out of Afghanistan as long as possible.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Afghan Evacuees Arrive in Belgium
Poland and Belgium are among the countries that have ended evacuation efforts from Afghanistan as the August 31 deadline for U.S. withdrawal looms. Above, people disembark from a chartered plane and board waiting busses, after being evacuated from Afghanistan, during arrival at Melsbroek Military Airport in Melsbroek, Belgium, on August 25, 2021. Olivier Matthys/AP Photo

European allies pressed for more time but, as a practical matter, will need to end their evacuations before the last American troops leave. Several countries have not said when they plan to end their operations, perhaps hoping to avoid yet another fatal crush at an airport, one of the last ways out of the country.

The Taliban wrested back control of Afghanistan nearly 20 years after they were ousted in a U.S.-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks, which Al-Qaeda orchestrated while being sheltered by the group. Their return to power has pushed many Afghans to flee, fearing reprisals and a possible return to their brutal rule.

It's not clear if the thousands of people still thought to be trying to leave will succeed. But any decision by Biden to stay longer could reignite fighting between the Taliban and Western troops running the airlift.

Late Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy warned U.S. citizens at three airport gates to leave immediately due to an unspecified security threat. Australia, Britain and New Zealand also advised their citizens Thursday morning not to go to the airport, where there was a "very high threat of a terrorist attack."

Australia has helped evacuate around 4,000 people, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison noted the increasingly dangerous situation. "That danger and those risks have been increasing each and every day as we always knew they would, and that's why we've been moving with the haste that we have," he added.

The Taliban said they would allow normal commercial air traffic to resume when they assume control of the airport after August 31, but it's unclear whether airlines would be willing to fly into an airport controlled by the militants.

With the deadline looming, Marcin Przydacz, a Polish deputy foreign minister, said Poland had evacuated its last group. "We cannot risk the lives of our diplomats and of our soldiers any longer," Przydacz said.

A number of troops will remain briefly to wrap up operations, Przydacz said. Poland has used over a dozen planes to bring hundreds of evacuees to Warsaw. Some later traveled on to other countries.

Hours later, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said his country ended its evacuation flights carrying people from Kabul to Pakistan. "Belgium will continue to repatriate to our country those people evacuated" in the days ahead, De Croo said. More than 1,100 people have been flown to Belgium.

The Czech Republic declared its own evacuation mission complete last week, and Hungary said it plans to end its operations soon.

"Due to extreme tension on the ground...and the scheduled departure of American forces, these evacuations are a true race against time," French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Wednesday. He said that his country's evacuation would likely end "a few hours, maybe a few days ahead" of the American departure.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the military will "continue to evacuate needed populations all the way to the end." But he added that in the final days and hours there will have to be a balance as the 5,400 troops in Kabul and critical systems also need to be withdrawn.

In Kabul itself, life has been slow to return to normal, but many people—especially women—are staying inside, fearful of the Taliban or the general instability.

Kabul Mayor Dawood Sultanzoy said many city workers have yet to return to work, with the absence of experienced staff hindering normal operations. But he said the city has begun to remove the blast walls that became ubiquitous in recent years as the Taliban and other armed groups carried out bombings and other attacks against the Western-backed government.

The Taliban say the decades of war are over and there will be no revenge attacks on people who opposed them. But there have been reports of summary executions and other abuses, and many Afghans fear a return to the Taliban's hardline Islamic rule of the 1990s, when women were largely confined to their homes.

Chaos at the Kabul airport has transfixed the world after the Taliban captured most of Afghanistan in a matter of days this month. Afghans poured onto the tarmac last week, and some clung to a U.S. military transport plane as it took off, later plunging to their deaths. At least seven people died that day, and another seven died Sunday in a panicked stampede.

Thousands have thronged the airport in the days since, and the U.S. and its allies have worked to speed the evacuation, sometimes flying people out before their paperwork is fully processed and bringing them to transit points. On Wednesday, 51 people landed in Uganda, the first African nation to serve as a transit point.

For now, the U.S. military coordinates all air traffic in and out of the Kabul airport. Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted that "people with legal documents" will be able to fly out of Kabul airport via commercial flights after the August deadline.

On Wednesday, a stream of military planes took off from the airfield as evacuees lined up on the tarmac. The desperate remained outside, some standing knee-deep in sewage and waving identity documents at Western soldiers in hopes of being allowed to go beyond the barbed wire fencing and onto a flight out.

While the final withdrawal date just under a week away, analyst Patricia Lewis said the practical deadline for the evacuations to stop was "the next couple of days."

"There's a huge amount of stuff that has to be done, including getting all the people out who are doing the job and all the equipment," said Lewis, who is the director of the international security program at Chatham House, an international think tank.

"All of the allies are highly dependent on the U.S. for military cover, particularly air cover," Lewis said. "They can't put their own people at risk, so it really depends on when the U.S. starts packing up."

Afghans Wait to Be Eavcuated
The White House estimated that the U.S. has evacuated about 82,300 people from Afghanistan since the Taliban began reclaiming control of the country in mid-August. Above, hundreds of people gather near an evacuation control checkpoint outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 25, 2021. AP Photo