The US is struggling to pick up the pace of US and Afghan evacuations at Kabul airport, constrained by obstacles ranging from armed Taliban checkpoints to paperwork problems.
With an Aug. 31 deadline looming, tens of thousands on Thursday remained to be airlifted from the chaotic country.
Taliban fighters and their checkpoints ringed the airport — major barriers for Afghans who fear that their past work with Westerners makes them prime targets for retribution. Hundreds of Afghans who lacked any papers or clearance for evacuation also congregated outside the airport, adding to the chaos that has prevented even some Afghans who do have papers and promises of flights from getting through.
It did not help that many of the Taliban fighters could not read the documents.
In a hopeful sign, US Department of State spokesman Ned Price said in Washington that 6,000 people were cleared for evacuation and were expected to board military flights.
That would mark a major increase from the past few days.
About 2,000 passengers were flown out on each of the past two days, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
Kirby said that the military has aircraft available to evacuate 5,000 to 9,000 people per day, but until Thursday, far fewer designated evacuees had been able to reach, and then enter, the airport.
Kirby told reporters that the limiting factor has been available evacuees, not aircraft, adding that efforts were under way to speed processing, including adding State Department consular officers to verify paperwork of Americans and Afghans who managed to get to the airport.
Additional entry gates had been opened, he said.
US President Joe Biden on Wednesday said that he would ensure no American was left behind, even if that meant staying beyond August, an arbitrary deadline that he set weeks before the Taliban climaxed a stunning military victory by taking Kabul last week.
It was not clear if Biden might consider extending the deadline for evacuees who are not US citizens.
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