KABUL: Western nations rushed to evacuate people from Afghanistan on Wednesday with less than a week left until all foreign troops leave, acknowledging that many Afghans who helped them will be left behind to an uncertain fate under the Taliban.
Although the airlift is due to last until Tuesday, the United States military said it will shift its focus in the final two days from assisting fleeing civilians to evacuating its own troops.
President Joe Biden has ordered all troops out by the end of the month, spurning pleas from European allies for more time to get people who helped NATO countries in 20 years of war to safety.
In 10 days since the Taliban swept into Kabul, the United States and its allies have mounted one of the biggest air evacuations ever, bringing out more than 88,000 people, including 19,000 in the last 24 hours. The U.S. military says planes are taking off the equivalent of every 39 minutes.
Biden, implementing a withdrawal negotiated by his predecessor Donald Trump, said U.S. troops in Afghanistan faced mounting danger if they stayed.
“The sooner we can finish, the better,” Biden said. “Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops.”
Aid agencies warned of an impending humanitarian crisis for those left behind.
The Taliban have said foreign troops must be out by the end of the month. They have encouraged Afghans to stay, while saying those with permission to leave will still be allowed to do so once commercial flights resume after the foreign troops go.
Several of Washington’s European allies have acknowledged that they no longer have time to rescue all of the many thousands of Afghans who helped their forces and their diplomatic and aid efforts during two decades of war. British foreign minister Dominic Raab said the deadline for evacuating people was up to the last minute of the month. France said it would push on with evacuations as long as possible but it was likely to end them in the coming hours or days. Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would try to help Afghans even after the deadline expires.
“The end of the air bridge in a few days must not mean the end of efforts to protect Afghan helpers and help those Afghans who have been left in a bigger emergency with the takeover of the Taliban,” she told the German parliament.
The Netherlands said it was all but certain that many people eligible for asylum would not be taken out in time.