Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan. File photo
Western countries worked at a "war-footing pace" on Tuesday to get people out of Afghanistan, a NATO country diplomat said, as US President Joe Biden looked set to come under pressure from other G7 leaders to seek more time to complete the airlift.
Widespread chaos punctuated by sporadic violence has gripped Kabul's airport, with Western troops and Afghan security guards driving back crowds desperate to flee following the Taliban's take over of the Afghan capital on Aug. 15.
Twenty-eight US military flights ferried about 10,400 people to safety out of Taliban-held Afghanistan over 24 hours that ended early on Monday morning. Evacuations were being conducted on a "war footing" as foreign forces try to meet the deadline.
US President Joe Biden has faced criticism over his handling of the withdrawal of US forces and the chaotic evacuation after the lightning takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban.
Widespread chaos punctuated by sporadic violence has gripped Kabul's airport since the Taliban took over the Afghan capital on Aug. 15, with Western and Afghan forces driving back crowds desperate to flee.
The chief Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby, said the faster pace of evacuation was due in part to coordination with Taliban commanders on getting evacuees into the airport.
A US Air Force C-17 carries some 640 Afghan evacuees from Kabul, Afghanistan. File/Reuters
"Thus far, and going forward, it does require constant coordination and deconfliction with the Taliban,” Kirby said. "What we've seen is, this deconfliction has worked well in terms of allowing access and flow as well as reducing the overall size of the crowds just outside the airport.”
A Taliban official said foreign forces had not sought an extension and it would not be granted if they had. Washington said negotiations were continuing.
The Taliban, who ended two decades of war with an astonishingly swift rout of government forces, had been publicly tolerant of the evacuation effort.
Spaniards and Afghans queue to board the first Spanish Air Force Airbus A400M at the Kabul airport. File/AFP
But on Monday they described next week's cut-off date as a "red line".
"If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations -- the answer is no... there would be consequences," spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Sky News on Monday.
He said any foreign military presence beyond the agreed deadline would be "extending occupation".
These were not conventional passengers, as none of them appeared to be carrying any baggage, having abandoned all their belongings while fleeing the dreaded Taliban.
Roads leading to Kabul airport were choked with traffic, while families hoping for a miracle escape crowded between the barbed-wire surrounds of an unofficial no man's land separating the Taliban from US troops.
Stakes are high for the talks which follow a week of US-Taliban negotiations with both sides eyeing a resolution to the bloody 18-year conflict.
The ministry stressed in a statement its aim to continue expanding the scope of testing nationwide to facilitate the early detection of coronavirus cases and carry out the necessary treatment.
Janneke Parrish, an Apple program manager, said the iPhone maker informed her that she had been terminated for deleting material on company equipment while she was under investigation.
The country's jab drive at a standstill and few restrictions in place as new COVID-19 cases also hit record high at 33,208, the Russian coronavirus task force said, bringing the official total case tally to 7,958,384.