More than a week after the Taliban's lightning capture of Kabul, American troops are still pushing ahead with an ill-prepared military pullout and a poorly-handled evacuation plan, just as the Taliban warned against prolonging the withdrawal beyond the August 31 deadline.
While the US is weighing its options as to whether or not to stay in Afghanistan beyond the deadline to oversee the evacuations, the Taliban stressed that next week's cut-off date is a "red line".
"If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations -- the answer is no... there would be consequences," the militant group’s spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Sky News on Monday, adding that any foreign military presence beyond the agreed deadline would be "extending occupation".
The Taliban took the Afghan capital, Kabul, on August 15, forcing the sitting Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, to flee.
The unfolding events have given rise to an immensely chaotic situation in and around the Kabul airport, with thousands of Afghan civilians and foreign nationals flooding the gates of the facility to take flights out of the country.
The confusingly risky situation at the airport was brought under the spotlight on Monday when an Afghan guard was killed and three others wounded in a firefight that involved Afghan security forces and unknown attackers. According to Germany's military, American and German troops were also involved in the firefight.
CNN however reported that Germans and “possibly” US Marines had been involved in a “friendly fire incident” after an unknown sniper opened fire on the Afghans.
A NATO diplomat told Reuters on Tuesday that evacuations were being conducted on a “war footing” as foreign forces tried to meet the deadline.
The White House said some 10,900 people had been airlifted from Kabul during 12 hours on Monday.
The United States has facilitated the evacuation of 48,000 people since August 14.
A administration official told Reuters on Monday that US President Joe Biden would decide on Tuesday whether to extend the deadline.
Beyond the need to evacuate thousands of Americans, citizens of allied countries and Afghans who helped the US military during the war, US Department of Defense officials said it would still take days to fly out the 6,000 troops deployed to assist in the evacuations.
Democratic US Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, ruled out that the possibility of the evacuation being completed in the eight remaining days.
“I think it’s very unlikely given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated,” Schiff said on Monday.
France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Monday expressed his country’s concern about the August 31 deadline set by the US, saying “More time is needed to complete the current operations.”
According to the French foreign ministry, France has evacuated more than 1,000 Afghans through Abu Dhabi where Paris has a military base.
Germany also said it was in talks with NATO allies and the Taliban to keep Kabul's airport open for evacuations beyond the deadline.
G7 to discuss Afghan deadline, Taliban recognition
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson would raise the issue of a longer presence at a virtual summit of the leaders of the Group of Seven countries on Tuesday.
The United Kingdom, which has over 1,000 armed forces personnel deployed in Kabul, said late on Monday that it has evacuated 7,109 people from Afghanistan since August 13.
However, Wallace told Sky News on Tuesday that he was doubtful there would be an extension "not only because of what the Taliban has said but also if you look at the public statements of President Biden, I think it is unlikely."
He stressed that "it is definitely worth us all trying and we will."
The leaders of the United States, Britain, Italy, France, Germany, Canada, and Japan will also discuss whether to recognize or sanction a Taliban government to push the movement to comply with promises to respect women’s rights and international relations at the G7 summit.
“The G7 leaders will agree to coordinate on if, or when to recognize the Taliban,” said one European diplomat, adding, “And they will commit to continue to work closely together.”
The Taliban are currently working on forming a government, but two sources within the group told AFP there would be no announcement on a cabinet until the last US soldier has left the South Asian country.
The Taliban have pledged to quash the local fighters mobilizing in Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, which remains the lone territory in Afghanistan that has resisted the Taliban takeover.