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Will US commercial airlines help with Afghanistan evacuation efforts?

A rarely used federal order has ordered the use of commercial airliners to help evacuate people from Kabul as the August 31 deadline looms.

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Will US commercial airlines help with Afghanistan evacuation efforts?
US marines via REUTERS

For only the third time in history, the Biden administration ordered commercial airlines to assist with the evacuation of Americans and Afghans from Afghanistan. The speed of it has increased in recent days, but there are still thousands of people needing to be flown out of Kabul before the deadline of August 31. There are still big questions marks over what will happen after that and the Taliban have said they will not tolerate a US extension, which has yet to be ruled out.

How many people have been evacuated so far?

Since 14 August, 37,000 have been taken from the Kabul airport, said US Army Major General Hank Taylor. The US has evacuated 16,000 Afghan people in just the past 24 hours alone, but they still want the pace to increase.

"We’re taking this day by day. We’d like to see the numbers rise, but we’re taking it day by day," said military spokesman John Kirby.

Will they be flying in to Kabul?

The commercial airlines will not be needed for direct flights into Kabul and will be focused upon moving rescued people out of other countries. Several countries said to the US that they would be able to assist, such as Albania, North Macedonia and Uganda. President Biden said a series of "processing stations" had been established.

"These civil reserve flights will help facilitate the safe transport [of evacuees] to third countries," Mr Biden said on Sunday. "None will be landing in Kabul."

"We will welcome these Afghans who have helped America to their new homes because that's who we are," Mr Biden added.

U.S. Marines provide assistance at an Evacuation Control Checkpoint (ECC) during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, August 22, 2021.

What will happen after August 31?

US allies have been pushing Biden to extend the evacuation operation beyond the deadline in order to make sure everyone is out.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters that discussions had begun between Germany, the US, Turkey and the Taliban with the aim of "facilitating a civil operation of Kabul airport to enable the evacuation of people beyond August 31".

Britain said their evacuation can only go ahead if US forces remained to defend the airport. The window is closing and there are still many thousands of Americans and Afghans who need to be evacuated.

However, Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, told CNN’s State of the Union “several thousand Americans” were still in Afghanistan.

How have the Taliban reacted?

The Taliban are adamant that there will be no extension beyond August 31. A spokesperson for the Taliban, Suhail Shaheen, said the deadline for withdrawal of US troops is a "red line".

"If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations, the answer is no," Suhail Shaheen told Sky News. He went on to say that there will be "consequences" if the deadline for withdrawal is extended.