By Sabine Siebold and John Chalmers
BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Several NATO countries pressed on Friday for evacuations from Kabul to continue beyond the current U.S. deadline of Aug. 31 because so many people seeking safe passage following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan are stuck outside the airport.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg described the situation outside Kabul airport as “very dire and difficult”. Thousands of foreign nationals and people who may be under threat from the Taliban are desperately trying to get into the airport.
“The U.S. has stated that the timeline ends on Aug. 31, but several of our allies raised … the need to potentially extend that to be able to get more people out,” he said after an emergency meeting of NATO foreign ministers.
Although the deadline for the withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops who are crucial for securing Kabul airport is Aug. 31, President Joe Biden said this week that they may stay longer to facilitate the evacuation of Americans.
More than 18,000 people have been flown out of Kabul since the Taliban took over the capital on Sunday, according to a NATO official.
Stoltenberg said that many of the 30 NATO nations had sent planes to evacuate vulnerable people, but there was more capacity on those aircraft than there were people ready to board them because of the chaos outside the airport.
He again urged the Taliban to allow the safe passage of all foreign nationals and Afghans seeking to leave.
The foreign ministers warned the Taliban not to let Afghanistan become a breeding ground for terrorism. The Islamist group was ousted from power in 2001 after a U.S.-led invasion launched following the Sept. 11 al Qaeda attacks on the United States.
“For the last 20 years, we have successfully denied terrorists a safe haven in Afghanistan from which to instigate attacks,” the ministers said in a statement after their virtual meeting.
Stoltenberg said earlier this week NATO had “capabilities to strike terrorist groups from a distance” if militant groups try to re-establish themselves in Afghanistan and plan attacks against allied countries.
After almost two decades, NATO this summer completed military operations in Afghanistan and withdrew most troops from the country following Biden’s decision to end the war.
The alliance still has a diplomatic representation in Kabul. Headquartered in Brussels, it also serves as a forum to coordinate national measures in Afghanistan, such as the evacuation of citizens.
(Additional reporting by Marine StraussEditing by Frances Kerry)