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Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says that all requests made by Afghan citizens who had previously worked as allies for France would be considered for evacuation, but that the list was getting longer by the day. He called on the United States to reinforce their presence at Kabul airport to facilitate the departure of those most in need.
Jean-Yves Le Drian told the weekly newspaper Journal de Dimanche that "hundreds of names" had been added to the list of those wishing to flee Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover last week, and that "all requests would be considered in due course."
Since the creation of an "air bridge" since last Sunday (via the base in Abu Dhabi), the French airforce has already transported more than 600 people on five flights, most of them Afghan nationals.
This is on top of a further 625 people who were transferred between May and July in anticipation of the takeover.
Organising a rotation of departures has been a momentous effort, Le Drian says, made "extremely difficult by the current chaos in the country" and in particular the tense situation at Kabul airport, where the embassy has been inundated with requests from people who say their lives are in danger because they have worked for French structures or civil society groups.
"Our problem is getting access to the airport," he explains, "with Taliban checkpoints, and the entryway blocked by hundreds of people pressing their way to get in."
The British defence ministry reported on Sunday that seven people had been crushed to death as crowds desperately tried to access the airport.
"In these conditions, while the airport remains open and while our personnel are safe, we'll stay on. It's our collective moral responsibility to make sure that any Afghan citizen under threat due to their past alliances be evacuated," he stressed.
Most difficult airlift in history
He called on the United States, which is in control of the airport, to maintain their operations there.
"I've asked them to face up to their responsibilities, and facilitate the evacuations for all foreigners and their Afghan colleagues, and by the same token, any citizen whose life is under threat."
"I have insisted that the coordination with allied partners must be more efficient and reinforced, and that means staying on for as long as it takes."
On the diplomatic front, Le Drian reiterated that only once the Taliban had met certain conditions would they have any chance of being recognized on an international level, otherwise they risked becoming a pariah state.
Meanwhile the United States has set a deadline to complete the evacuations by 31 August.
US President Joe Biden has described the evacuation operations as "one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history".
There are up to 15,000 Americans and 50,000 to 60,000 Afghan allies who need to be evacuated, according to the Biden administration.
New unspecified threat
The situation was further complicated on Saturday when the US government warned its citizens to stay away from the airport because of "security threats".
No specific reason was given, but a White House official later said Biden had been briefed on "counter terrorism" threats, including the Islamic State group.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell gave a bleak assessment of whether the airlifts would succeed.
"They want to evacuate 60,000 people between now and the end of this month. It's mathematically impossible," European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told AFP.
Borrell added that "we have complained" to the Americans that their airport security was overly strict and hampering attempts by Afghans who worked for the Europeans to enter.
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the UK newspaper Mail on Sunday that "no nation will be able to get everyone out" before the US deadline of August 31.
"Perhaps the Americans will be permitted to stay longer and they will have our complete support if they do," he said.