Exclusive-U.S. set to expand evacuation from Kabul to Europe- officials

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States is expected to announce that countries in Europe and the Middle East have agreed to temporarily shelter people evacuated from Kabul, U.S. officials told Reuters on Friday, as its base in Qatar has reached capacity.

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. Marine assigned to 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit checks in evacuees before their flight during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, August 18, 2021. U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Nicholas Guevara/Handout via REUTERS

The United States is desperately trying to evacuate thousands of people from Afghanistan as reports of Taliban reprisals against Afghans who worked with U.S.-led forces increase, forcing foreign powers to accelerate the evacuation effort.

But officials said no evacuation flights left Kabul for several hours on Friday because they had nowhere to go due an overflow at Al Udeid air base in Qatar, home to U.S. Central Command and already sheltering 8,000 Afghan evacuees.

A senior administration official said the U.S. commander on the ground has ordered a restart.

Another official said it was likely that some flights would still go to Doha, drop off some evacuees, and then continue to other locations.

It is unclear when a formal announcement will be made.

More than 18,000 people have been flown out here since the Taliban militants took the capital Kabul, according to transatlantic alliance NATO.

The U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the expected State Department announcement could include more destinations such as Bahrain, but Europe had been chosen because it was logistically easier than other parts of the world.

One of the officials said the flights would likely be to western and southern Europe.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement that Berlin had agreed with Washington to shelter people temporarily at Ramstein Air Base. It was not immediately clear which other European countries would be involved.

The U.S. State Department declined to comment but said it is “grateful to all of our partners who are playing a role in this effort.”

Washington is racing to get people out ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline when its forces are supposed to depart Afghanistan. President Joe Biden said earlier this week that U.S. troops providing security for the evacuation could stay longer if necessary.

One of the main hurdles for people looking to leave Afghanistan continues to be the perilous journey to Kabul airport. The United States has so far been unable to ensure safe passage to U.S. citizens or others, although it has said it had gotten assurances from the Taliban that they won’t block people from getting there.

But reports from the ground suggested otherwise. Thousands of Afghans clutching papers, children and some belongings still thronged the airport where gun-toting Taliban fighters ordered those without travel documents to go home. In and around the airport, 12 people have been killed since Sunday, NATO and Taliban officials said.

People familiar with the situation at Al Udeid in Qatar reported deteriorating conditions at the base, with Afghan evacuees crowded into a hangar with no air conditioning, few toilets and little food and water.

One source said U.S. officials were increasingly concerned about looming logistical problems there because “they currently don’t have sufficient food” for more arrivals.

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