With thousands of desperate Afghans and foreigners crowding into Kabul airport in the hope of fleeing Afghanistan's new Taliban rulers, U.S. officials said on Monday they were scrambling to figure out how to extend a looming Aug. 31 deadline to airlift Americans and their allies to safety.
Britain and France were among those calling for the deadline to be eased. But a Taliban official said foreign forces had not sought an extension and it would not be granted if they had.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States was in daily talks with the Taliban and was making "enormous progress" in evacuating Americans and others.
'We are engaging with the Taliban, consulting with the Taliban on every aspect of what's happening in Kabul right now - on what's happening at the airport, on how we need to ensure that there is facilitated passage to the airport for American citizens, SIVs, third country nationals and so forth. We'll continue those conversations with them. Ultimately, it will be the President's decision how this proceeds. No one else's."
Despite Sullivan's optimistic comments, U.S. officials told Reuters that almost everything would have to go perfectly to extricate every American citizen by August 31.
The officials said there was concern about U.S. citizens reaching the airport, terrorist attacks and complicated processing times. The difficulties at the airport were underlined on Monday morning when a firefight erupted between Afghan guards and unidentified gunmen. One member of the Afghan forces was killed and several wounded in the clash.