The White House says the Taliban has pledged to allow civilians safe passage out of Afghanistan

By Cheryl Teh

The Taliban has agreed to allow safe passage for civilians who want to leave Afghanistan, said the White House on Tuesday.

The agreement was negotiated by Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of the US troops in Kabul, who met on Sunday with Taliban senior leaders in Doha, Qatar. McKenzie said in a statement on August 17 that the airfield in Kabul is currently secure, and is open to civilian air traffic. 

"I saw firsthand our defensive lay down and the work our forces are doing to efficiently operate the airfield while ensuring the safe movement of civilians and diplomats who are leaving Kabul," McKenzie said. 

"In meetings with Taliban senior leaders in Doha on Sunday, I cautioned them against interference in our evacuation, and made it clear to them that any attack would be met with overwhelming force in the defense of our forces," he added.

McKenzie added that his forces are "prepared to fully support US Embassy efforts to process and evacuate US citizens, partners, special visa applicants, and Afghans at risk." 

The AP reported that US airlifts are back on track, but White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan did not outline a timetable for when the evacuation of US citizens, Afghan allies, and refugees would be complete. 

Sullivan during his press briefing on August 17 acknowledged that there were incidents where civilians were "being turned away or pushed back or even beaten" while they were on the way to the airport.

"The Taliban have informed us that they are prepared to provide the safe passage of civilians to the airport, and we intend to hold them to that commitment," Sullivan said. 

In response to questions from journalists on whether there is a deadline for people to leave the country, Sullivan said he believes that evacuations can "go till August 31." 

"We are talking to (the Taliban) about what the exact timetable is for how this will all play out," he said. 

He added that US officials are speaking to the Taliban "hour by hour" to ensure civilians can leave the country. 

Army Maj. Gen. William Taylor said on August 18 during a Pentagon briefing that the US commanders stationed in Kabul are aiming to have one flight out of Afghanistan departing every hour, per Reuters. This is to build up to an eventual goal of moving 5,000 to 9,000 people out of Afghanistan daily, per Bloomberg

Harrowing photos and videos have emerged in the wake of the Taliban's takeover. People swarmed the airport tarmac at Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport, scaling a jet bridge and clinging onto the sides of a US Air Force plane while it taxied down the runway.

The US military has also confirmed that human remains were found in the wheel well of a C-17 military plane that was seen being swarmed at the airport. Other videos appeared to show people falling from airborne planes to their deaths.