New flight carrying at-risk Afghans arriving in U.S. later on Monday

U.S. citizens and their families board a departure flight on their way to the United States as part of Operations Allies Refuge, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, August 23, 2021. Airman Edgar Grimaldo/U.S. Air Force/Handout via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A new flight carrying evacuated at-risk Afghans will arrive in the United States later on Monday from Ramstein air base in Germany, a senior State Department official said, adding that the pace of flights will ramp up from transit hubs temporarily housing those evacuated from Kabul.

Speaking at a briefing with reporters, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were currently eight transit hubs across six countries that were hosting more than 17,000 people.

“The transit hubs that we have arranged in Germany, Italy and Spain will have the combined capacity to process approximately 15,000 people on a rolling basis, which in turn will enable us to keep evacuating people continuously from Kabul,” the official said.

“Today the first onward flight of SIV applicants took off from Germany to the United States and we expect those to continue to ramp up,” the official added, in reference to the Special Immigrant Visa, designed for issuing visas to people who worked with the U.S. military.

The Taliban seized power just over a week ago as the United States and its allies were withdrawing troops after a 20-year war launched in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States by al Qaeda militants in 2001.

Panicked Afghans and foreigners have thronged the airport for days, clamoring to catch a flight out before the U.S.-led forces complete their pullout by the end of the month.

The official said the U.S. commitment to at-risk Afghans would not end on Aug. 31, but did not elaborate on how Washington could continue its efforts to airlift people if it withdraws completely from the country.

U.S. President Joe Biden has said that the United States expects to evacuate between 50,000 and 65,000 people from Afghanistan. That is fewer than the number eligible for safe harbor, according to estimates by advocates.

The official also dismissed reports that only Americans were able to get through to Kabul airport and that others had been blocked.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Simon Lewis and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by David Holmes)

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