By Idrees Ali and David Brunnstrom
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. military will continue evacuating people from Kabul airport until an Aug. 31 deadline if needed, but will prioritize the removal of U.S. troops and military equipment on the last couple of days, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.
There are about 5,400 troops at the airport, a number that President Joe Biden says is set to go down to zero by the end of the month, depending on cooperation from the Taliban.
Army Major General William Taylor, with the U.S. military’s Joint Staff, told a news briefing more than 10,000 people were at Kabul airport waiting to be evacuated from Afghanistan.
He said that in the previous 24 hours, 90 U.S. military and other international flights had evacuated 19,000 more people, bringing the total evacuation number so far to about 88,000. He said one plane had departed every 39 minutes.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that a total of 4,400 American nationals had so far been evacuated from Kabul, but that he did not know how many were still there. Over the weekend, the number stood at about 2,500.
“If you’re an evacuee that we can get out, we’re going to continue to get you out right up until the end… But in the last couple of days … we will begin to prioritize military capabilities and military resources to move out,” Kirby said.
In addition to American citizens, both at-risk Afghans and people from such other countries as Canada and Germany have been evacuated over the past 11 days.
Representatives Seth Moulton, a Democrat, and Peter Meijer, a Republican, both of whom served in the Iraq war before running for Congress, said in a statement on Tuesday that they went to Kabul to gather information as part of Congress’ oversight role.
Kirby said the two members of the U.S. House of Representatives who traveled to Afghanistan on Tuesday had taken up scarce resources.
“They certainly took time away from what we had been planning to do that day,” he added.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and David Brunnstrom; Edited by Howard Goller)