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UPDATE 1-U.S. says it expects Taliban to allow Afghans to evacuate safely

·2 min read

(Adds quotes, background)

WASHINGTON, Aug 18 (Reuters) - A top U.S. diplomat said on Wednesday the United States expects the Taliban to allow Afghans who wish to leave Afghanistan to depart safely, following reports that the group now in control of the country was blocking airport access.

The evacuation of thousands of U.S. diplomatic personnel and civilians as well as Afghan citizens who worked with the U.S. government has become more difficult since the Taliban seized power over the past week.

President Joe Biden, who has received criticism at home and abroad for the way the United States has ended its 20-year war in Afghanistan, has been forced to send U.S. troop reinforcements to help with the evacuations.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told reporters at a news briefing that U.S. military flights had evacuated about 2,000 more people in the past 24 hours, but that the Taliban appeared to be hampering its efforts.

"We have seen reports that the Taliban, contrary to their public statements and their commitments to our government, are blocking Afghans who wish to leave the country from reaching the airport," Sherman said.

U.S. officials were engaging directly with the Taliban "to make clear that we expect them to allow all American citizens, all third-country nationals, and all Afghans who wish to leave to do so safely and without harassment," she said.

Sherman said the United States would double the number of consular officers on the ground in Kabul by Friday, with the goal of getting as many people who might be subject to Taliban reprisals out of the country as safely as possible.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis, Daphne Psaledakis and Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Michael Martina; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Peter Cooney)