US President Joe Biden has said US troops may stay in Afghanistan beyond his withdrawal deadline, as armed Taliban fighters kept desperate evacuees from reaching Kabul’s airport.
Mr. Biden wants US forces out by the end of this month, but up to 15,000 US citizens are stranded in the country.
The US president told ABC News the turmoil in Kabul was unavoidable.
Foreign governments are ramping up the airlift of Western citizens and Afghans who worked with them.
About 4,500 US troops are in temporary control of Karzai International Airport in the nation’s capital, but Taliban fighters and checkpoints ring the perimeter.
The Taliban are blocking Afghans without travel documents – but even those with valid authorization have struggled.
One Afghan interpreter was reportedly shot in the leg by the Taliban as he tried to reach the airport on Tuesday night for an Australian military evacuation flight.
Photos published by SBS showed the man being treated for the gunshot wound by a doctor.
Some US nationals told the BBC’s US partner CBS News they were also unable to enter for scheduled evacuation flights.
In a press conference earlier on Wednesday, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin was asked if the American military had the capability to rescue the stranded Americans.
“We don’t have the capability to go out and collect large numbers of people,” he replied.
Mr. Biden, a Democrat, told ABC the US would stay to get all Americans out of Afghanistan, even if it meant remaining beyond the 31 August deadline for a complete withdrawal.
“If there are American citizens left, we’re gonna stay to get them all out,” he said.
The US president said between 10,000 and 15,000 Americans needed to be evacuated, along with 50,000 to 65,000 Afghans such as former translators for the American military.
Almost 6,000 people have been extracted so far. A Western official told Reuters news agency they were diplomats, security staff, aid workers, and Afghans. The Pentagon told reporters they aim to expand the airlift to 9,000 people a day.