ITV News' John Irvine reports on the chaos in Kabul
The UK effort to evacuate British nationals and local allies fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan is "gathering pace", a diplomat has said, with 5,725 people extracted from Kabul since the mission began on August 13.
But another seven Afghan civilians were killed in the chaos surrounding Kabul’s international airport, the British military said on Sunday, showing the danger still facing those trying to flee Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would convene leaders of G7 countries Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States on Tuesday for "urgent talks" on the situation in Afghanistan.
He said: "It is vital that the international community works together to ensure safe evacuations, prevent a humanitarian crisis and support the Afghan people to secure the gains of the last 20 years."
Chaos has unfolded at Kabul Airport since the Taliban recaptured the city, with people being crushed amid stampedes of Afghans desperate to escape the country.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether those killed had been physically crushed or suffocated.
Soldiers covered several corpses in white clothes to hide them from view. Other troops stood atop concrete barriers or shipping containers, trying to calm the crowd. Gunshots occasionally rang out.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence said in a statement: “Conditions on the ground remain extremely challenging but we are doing everything we can to manage the situation as safely and securely as possible.”
Britain's ambassador to Afghanistan provided an update on the UK's evacuation effort on Sunday afternoon, saying British forces had helped more than 5,000 fly out of the country.
Sir Laurie Bristow said the “huge effort” to move people out of Afghanistan is “gathering pace” but there is still a lot of work to do.
He tweeted: "So far we have managed to get over 5,000 people on to planes and in the last 14 hours alone we’ve managed to get a thousand people on their way. But there is still a huge amount of work to do.
“I’d just like to say thank you to all of our colleagues here in Kabul, in London and elsewhere around the region who are working around the clock to get as many people to safety as we can.”
On Saturday, troops in full combat gear tried to control the crowds pressing into Kabul Airport. They carried away some who were sweating and pale. With temperatures reaching 34°C, the soldiers sprayed water from a hose on those gathered or gave them bottled water to pour over their heads.
Kim Sengupta, The Independent's Defence and Diplomatic Editor, tweeted on Saturday that he had witnessed four women die "from heat and crush".
"The four deaths at Kabul airport were outside the British camp, soldiers tried all they could to save the victims. Bodies were later collected by relations," he added.
Speaking to an Iranian state television channel late on Saturday night, Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem blamed the deaths at the airport on the Americans.
“The Americans announced that we would take you to America with us and people gathered at Kabul airport,” Naeem said.
“If it was announced right now in any country in the world, would people not go?”
Other aircraft have fired flares on take-off, in a bid to confuse possible heat-seeking missiles.
A desperate mother passes her baby to US soldiers at the airport
The US Embassy issued a new security warning on Saturday, telling citizens not to travel to the airport in Kabul without individual instruction from a US government representative.
Officials declined to provide more specifics about the IS threat but described it as significant.
They said there have not yet been any confirmed attacks by the militants, who have battled the Taliban in the past.
Meanwhile, armed forces minister James Heappey said there have been improvements in the situation at a Kabul hotel where Britons and Afghans eligible for repatriation are being processed, following reports earlier this weekend that it had been blockaded by the Taliban.
He said: “The Taliban have pushed their outer cordon away from the Baron Hotel and, more than that, they appear to now be marshalling people into separate queues for the US evacuation and the UK evacuation.
"That is making a big difference to the size of the crowds outside of the UK gate and allowing us to process people much more quickly, and we think that is very encouraging."
Mr Heappey added that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has made “representations” to US secretaries of state in a bid to extend the Afghanistan evacuation deadline beyond August 31.
“You know that the Foreign Secretary has made representations to his opposite number and to the secretary of defence and likewise," he said.
“If the programme is extended, then there is the opportunity to continue with flights.
Mr Heappey's Conservative colleague Tobias Ellwood said the situation in Afghanistan shows there has been a “demise” in the “special relationship” between the UK and US.
The chairman of the Commons Defence Committee told Times Radio: “We’ve not been included in the conversations and the one thing we bring to the table...is our ‘thought leadership’ that the Americans actually appreciated us for.
“Being able to look at things with an alternative perspective, to provide a different view, and we could have done that, but the back channels have disappeared, the relationship is not what it was."
Later on Sunday, the US called on its commercial airlines to provide planes and crews to assist in transporting Afghan refugees once they are evacuated from their country by military aircraft.
Under the voluntary Civil Reserve Air Fleet program, civilian airlines add to military aircraft capability during a crisis related to national defence.
The Biden administration asked for three aircraft each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines.