The U.S. Embassy staff in Kabul are being moved to the airport amid the Taliban advance on the Afghan capital, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said, as Western states look to bring their embassy staff in Kabul to safety.
"It's why we had forces on hand to make sure we could do this in a safe and orderly fashion. The compound itself, folks are leaving there and going to the airport," Blinken told ABC TV.
U.S. officials were quoted as saying on August 15 that diplomats were being ferried by helicopter to the airport from the U.S. Embassy in the fortified Wazir Akbar Khan district.
Helicopters could be seen on TV broadcasts shuttling to and from the U.S. mission, along with armored vehicles.
Sweden's embassy personnel in Kabul will leave immediately and the evacuation is expected to be completed on August 16, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said on August 15.
U.S. Embassy officials have been instructed to destroy sensitive materials as well as items such as embassy or agency logos, U.S. flags, or items that could be "misused in propaganda efforts," CNN reported, quoting a notice sent to embassy staff.
The first U.S. troops from a contingent of 3,000 began arrived in Kabul on August 13 to help in the evacuation and to secure the city's airport. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that most of the additional troops will be in place by August 15 and "will be able to move thousands per day" out.
Moscow Embassy 'Calm'
As Britain, Germany, Italy, and other European countries also accelerated efforts to evacuate diplomats and other embassy staff, Russian Foreign Ministry official Zamir Kabulov said Moscow had no such plans.
Kabulov told Russian news agencies he was "in direct contact" with Moscow's ambassador in Kabul and that embassy employees continued to work "calmly."
According to TASS, the Taliban promised to guarantee the safety of the Russian mission.
Russia's state news agency quoted a spokesman for the Taliban's political office in Qatar as saying that the organization had "good relations with Russia" and a "policy in general to ensure safe conditions for the functioning of the Russian and other embassies."
Meanwhile, British media reported that the country's ambassador to Afghanistan is to be airlifted out of the country by August 16 amid fears that the Taliban could seize the airport imminently.
A Royal Air Force Hercules aircraft was reported to have flown out of the airport on August 14 carrying diplomats and civilians.
Last week, the U.K. Defense Ministry said 600 British troops were being deployed to Kabul to help evacuate some 3,000 British nationals and about 2,000 Afghans who worked with British forces.
Meanwhile, German media reported that the country is sending military transport planes to the city to begin the withdrawal of local Afghan staff working for the German Embassy.
A German official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AP that paratroopers will secure the operation.
"The top priority now is the safety of our embassy staff. We will not risk our people falling into the hands of the Taliban. We are prepared for all scenarios," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told the tabloid newspaper Bild.
Most personnel at the Italian Embassy in Kabul were reportedly being transferred to the Afghan capital's airport in preparation for evacuation.
The Corriere della Sera daily reported that the move affects some 50 Italian staffers and 30 Afghan employees and their families, along with Carabinieri paramilitary police protecting the embassy.
Sweden will also evacuate all its embassy staff on April 15, public broadcaster Swedish Radio reported, citing sources.