Thousands of people are besieging the entrances to Kabul’s airport, the main lifeline for Afghans and foreign citizens trying to flee the country as the Islamist Taliban take over.
The US embassy called on its citizens to avoid the airport because of “potential security threats outside the gates”.
Other media reported the change in advice was forced by Islamic State threats to Americans.
In the days since the Taliban took control of the Afghan capital and the country on August 15, thousands of people have been airlifted out of Afghanistan from the airport, the only part of the capital controlled by international troops.
Many desperate Afghans who have either worked with international troops during the past two decades or who work in areas such as human rights are fearing for their lives, with many trying to get themselves or family members inside the airport.
A NATO official said about 12,000 foreigners and Afghans working for embassies and international aid groups had been evacuated in the past week.
“The evacuation process is slow, as it is risky, for we don’t want any form of clashes with Taliban members or civilians outside the airport,” they told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“We don’t want to start a blame game regarding the evacuation plan.”
A report compiled for the United Nations warned that the Taliban is conducting targeted searches for supposed collaborators with the ousted government, despite assurances by the radical Islamist group that it would not carry out reprisals.
There have been repeated armed confrontations at the gates to the airport compound. The US military decides on when and how to open and close the gates, and the timing is not predictable.
The Afghan Civil Aviation Authority issued a statement on Saturday asking people not to travel to the airport. “There [are] no civilian and commercial flights in Hamid Karzai International Airport,” it advised via Facebook.
Further Australian flights into Kabul are being carefully planned as the government seeks to rescue hundreds of Australian citizens, former interpreters and embassy guards.
A third ADF plane carrying 80 Australian citizens, permanent visa holders and local employees who have worked with Australia and New Zealand arrived from the Afghanistan capital on Friday evening.
Troops from other countries, including Germany, Britain and Turkey, are carrying out simultaneous evacuation operations from the airport.
Germany has vowed to do everything in its power to evacuate its nationals and their local hires even as rescue operations hit new hurdles amid chaos at Kabul’s airport.
To that end, two German military helicopters arrived in the Afghan capital on Saturday to help with evacuation efforts. So far, German forces have only been able to rescue people who have made it to the airport, but that is becoming increasingly dangerous and difficult.
The helicopters will be able to head out to get people where they are sheltering. The two H-145M aircraft are assigned to special forces and were requested by the United States.
US forces reported on Saturday that they had flown about 17,000 people out of Kabul in the last week, 3,800 of them in the last 24 hours.
World leaders are still trying to figure out how to react to the rapidly changing situation. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said that talks with the Taliban will be necessary, but said those do not constitute recognition.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fielded multiple calls on Saturday to discuss the situation. He agreed in a call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that a humanitarian tragedy must be avoided.
After an earlier phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Erdogan said that talks between Taliban officials and former Afghan leaders seem to be “promising.”
This week, several high-ranking Taliban representatives had met ex-president Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, for discussions on a future government.
The Taliban have said they are planning to share power with other political forces.
Meanwhile, the deputy head of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, arrived in Kabul on Saturday.
Baradar, in charge of the Taliban’s political office in Doha, will conduct talks with Taliban members and other politicians on the formation of a new government.
Baradar is the highest-ranking representative of the Islamists known to have arrived in Afghanistan so far, and is tipped by intelligence sources to be given a post similar to that of prime minister.
In February 2020, he signed the agreement with the US on behalf of the Islamist militant organisation to end the US-led military mission in Afghanistan. The withdrawal of US troops led to the decision by other Western powers to also withdraw.
Taliban leader Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada has not been seen in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover. His whereabouts are unknown.