Poland has ended its evacuations from Afghanistan, becoming one of the first Western countries to halt operations helping people flee the Taliban takeover as a full American withdrawal looms.
President Joe Biden declared the day before that he is sticking to his August 31 deadline for completing the US pullout, ramping up pressure on the already risky airlift from Kabul to get out as many people as possible in the coming days.
European allies pressed for more time but lost the argument, and as a practical matter they may be forced to end their evacuations a few days before the last American troops leave.
Several countries have not said yet when they plan to end their operations, perhaps hoping to avoid yet another fatal crush at an airport that is one of the last ways out of the country.
Its return to power has pushed many Afghans to flee, fearing reprisal attacks from the fighters or a return to the brutal rule the group imposed when it last ran the country.
Thousands of people are still thought to be trying to leave the country, and it is not clear that everyone who wants to will be able to before the end of the month.
But any decision by Mr Biden to stay longer could reignite a war between the Taliban and American troops and other coalition forces who are running the airlift.
“Due to extreme tension on the ground … and the scheduled departure of American forces, these evacuations are a true race against time,” French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said.
With the deadline looming, Marcin Przydacz, a Polish deputy foreign minister, said that a group taken from Kabul and now in Uzbekistan was the last evacuated by Poland.
He said his nation made its decision after consulting with the US and British officials.
“After a long analysis of reports on the security situation, we cannot risk the lives of our diplomats and of our soldiers any longer,” Mr Przydacz said.
A number of troops will remain briefly to wrap up operations, he said.
Poland has used more than a dozen planes to bring hundreds of evacuees to Warsaw.
Some later travelled on to other countries.
Chaos at Kabul airport has transfixed the world after the Taliban’s blitz across Afghanistan saw it seize control of a nation that has received hundreds of billions of dollars in reconstruction aid and security support since the 2001 US-led invasion.
Afghans poured on to the tarmac last week and some clung to a US military transport plane as it took off, later plunging to their deaths.
At least seven people died that day, and another seven died on Sunday in a panicked stampede.
An Afghan security force member was killed on Monday in a gunfight under unclear circumstances.
Thousands have thronged the airport in the days since, and the US has been rushing to evacuate as many people as it can, relying on its Gulf Arab allies to temporarily house Afghans and others fleeing.
European nations, including American allies Germany and the United Kingdom, had pressed for a longer window to continue evacuations past the deadline next week.
CIA director William Burns even travelled to Kabul on Monday to meet the Taliban’s top political leader.
“That the overall deployment literally stands and falls with the stance of the militarily strongest member of the alliance, the US, was always clear to us,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a speech to parliament.
“We will continue the evacuation operation for as long as possible, in order also to make it possible for Afghans who worked with us for security, freedom, the rule of law and development to leave the country,” she added.
Mrs Merkel did not give a date for when the last German evacuation flight would leave but said that even after that effort ended, the country would work to see “how we can then create ways in which we can continue to protect those who helped us, among other things through civilian use of Kabul airport”.
For now, the US military co-ordinates all air traffic in and out of Kabul airport.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen wrote on Twitter that they planned to allow people to fly out of Kabul airport via commercial flights after the August deadline.
However, it remained unclear which commercial carriers would immediately resume flights to an airport fully under Taliban control.
While the final withdrawal date is just under a week away, analyst Patricia Lewis said the practical deadline for the evacuations to stop was “the next couple of days”.
“There’s a huge amount of stuff that has to be done, including getting all the people out who are doing the job and all the equipment.”
Ms Lewis added: “All of the allies are highly dependent on the US for military cover, particularly air cover.
“They can’t put their own people at risk, so it really depends on when the US starts packing up.”