The RAF still needs to airlift out of Kabul nearly 2,000 Afghan interpreters and other staff who worked for Britain as the evacuation operation enters its final days.
They have been assessed as eligible under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap) and have passed security checks but remain on the ground, the PA news agency understands.
Latest figures from the Minister of Defence put the number of people airlifted out of Afghanistan since the Taliban swept to power at more than 10,000.
But the end of the operation is rapidly approaching after US President Joe Biden rejected calls from Boris Johnson and other allies to delay his August 31 withdrawal date for the remaining American troops.
As well as the almost 2,000 people eligible under Arap, an unidentified number of “special cases” may be eligible for evacuation, such as LGBTQ advocates, judges and human rights activists.
The number of British citizens who still need evacuating, as well as those who hold dual citizenship, also remained unclear.
A total of 10,291 individuals, including more than 5,500 Afghans and their families, have been evacuated by Britain since August 13, as the Taliban was making its rapid advance towards Kabul following the major departure of US troops.
The MoD said on Wednesday morning that 1,833 had been airlifted in the previous 24 hours.
Our Armed Forces continue to bring home civilians from Afghanistan. Last night, another flight arrived at RAF Brize Norton from Kabul Airport.
Thanks to our continued efforts on Op PITTING, we have now evacuated over 10,000 people since 13 August. pic.twitter.com/Cpw9fcBEn7
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) August 25, 2021
A timetable for British troops to halt evacuations and begin their own exit has not been set out but is likely to come ahead of the departure of their American counterparts.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said “every hour” will be used to help people flee and declined to rule out UK forces having to depart by the end of Friday.
“The military planners are working through the limited time they need to draw down their personnel and equipment and so they will firm up those details,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“We will use every hour and day we’ve got to maximise that throughput to get as many of those residual cases out.
“We’re going to keep going for every day and every hour that we’ve got left.”
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that evacuations can continue until the end but conceded that they will have to prioritise moving out US military capability in the “last couple of days”.
“We will continue to evacuate needed populations all the way to the end if we have to and we need to,” he told journalists.
“In the last couple of days we will begin to prioritise military capability and military resources to move out.
“That doesn’t mean if you’re an evacuee and you need to get out we are not going to try to get you out but that we will have to reserve some capacity on those last couple of days to prioritise the military footprint leaving.”
The Prime Minister had hoped to persuade Mr Biden to maintain his forces on the ground to allow the evacuation effort more time during an emergency meeting of G7 leaders on Tuesday.
But the US President said staying longer would raise the risk of attack by so-called Islamic State affiliates and straining a “tenuous” working relationship with the Taliban.
Asked on LBC radio if Mr Biden’s rejection of the Prime Minister’s pleas meant the “special relationship” was over, Mr Raab said: “No, of course it isn’t – it matters a huge amount.”
The Taliban has warned evacuations “will not be allowed” after Tuesday’s deadline and suggested foreign forces remaining past the deadline would cross a “red line” that will “provoke a reaction”.
Mr Johnson said after the virtual summit that leaders had agreed the “number one condition” up to and after the deadline was that the Taliban must grant “safe passage for those who want to come out”.
A joint statement from leaders of the G7 countries – also including Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan – reaffirmed their commitment to the people of Afghanistan.
“The legitimacy of any future government depends on the approach it now takes to uphold its international obligations and commitments to ensure a stable Afghanistan,” they said.
The Foreign Secretary was forced to defend remaining on holiday in Crete as the Taliban marched across Afghanistan on their path back to power.
Mr Raab has defied calls to quit over his widely criticised decision, but said “of course with the benefit of hindsight I wouldn’t have gone away”.
“The stuff about me being lounging around on the beach all day is just nonsense,” he told Sky News.
“The stuff about me paddleboarding, nonsense, the sea was actually closed, it was a red notice.”