U.S. set to expand evacuation flights from Kabul to Europe- officials

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WASHINGTON, Aug 20 (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department is expected to announce that its evacuation flights out of Kabul will now be able to land in Europe, U.S. officials told Reuters on Friday, because of an overflow of people in Qatar.

The United States is desperately trying to evacuate thousands of people from Afghanistan by an Aug. 31 deadline, although President Joe Biden said this week that U.S. troops at Kabul airport providing security for the evacuation could stay longer if necessary.

The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the announcement from the State Department could include more countries like Bahrain, but Europe had been chosen because it was logistically easier than some other parts of the world.

The officials said Al Udeid air base had reached the capacity of 8,000 people fleeing from Kabul and the situation there was dire.

The situation is so bad, they said, that flights had been temporarily paused from leaving Kabul because they did not have anywhere to go.

State Department declined to comment on the news but said the agency is “grateful to all of our partners who are playing a role in this effort.”

Foreign powers sought to increase evacuations from Afghanistan on Friday after reports of Taliban reprisals, including against people who had worked with U.S.-led forces or the previous Western-backed government.

More than 18,000 people have been flown out since the militants took the capital Kabul, according to transatlantic alliance NATO, but Western governments are facing criticism for not anticipating such a speedy exodus or helping enough.

Thousands still thronged the airport where gun-toting Taliban members urged people without travel documents to go home. Some have fled gunfire in recent days.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Marguerita Choy)