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Hundreds of Afghan security forces help at Kabul airport, U.S. says

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Crowds are seen near the entrance of Kabul's airport in Afghanistan August 16, 2021. SATELLITE IMAGE 2021 MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES/Handout via REUTERS.

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WASHINGTON, Aug 17 (Reuters) - With more U.S. troops on the way, up to 600 members of Afghan security forces have helped provide security at Kabul's airport, the scene of chaotic evacuation efforts, even as Afghanistan's military and government has collapsed, Pentagon officials said on Tuesday.

Army Major General William Taylor, with the U.S. military's Joint Staff, told a news briefing that a total of 4,000 American troops would be at the airport by the end of the day - an increase of 1,000 - and the aim is to have one flight taking off per hour.

About U.S. 6,000 troops are expected to be at the airport in the coming days, according to Pentagon officials.

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"We have had no hostile interactions, no attack and no threat by the Taliban," Taylor said.

The United States and Western allies have sought to evacuate diplomats and civilians at Kabul's airport, the only way in or out of the country for many people in Afghanistan.

The situation descended into disorder on Monday, with flights unable to leave because the airfield was filled with Afghans desperate to flee the Taliban.

Taylor said approximately 500 to 600 members of Afghan national security forces were at the airfield "assisting us with that security." Asked about whether these Afghan security personnel would be evacuated from Afghanistan as well, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told the briefing that it would be up to them to decide.

"That would have to be a decision by those individuals if that wanted to apply for a visa and to pursue that approach," Kirby said.

U.S. military officials at the airport have been in contact with Taliban commanders on the ground outside the airport, Kirby added.

"There have been discussions, there is communication between them and us," Kirby said.

U.S. military officials have said between 5,000 and 10,000 U.S. citizens are believed to be in the Kabul area.

Much of Afghanistan's military crumbled as Taliban forces swept through Afghanistan, culminating with the capture of Kabul and departure of President Ashraf Ghani from the country.

Most elements of the Afghan national security forces, trained by U.S. and Western allies over a span of nearly two decades, rapidly collapsed in the face of a swift advance by Taliban forces.

The Taliban, toppled as Afghanistan's rulers in 2001 by a U.S.-led invasion, moved to regain power as the United States withdrew its forces to end America's longest war.

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Reporting by Idrees Ali and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Will Dunham

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