Afghanistan updates: US airport operations continue, Taliban negotiate in Kabul

The Taliban, issuing statements that said they do not intend to take Afghanistan’s capital by force, reported that its leaders were at the presidential palace to negotiate a transfer of power.

U.S. officials said Sunday that U.S. airport operations in Kabul will continue. A U.S. official added that American forces at the airport are properly secured and that despite the latest developments, there is no expected direct impact on U.S. operations there.

On ABC’s “This Week,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that U.S. personnel are being relocated from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to the airport “to ensure they can operate safely and securely,” but still maintain a core diplomatic presence there.

Senior Foreign Correspondent Ian Pannell said Sunday that he could hear American Chinook helicopters flying overheard and ferrying people out to the airport so that they could leave the country.

“There’s a real climate of fear and dread of what the future holds,” Pannell told “This Week” co-anchor Jonathan Karl.

The State Department announced Thursday it was reducing its staff levels at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and the Pentagon began sending in troops to help facilitate those departures. The president on Saturday authorized an additional 1,000 U.S. troops for deployment to Afghanistan, raising the number of troops to 5,000 to assist with “orderly and safe drawdown.”

“We’re obviously watching this just like you’re watching this and seeing it happen in real-time, and it’s deeply concerning,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Friday. “In fact, the deteriorating conditions are a factor — a big factor — in why the president has approved this mission to help support our — the reduction of personnel there in Kabul.”

Early Sunday, the Taliban entered the outskirts of Kabul and fighters were seen gathering in the Kabul districts of Kampany and Barchi, a local reporter confirmed to ABC News.

PHOTO: Smoke rises next to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021, as diplomats destroyed sensitive documents, according to two American military officials.

They have assured residents that their lives are not in danger and a Taliban spokesman told ABC News that the Taliban leaders have ordered their troops not to take over Kabul by force for now but to “remain at the gates.”

Kabul was the only major city that remained under government control on Sunday.

President Ashraf Ghani’s official Twitter account reported that gunshots were heard in remote areas of Kabul province, but that “the situation is under control.”

An Afghan soldier stands in a military vehicle on a street in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15, 2021.

The Taliban entered the outskirts of the city early Sunday and fighters were seen gathering in the Kabul districts of Kampany and Barchi, a local reporter confirmed to ABC News. Officials told the Associated Press that there were also Taliban fighters in the districts of Kalakan, Qarabagh and Paghman.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul instructed all U.S. personnel to destroy items like documents and electronic devices to “reduce the amount of sensitive material on the property,” according to an internal notice obtained by ABC News.

“Please also include items with embassy or agency logos, Americans flags, or items which could be misused in propaganda efforts,” the notice said.

Blinken on “This Week” said the removal of American flags and sensitive items is standard operating procedure in any such situation.

This is a developing news story. Please check back for updates.

ABC News’ Lauren King contributed to this report.

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