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US President Joe Biden said Sunday he still hopes to finalize the dramatic evacuation of tens of thousands of people from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan by August 31, as the Islamists blamed Washington for harrowing scenes of chaos and despair at the airport in Kabul.
One week after the hardline militant group made a stunning return to power, terrified Afghans kept trying to flee, skeptical of Taliban promises of a softer version of their brutal 1996-2001 rule.
Biden had previously set August 31 as the date to complete the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But the United States and its allies have been unable to cope with huge numbers of people trying to get on evacuation flights, leaving Kabul airport in disarray and the European Union warning it may be "impossible" to get everyone out before the deadline.
Speaking in the White House, Biden said his "hope is we will not have to extend".
"We'll see what we can do," he added when asked by reporters what his reply was to foreign leaders asking for more time.
"We have a long way to go and a lot could still go wrong," Biden said, citing the threat of attacks by the Islamic State group in particular.
He acknowledged the searing scenes at the US-controlled Hamid Karzai International airport, which have included babies and children being passed to soldiers over razor-wire fences and men clinging to the outside of departing planes.
But he said they were part of the cost of departure.
"There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss and heartbreaking images you see," he said.
- 'Please take us' -
Biden spoke after the Taliban, who have been holding talks with elders and politicians to set up their government, slammed the chaotic evacuation.
"America, with all its power and facilities... has failed to bring order to the airport. There is peace and calm all over the country, but there is chaos only at Kabul airport," Taliban official Amir Khan Mutaqi said.
Britain's defence ministry said Sunday seven people had died in the crowds, without giving further details.
A journalist, who was among a group of fleeing media workers and academics fortunate enough to reach the airport on Sunday, described desperate scenes of people surrounding their bus on the way in.
"They were showing us their passports and shouting 'take us with you... please take us with you'," the journalist told AFP.
"The Taliban fighter in the truck ahead of us had to shoot in the air to make them go away."
During the distress of evacuation, an Afghan woman went into labour on a US Air Force flight and gave birth to a baby girl in the plane's cargo bay moments after landing at a base in Germany, the Air Mobility Command tweeted.
Biden said that since the Taliban captured Kabul last weekend about 28,000 people had been flown out.
Earlier this week the administration said there are up to 15,000 Americans and 50,000 to 60,000 Afghan allies who need to be evacuated. Countless others are also trying to flee.
On Sunday, Washington enlisted the help of several major airlines in transporting people who have been flown to US bases in the Gulf and Europe back to America.
The crisis has seen mounting criticism of the US and its Western allies, which this year pressed on with the troop withdrawal as the government and security forces struggled to contain rising Taliban violence.
G7 leaders will discuss the situation in a virtual summit on Tuesday.
- Resistance -
Outside of Kabul, there have been flickers of resistance against the Taliban.
Some ex-government troops have gathered in the Panjshir Valley, north of the capital -- long known as an anti-Taliban bastion.
The Taliban said on their Arabic Twitter account Sunday they were sending hundreds of fighters to the valley after "local state officials refused to hand it over peacefully."
The Islamists have "massed forces near the entrance of Panjshir," tweeted Amrullah Saleh, latterly vice president of Afghanistan who has taken refuge in the area.
One of the leaders of the movement in Panjshir, named the National Resistance Front, is the son of famed anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.
The NRF is prepared for a "long-term conflict" but is also still seeking to negotiate with the Taliban about an inclusive government, its spokesman Ali Maisam Nazary told AFP in an interview.
"The conditions for a peace deal with the Taliban is decentralisation, a system that ensures social justice, equality, rights, and freedom for all."