US sending 1,000 more troops to Kabul as chaos reigns at airport

The Pentagon will send another 1,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan to help secure Kabul’s airport following a mad rush on the runway as thousands of Afghan civilians attempted to flee the nation, the Defense Department’s top spokesperson said Monday.

Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Navy probe reveals disastrous ship fire response Pentagon says almost half of Afghan evacuees at US bases are children Russian fighters escort US bombers over Black Sea MORE authorized the immediate deployment of the new troops to Kabul, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters. 

The new influx of troops will increase the total number of American forces at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul from 2,500 to 3,000 by Tuesday morning, with a total 6,000 troops to be in the city in the coming days.

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Kirby said the shuttering of the U.S. Embassy meant that the U.S. presence was now focused on the airport, where all incoming and outgoing flights have been paused until it is secure.

Videos and images have surfaced online showing massive groups of Afghan civilians frantically trying to leave the country — under Taliban rule as of Sunday — by storming the tarmac to catch flights out of Afghanistan. Some of the people in the crowds tried to hop onto moving planes.

“At this time, out of an abundance of caution, there are no flights coming or going, military or civilian, and this is because of large crowds that are still on the tarmac, on the southern side of the field, the civilian side of the field,” Kirby said.

At least seven people have been killed so far at the airport, including several Afghans who were run over by or fell from a U.S. military plane that took off from the runway as they clung to it, The Associated Press reported.

U.S. troops also fatally shot two armed men who presented “hostile threats” in two separate incidents at the airport. Kirby said there is no indication the two individuals were Taliban.

American military forces are currently working alongside Turkish and other international troops to clear the area of people. It is unknown how long this will take, but Kirby said the Pentagon anticipates it will be able to restore air operations at the airport “in the coming hours” and will then “be able to get the remaining flowing forces into the airport.”

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Once evacuations resume, the aim is to get “thousands of people out per day,” through multiple daily flights, Kirby said. 

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country Sunday as the Taliban entered Kabul, regaining full control of Afghanistan for the first time since 2001, when U.S. troops arrived in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. 

The new troops headed to Afghanistan come from the 3rd battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division Brigade Combat Team that was originally meant to head to Kuwait, Kirby told reporters.