The Pentagon is vowing to accelerate evacuation flights out of Afghanistan after chaos at the airport Monday prompted the military to halt flights until the airfield could be secured.
Within the next 24 hours, the U.S. military is planning to ramp up to one flight out of Kabul per hour, a pace that could evacuate up to 5,000 to 9,000 people per day, Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor of the Joint Staff said at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday.
“I want to reinforce that we are focused on the present mission to facilitate the safe evacuation of US citizens, [Special Immigrant Visa applicants] and Afghans at risk, to get these personnel out of Afghanistan as quickly and as safely as possible,” Taylor said. “That mission has not changed. The mission is of historical significance, and it is incumbent upon us to be resolute in the protection of American and Afghan lives.”
The Biden administration has come under sharp criticism from across the political spectrum for the chaos that has ensued as people try to evacuate Afghanistan after the Taliban won control of the country over the weekend.
Airlifts out of Afghanistan were temporarily suspended Monday after desperate Afghans flooded the tarmac at the Hamid Karzai International Airport, some clinging to U.S. military C-17 transport planes as they took off.
Still, Taylor said seven C-17s left Kabul on Monday carrying between 700 and 800 people, including 165 U.S. citizens. The remainder were Special Immigrant Visa applicants and third-country nationals.
The Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, led by Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue, has been put in charge of securing the airport, with Pentagon press secretary John Kirby saying “the task of securing and operating an airfield is actually a unique task that the 82nd can do and Gen. Donohue has experience in that.”
“This is what the 82nd Airborne does really well,” Kirby said at the briefing.
And while the U.S.-backed Afghan government has collapsed, there are still 500 to 600 members of the U.S.-trained Afghan forces helping provide security at the airport, Taylor said.
U.S. commanders on the ground in Kabul have also been in contact with Taliban commanders in an effort to avoid a confrontation, Kirby said.
“I would just let the results speak for themselves. I'm not going to get into the details of how those discussions are progressing because there are interactions multiple times a day,” Kirby said. “There's been no hostile interactions from the Taliban to our operations at the airport.”
The chaos at the airport Monday also saw U.S. troops shoot and kill two armed individuals in two separate incidents. Taylor said Tuesday that U.S. forces “have not experienced any additional security incidents.”
Video that circulated on social media on Monday appeared to show at least two people who had clung to landing gear plummeting to their deaths, and reports Monday night said human remains were found in the wheel well of one C-17.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby would not comment at the briefing Tuesday morning about the reports of casualties related to Afghans grabbing onto the C-17s, but said he expected the Air Force to comment later in the day.