US commander vows 'overwhelming force' if Taliban interfere with evacuation

The U.S. has warned the Taliban that interference with evacuation efforts out of Afghanistan would be met with “overwhelming force,” Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, said on Tuesday. 

McKenzie said he met with Taliban senior leaders in Doha on Sunday and “cautioned them against interference in our evacuation, and made it clear to them that any attack would be met with overwhelming force in the defense of our forces.”

“The protection of U.S. civilians and our partners is my highest priority and we will take all necessary action to ensure a safe and efficient withdrawal,” he said in a statement.

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White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiDemocrats ready to put a wrap on dragged-out talks 'Saturday Night Live' flashes back to the 'ghost of Biden past' Unanswered questions remain for Buttigieg, Biden on supply chain catastrophe MORE also told reporters at the White House that if the Taliban interfere in safe passage to the airport, "the consequences are the full weight and force of the United States military."

McKenzie said he evaluated the situation at Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport and said the U.S. military is “efficiently” operating the airfield and ensuring safe movement for civilians and diplomats.

The airport was a chaotic scene on Monday as desperate Afghans surrounded and grasped onto U.S. military evacuation flights. 

The U.S. military has confirmed that human remains were found in the wheel well of a C-17 plane that was swarmed at the airport on Monday, while videos also appeared to show people falling off a plane as it gained altitude.

The U.S. temporarily halted flights evacuating Americans and at-risk Afghans until it regained control of the airport. The administration has come under intense scrutiny for the chaos at the airport, and White House officials stressed Tuesday that the airport was secure and open to civilian air traffic.

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National security adviser Jake SullivanJake SullivanSaudi prince's 'net zero by 2060' goal comes with intriguing contradictions Sullivan raised normalizing relations with Israel during meeting with Saudi crown prince: report Biden struggles to rein in Saudi Arabia amid human rights concerns MORE told reporters the Taliban assured the U.S. that the group would allow for civilians to safely get to the airport.

“U.S. military air traffic controllers and ground handlers are rapidly scaling up operations to ensure the smooth flow of military reinforcements to the airport and the evacuation of U.S. and partner civilians in coordination with our State Department colleagues,” McKenzie said. “Currently, the airfield is secure and now open to civilian air traffic operating under visual flight rules.”

The Pentagon has sent thousands of U.S. troops to help evacuate people and to secure the Kabul airport. The administration on Tuesday vowed to accelerate evacuation flights out of Afghanistan.

Over the next day, the U.S. military plans to provide one flight out of Kabul per hour, a pace that could evacuate up to 5,000 to 9,000 people per day, the Pentagon announced on Tuesday.