US military reports biggest day of airlifts out of Afghanistan
The U.S. military says it has evacuated roughly 37,000 people from Afghanistan in just over a week, nearly half of whom have been removed in the last 24 hours.
About 16,000 people have been evacuated out of Kabul on 28 military flights and 61 coalition aircraft in the past day, Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, deputy director of the Joint Regional Operations, told reporters at the Pentagon.
The military flights evacuated approximately 10,400 people while the coalition flights evacuated another 5,900 people.
Taylor also said that five flights with about 1,300 passengers landed at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., in the past day.
“Our mission remains focused on ensuring a steady flow of evacuees out of Kabul to the intermediate staging bases and safe havens at our insulations [that] continue to rapidly build out capacity as needed to ensure reception and providing humanitarian assistance,” Taylor said.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby, who spoke alongside Taylor, said “several thousand Americans” have been evacuated from Afghanistan since Aug. 14. but declined to be more specific as the number is “very fluid.”
A few days prior, on Saturday, the Pentagon said 2,500 Americans had been evacuated.
The situation at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul remains fraught a little more than a week after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan on Aug. 15.
The Taliban said all U.S. forces must leave Afghanistan by Aug. 31, President Biden’s official deadline for ending the 20-year conflict in the country, and Western countries are now racing to evacuate their citizens and Afghans seeking refuge from the militant group’s harsh rule.
Biden last week called the effort “one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history,” with administration officials acknowledging that the Taliban have harassed and been violent with Americans and Afghan citizens as they attempt to travel toward and enter the airport. There also have been numerous reports of people being killed in the mayhem.
On Sunday, one member of the Afghan security forces was killed and several Afghans were wounded after a “hostile actor” fired on Afghan security forces monitoring the north gate of the airport, U.S. Central Command said in a statement on Monday.
The Afghans forces as well as U.S. and coalition troops returned fire.
Asked about the incident, Kirby said officials “cannot rule out who the hostile actor was.”
“Our focus was on making sure that we could maintain security at the airport. It was maintained. Sadly it resulted in the life of one Afghan soldier and wounded several others,” he said.
Kirby also said the Pentagon is aware of the Taliban’s message to the United States to remove all forces by the Aug. 31 deadline, which they still plan to meet.
“That is the mission we’ve been assigned by the commander in chief assigned to us, and that’s what we’re trying to execute,” Kirby said, adding that if there needs to be a discussion about extending that timeline, “then we absolutely will have that discussion at the appropriate time with the commander in chief.”
Biden a day prior told reporters that there have been discussions about extending the deadline if needed.
“Our hope is we will not have to extend, but there are going to be discussions,” Biden said.
The U.S. military is still relying on the Taliban to allow Americans and Afghan civilians with correct documentation to pass through to the airport, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday acknowledging that the group is in control of Kabul and that the U.S. must engage with the insurgents to ensure evacuations.
Kirby said the Pentagon communicates with the Taliban “several times a day.” He also said that any effort to expand the perimeter around the Kabul airport to allow more people to safely enter “does require constant coordination and deconfliction with the Taliban.”
He disclosed that U.S. forces traveling aboard helicopters have left the airport to rescue Americans at least a second time.
“There has been at least one additional instance where rotary airlift was used to help Americans get from outside the airport into the airport. I think I’m just going to leave it at that,” Kirby said.
Officials on Friday acknowledged a similar rescue involving 169 Americans at a hotel near the airport.
For those Afghans that have managed to escape and make it to the United States, the military is housing about 1,200 such individuals at Fort McCoy, Wis.; Fort Lee, Va.; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.; and Fort Bliss, Texas, Taylor said.
Taylor said capacity will continue to be built out to “ensure they are prepared to receive more flights that will come in the next few days.”
Evacuees are also being sent to temporary safe haven locations across Europe and the Middle East, including U.S. installations in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Italy, Spain and Germany, Taylor added.
“We deeply appreciate the support from these countries. This is truly a testament to the importance of our alliances and our partnerships,” he said.