The Pentagon on Wednesday said 19,000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number to roughly 82,300 evacuees out of Kabul since the country fell to the Taliban on Aug. 15.
Over a 24-hour period beginning early Tuesday morning, 42 U.S. military flights carrying about 11,200 evacuees and 48 coalition flights carrying another 7,800 people left the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) in Kabul.
The pace equated to a plane every 39 minutes leaving the airport, where more than 10,000 people are still waiting for a flight out of the country, Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, deputy director of the joint staff for regional operations, told reporters at the Pentagon.
Since the end of July, roughly 88,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan, Taylor added.
It is unclear how many U.S. citizens were on board the most recent flights, but Pentagon press secretary John Kirby, who spoke alongside Taylor, said roughly 4,400 Americans have been evacuated overall.
Kirby said he did not know how many more Americans are still in need of evacuation.
The situation on the ground in Afghanistan remains frantic as thousands of Americans and vulnerable Afghans have attempted to reach the airport to leave the country by Aug. 31, when U.S. forces will be pulled from the nation.
President BidenJoe BidenBiden: Democrats' spending plan is 'a bigger darn deal' than Obamacare Biden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Biden: Comment that DOJ should prosecute those who defy subpoenas 'not appropriate' MORE on Tuesday — after meeting with other world leaders on the evacuation efforts — said the United States will stick with that timeline. Though he said he's asked for contingency plans in the event more time is needed, he stressed that the situation could deteriorate the longer the U.S. remains in Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, Kirby offered a snapshot of what the final days of the evacuation will look like as the Aug. 31 deadline looms.
In the “last couple of days” U.S. forces “will begin to prioritize military capabilities and military resources to move out,” he said.
“That doesn't mean that if you're an evacuee and you need to get out, that we're not going to try to get you out, but we will have to reserve some capacity in those last couple of days to prioritize the military footprint leaving because we want to be able to keep it there as long as possible to do the job that it's intended to do,” Kirby added.
He also stressed that lives “will always be the chief priority throughout this entire process,” over any military equipment.
“We will continue to evacuate needed populations all the way to the end,” Kirby said.
Taylor and Kirby also revealed a third instance in which U.S. forces traveling aboard helicopters have left the airport to rescue Americans.
“Last night during the period of darkness, there was an operation to be able to go out and safely evacuate evacuees back into Kabul, they were at HKIA, and they are safely there preparing to be evacuated,” Taylor said.
Kirby added the group was less than 20 people who were moved from within Kabul to the airport by helicopter. He would not provide further details.
Officials last week acknowledged a similar rescue involving 169 Americans at a hotel near the airport.
Kirby also said he knows of no American troops or citizens killed since the evacuation operations began on Aug. 14.
One U.S. service member has been injured in the chaos, but “I know of no American citizens who have been killed on this,” Kirby said.
He added that officials don’t have “perfect visibility into everything going on in Kabul.”