As the chaotic mission to evacuate Americans and Afghans nears its end, operations at Kabul’s airport shift to the focus of the withdrawal of U.S troops and their equipment.
According to a defense official, the airport’s capacity for processing civilians is “limited.” “If an American walks up to the airport and wave a blue passport, they’ll be taken on board a plane.”
The Taliban have increased the security perimeter around the airport making it harder for people to get to the gates during the final hours of the evacuation. It is unclear how many people will make it onto the tarmac before the planned withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the country by Tuesday.
The international coalition led by the U.S. sent text messages over the weekend to Afghans hoping to leave informing them that “international military evacuations from Kabul airport have ended and we are no longer able to call anyone forward for evacuation flights”.
Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, at a Pentagon news briefing on Monday, acknowledged that operations in Afghanistan would soon be over and that the DoD support for the interagency was ongoing .
John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesperson, said that Americans and others who want to leave Afghanistan after the U.S. military withdraw will be able to do so by “the State Department” continuing to use many levers to facilitate this transportation. As I stated earlier, we don’t anticipate any military involvement in this effort.
Kirby, when asked about the possibility of tens of thousands Afghan allies being left behind, told reporters that the United States wanted to “get as many people out of Afghanistan as possible” and praised the enormous scale of American evacuation efforts.
Kirby stated that “Now, there’ll be a time when all of this is completed” and that the State Department could do the math to figure out the remaining Americans and Afghan allies in Afghanistan. “But we are all focused right now on the mission… making sure that — up to the end — we can get people out safely.
At the Kabul airport, the gates that were just days ago filled with thousands of Afghans straining to get onto the tarmac are now largely deserted, with Taliban fighters milling about outside while U.S. troops wrap up their work within the perimeter.
ISIS-K claimed Monday morning that they launched a rocket attack on the final hours of the international effort. Taylor stated that three of the five missiles directed at the airport landed “off-the airfield”, one landed with no effect on the mission and did not pose any threat to personnel, while Taylor claimed that the Pentagon news briefing revealed that Taylor was able to “thwart” the attack by American air defenses.
U.S. officials confirmed that Monday’s attack came after a drone strike in Kabul on Sunday that struck a vehicle laden with explosives heading for the airport. Initial reports suggest that several civilians from Afghanistan were killed in a secondary explosion. The U.S. Central Command stated it was investigating.
Taylor stated to reporters that there had been “significant secondary explosions” from the vehicle targeted. Kirby confirmed that secondary explosions were a result.
Kirby stated that the U.S. was not in a position “to dispute” reports suggesting civilian casualties.
“We take it very seriously. Kirby stated that when we find out that our operations have resulted in innocent lives being lost, we are transparent about it. We are investigating. It’s not something I want to rush. If we have the verifiable evidence that we took innocent lives here, we will also be transparent about it.”
Taylor stated that while “commanders will always minimize collateral harm,” the strike on Sunday prevented a high-profile attack by U.S. forces, coalition forces, and civilians in Afghanistan. We looked at all the information we had at the time, and we made the decision to strike and stop the attack.
About 122,000 Afghans and Americans have been evacuated from Kabul since the end of July in an historic airlift.
It was impossible to find out how many of the U.S. employees were able to reach their destination in time because of the rush operation.
Biden’s administration has committed to continuing efforts to evacuate Afghans in crisis and hundreds of Americans from the country. The Taliban has also pledged to let people leave if they wish.
These assurances were made in conjunction with the international focus on the country’s exploding humanitarian crises. However, questions remain about how the group will govern the country or treat those who worked with the U.S.A. and NATO allies.