Chaos has enveloped Kabul after Afghanistan’s government’s collapsed and the Taliban seized control, all but ending America’s 20-year campaign as it began: under Taliban rule.
The U.S. has evacuated approximately 37,000 people since the effort began on Aug. 14, Pentagon officials said Monday, while reiterating their focus remains on maintaining the airport perimeter and increasing the number of evacuees out of Kabul ahead of the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline.
President Joe Biden sat down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the White House last week, the president’s first interview since the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Biden addressed the nation again on evacuation efforts on Sunday.
US has ‘method’ for getting Americans to airport: White House
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said at a White House briefing on Monday that the U.S. is transferring groups of American citizens to the airport in Kabul but declined to go into detail, citing security concerns.
“We have developed a method to safely and efficiently transfer groups of American citizens onto the airfield. For operational reasons I’m not going to go into further detail on this,” he said.
Despite Biden suggesting the U.S. could stay in Afghanistan beyond Aug. 31 as evacuations continue, Sullivan, as Pentagon officials had before him, maintained focus on the deadline at the end of the month.
“In the days remaining, we believe we have the wherewithal to get out the American citizens who want to leave Kabul,” he said.
“This operation is complex, it is dangerous, it is fraught with challenges: operational, logistical, human. And it’s produced searing images of pain and desperation. But, no
operation like this, no evacuation from the capital that has fallen in a civil war, could unfold without those images,” he added.
Pentagon officials say military going into Kabul ‘as needed’
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby at a briefing on Monday was pressed about reports of British and other coalition forces pushing into Kabul to bring people to the airport and said the U.S. is also running those missions on a “case-by-case basis.”
On occasion, as needed, our commanders have the authority that they need to use their assets and their forces to help assist Americans who need to get to the airport — get to the airport on a case-by-case basis,” he said. Later on, he added, “I don’t want to leave you with the idea that we’re patrolling the streets of Kabul.”
Kirby confirmed there was a second helicopter mission to airlift Americans into the airport, in addition to a helicopter recovery of 169 people outside the airport perimeter last week, but would not give details.
“There has been at least one additional instance where rotary airlift was used to help Americans get from outside the airport into the airport, and I think I’m just going to leave it at that today,” he said.
He said that other extraction methods are being used as well.
“There’s a variety of methods that can be affected and, without going into detail, we’re using the variety of methods at our disposal,” Kirby added.
State Department denies only Americans getting into airport
Despite several reports that only U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents are getting into the airport in Kabul, not Afghans, a senior State Department official told reporters on Monday it’s not the case.
“It is not accurate that only Americans get through. That is not an accurate report,” the official said during a briefing.
The official said the operation is currently prioritizing Americans, touting the “unbelievable effort” to create a task force of consular officers around the world who get in touch with every American who registers with the embassy and provides instructions for them to get inside the airport.
“You can tell by the data,” the official said, “that we are being very successful with this model in getting people amassed and onto airplanes and to the transit hubs, which are represented by countries all over the world.”
Eight of those transit hubs are now open in six countries, according to the State Department, hosting more than 17,000 evacuees who have been flown from Kabul and to these hubs. In the next 24 hours, officials expect 8,000 more beds to be available as capacity continues to ramp up.
The official repeatedly sidestepped questions about whether the U.S. will stick to its Aug. 31 deadline, which Biden has seemed open to extending, but which the Taliban warned against earlier on Monday.
Pentagon officials address humanitarian crisis unfolding at airport
ABC News’ Luis Martinez asked Pentagon officials how they can prevent a humanitarian crisis from developing inside the airport as thousands of people who have travelled for miles gather for evacuations in the blistering heat and amid a global pandemic.
Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor said that as military flights arrive into Kabul to take out evacuees, they’re bringing in supplies including food and water for those preparing for evacuation flights.
“The last 48 hours, we had a lot of folks there which is a good thing,” Taylor said. “That means we have gotten people through the gate, we process them, it means we have people safe, then we can fly out,” adding the commanders on the ground are there to help ensure a safe and humanitarian environment.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby added that they’re “very aware” of reports of sanitation and sustainment issues.
“It’s not lost on us,” Kirby said. “There’s a lot of people, and they are desperate. And we are trying to do the best we can to get them out of harm’s way as fast as possible. And when you have a throughput problem, it means that some people are going to be stuck in a given location.”
“We’re doing the best we can, under extraordinary circumstances and believe me, the pain and the suffering, the fear, the anxiety, all of that none of it is lost on U.S. troops,” he said.