Afghanistan updates: US troops running extraction missions outside airport

Written by on August 23, 2021

Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — 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 17,000 people since Aug. 14, White House officials said late Saturday morning. Pentagon officials have said their focus remains on maintaining the airport perimeter and increasing the number of evacuees out of Kabul.

President Joe Biden returned to Washington from Camp David on Wednesday and sat down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the White House, the president’s first interview since the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Biden addressed the nation again on evacuation efforts on Sunday.

Here are the latest developments. All times Eastern:

Aug 23, 4:35 pm
Afghan refugees speak after arriving in US

More Afghan refugees have arrived in the U.S. with the first on U.S. commercial carriers coming into Dulles International Airport in Virginia on Monday morning.

“We are really happy to come here,” one refugee traveling with his wife and son told ABC News’ Sam Sweeney. He said that he waited two days at the Kabul airport before getting in.

“The situation in Afghanistan is not good,” he added.

Pentagon officials said at a briefing on Monday that five flights have brought about 1,300 people to Dulles in the last 24 hours.

Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor said some 1,200 Afghans are now distributed between four U.S. military bases: Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, Fort Lee in Virginia, Fort Bliss in Texas and Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst in New Jersey.

The military is still working to build out the capacity to host approximately 22,000 Afghans at the installations following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

Aug 23, 3:49 pm
Pentagon ‘pushing the limits’ to meet Aug. 31 deadline 

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby and Gen. Steve Lyons, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, at an afternoon press briefing, said the military continues to operate under the Aug. 31 deadline President Biden set despite his suggesting the U.S. could stay beyond the end of the month.

“Every day, we take as the day comes,” Lyons said. “We know and are linked very closely with Central Command, potential operations to close out the mission by the 31st — that was the mission given by the president, and we’re committed to do that.”

“We are pushing the limits to do everything we can to get every single evacuee out of Kabul,” he added. “We’re not going to let up.”

Asked about a U.S. medical team helping an Afghan woman deliver a baby on a U.S. Air Force plane just after landing in Germany, Lyons said that the U.S. military does “not have medics on every flight” and suggested that three babies have been born since evacuations started.

“My last data point was three. I don’t have a formal tracker, those are the — you know, we’ll keep you posted,” Lyons said, before the briefing ended.

Aug 23, 2:59 pm
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.

Aug 23, 1:28 pm
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.

Aug 23, 12:59 pm
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.

Aug 23, 12:16 pm
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.

Aug 23, 12:04 pm
Pentagon officials decline to give details on extending Kabul airport perimeter 

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby at a briefing on Monday said the U.S. military presence in Kabul remains focused on the airport following President Biden saying on Sunday that the U.S could possibly extend the perimeter there.

Sources familiar with the situation clarified to ABC News following Biden’s remarks that it did not mean U.S. troops would be moving outside of the airport.

“We continue to look at security on the airport itself, as well as the immediate environments of the airport because in those immediate environments outside the airport, that’s where you have Taliban checkpoints, where you have crowds assembling,” Kirby said. “That’s where access to the gates is critical, in the space just outside the airport where we don’t have a military presence of a sustained nature, and what we’re doing is that we are in constant communication with the Taliban about that space.”

Pressed for more information, Kirby said he didn’t want to release tactical details but said the U.S “not out there, side by side” with the Taliban.

“I think, for very good reasons of operational security, we’re just not going to detail everything we’re doing, and every opportunity we’re taking advantage of,” he said.

Aug 23, 11:31 am
Pentagon: No plans to reopen Bagram Airfield, send more troops to Kabul

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby at a Pentagon briefing on Monday said the Defense Department does not have plans to reopen Bagram Airfield as it continues to evacuate thousands of Americans and Afghan allies out of Kabul.

He said reopening Bagram, which the U.S. vacated in July, “would be an expenditure of resources and personnel, as well as an increase, most likely to the threat that they’re under.”

“And I understand a lot of people have views and opinions about this. It was closed down as part of the retrograde; it was always supposed to be closed down as part of the retrograde. It was the last base to be turned over to the Afghans,” he said.

Kirby, instead, said the military maintains its focus on evacuating people from Hamid Karzai International Airport.

“There are no plans at this time to request or to authorize additional U.S. forces to this mission,” Kirby added later of the ongoing evacuation mission. He said the Pentagon is still “trying” to meet the Aug. 31 deadline for a full military withdrawal.

Aug 23, 11:27 am
Pentagon: 16K evacuated in 24 hours

In a Pentagon briefing Monday, Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, deputy director of Joint Staff regional operations, said that 16,000 evacuees have been flown out of Kabul since Sunday.

“Within the last 24 hours, 25 U.S. military C-17, three U.S. military C-130s and then a combination of 61 charter commercial and other military flights departed Kabul,” Taylor said, reminding that six commercial airlines have joined the Defense Department’s evacuation mission.

Of the 16,000 evacuees, Taylor said the military transported just under 11,000. He said the use of temporary safe haven locations across Europe and the Middle East to house Afghans, from Qatar to Spain, is a “testament to the importance of our alliances and our partnerships.”

In the U.S., he said four military installations, as well as Dulles International Airport, are now receiving Afghans as they come into the country. The installations include Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, Fort Lee in Virginia, Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst in New Jersey and Fort Bliss in Texas.

While Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the U.S. has evacuated “several thousand” Americans, he declined to give a more accurate approximation when pressed, saying the number is “very fluid” and “literally changes nearly by the hour.”

Aug 23, 10:37 am
US confirms member of Afghan forces killed

United States Central Command has confirmed one member of the Afghan security forces was killed overnight in a firefight.

“No U.S. or coalition forces were hurt during a brief exchange of gunfire last night outside the north gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport. The incident appeared to begin when an unknown hostile actor fired upon Afghan security forces involved in monitoring access to the gate. The Afghans returned fire, and in keeping with their right of self-defense, so too did U.S. and coalition troops,” said Navy Capt. William Urban, U.S. CENTCOM spokesperson, in a statement.

“One member of the Afghan forces was killed by the hostile actor; several Afghans were wounded during the exchange. The wounded are being treated at an airfield hospital and are reported to be in stable condition,” he said. “Our condolences go out to the teammates and loved ones of the fallen Afghan soldier.”

The German military announced earlier on Twitter that one Afghan soldier was killed and three others were wounded at the airport in Kabul.

Aug 23, 9:58 am
Taliban holds 1st loya jirga since returning to power

The Taliban is holding its first-ever loya jirga, or “grand council” in Pashto, since taking back control of Afghanistan, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told ABC News.

The event is taking place at the Kabul Polytechnic University in Afghanistan’s capital on Monday.

The purpose of the loya jirga is to hold consultations with religious scholars, and the source said three issues are under consideration: the teaching style in Afghan schools; whether help from the Taliban’s ulema, a body of Muslim scholars, is needed to avoid a mass exodus of Afghans; and how to encourage the country’s younger generation to work, including women.

Aug 23, 7:44 am
Some 16,300 people evacuated from Kabul in past 24 hours

The United States has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 37,000 people from Kabul since Aug. 14 when the Taliban closed in on Afghanistan’s capital, according to a White House official.

In a 24-hour period from Sunday to Monday, 28 U.S. military flights evacuated approximately 10,400 people from Kabul. Another 5,900 people were evacuated via 61 coalition aircraft.

Since the end of July, the U.S. has relocated approximately 42,000 people from Kabul, the White House official said.

Aug 23, 5:28 am
Taliban warns of ‘consequences’ if Biden extends withdrawal deadline: ‘It’s a red line’

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Sky News that Aug. 31, the date Biden has set for completing the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, is a “red line” and extending it would “provoke a reaction.”

The U.S. president said Sunday he would not rule out extending the withdrawal deadline beyond Aug. 31, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reportedly expected to urge Biden for an extension. But the Taliban spokesman warned “there would be consequences.”

“President Biden announced that on the 31st of August they would withdraw all their military forces. So if they extend it, that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that,” Shaheen said in a recent interview with Sky News. “I think it will deteriorate the relation that will create mistrust between us.”

Aug 23, 5:05 am
At least 1 killed, 3 wounded in gunfight at Kabul airport

One Afghan soldier was killed and three others were wounded in a shootout with unidentified attackers at the international airport in Kabul on Monday morning, the German military announced via Twitter.

Both German and American forces returned fire when the shooting erupted at the north gate of the Hamid Karzai International Airport. No German soldiers were hurt in the exchange, according to the German military.

The U.S. military is aware of an incident at one of the gates, a defense official told ABC News.

The deadly gun battle occurred as the United States and other Western nations oversaw the evacuation of thousands of Afghan nationals and foreigners desperate to flee the Taliban-controlled country.

Aug 22, 10:48 pm
Southwest to begin domestic refugee flights

Joining other international airlines like United, Delta and American, Southwest Airlines announced Sunday that it will work with the Department of Defense to help transport domestic refugees from Afghanistan.

“We are proud to support our military’s critical humanitarian airlift mission, and we are grateful to our Employees for demonstrating an eagerness to support these military efforts, once again displaying their true Southwest Heart,” the company said in a statement Sunday.

Southwest said it plans to operate four of these types of flights on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

“Of course, the Southwest Team stands ready to provide additional support to the Department of Defense, if needed,” the company said.

Aug 22, 5:34 pm
Biden again defends decision to withdraw

The president pushed back against critics who questioned his timing about pulling American forces from Afghanistan.

Biden reiterated that the 20-year war has already left 2,448 Americans dead and 20,722 wounded and cost $300 million a day.

“Either increase the number of forces we keep there and keep that going, or I end the war. I decided to end the war,” he said.

The president stressed that America will remain vigilant against overseas terrorists.

“So the question is, when is the right time to leave? Where are our national interests? Where do they lie?” Biden asked.

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