More than 2,000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan over the past 24 hours, DOD officials said during a Pentagon press conference on Thursday, August 19.
The U.S. military footprint at Hamid Karzai International Airport has expanded to 5,200 troops, and there are now more gates for entry onto the field, said Army Maj. Gen. William D. "Hank" Taylor, the Joint Staff's deputy director for regional operations. This will help ensure safe and efficient operations for evacuees.
Taylor and Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby held a briefing this morning shortly after an interview with President Joe Biden on the situation in Kabul was broadcast. In that interview, Biden vowed to get Americans, Afghans enrolled in the special immigrant visa program, third country allies and Afghans designated "special risk" out of the country. He left the door open to extending the mission past the August 31 deadline.
"If he believes that there's a need to alter the timeline … he would revisit that at the appropriate time," Kirby said.
In the past 24 hours, 13 C-17s arrived with additional troops and equipment, and 12 C-17s departed carrying more than 2,000 people, Taylor said. These flights left Kabul and arrived at designated safe havens and staging areas in the U.S. Central Command area of operations.
Since the start of non-combatant evacuation operations on August 14, the military has airlifted about 7,000 evacuees.
"This increase is reflective of both a ramp up of aircraft and airlift capability, faster processing of evacuees, and greater information in fidelity in reporting," Taylor said.
The cumulative number of people who have been evacuated going back to July is 12,000. That number includes American citizens, U.S. embassy personnel, individuals designated by the State Department as SIV applicants and other evacuees in coordination with the State Department, Taylor said.
"We're ready to increase throughput and have scheduled aircraft departures accordingly," the general said. "We intend to maximize each plane's capacity; we're prioritizing people above all else, and we're focused on doing this as safely as possible with absolute urgency."
Kirby and Taylor said there have been no security incidents between the U.S. troops inside the airport and the Taliban around it. Still, it is an inherently dangerous situation and U.S. troops are authorized to respond to provocations as needed.
Taylor noted that F-18s from the Reagan Carrier Strike Group are flying overwatch today. "We maintain a watchful eye, and are continuously conducting in depth assessments to protect the safety of Americans," the general said. "We will use all of the tools in our arsenal to achieve this goal."
Kirby said that the military wants to ensure that airlift capacity is not a limiting factor in getting evacuees out of Kabul. The military continues to build capacity, and he noted there are many factors that can contribute to the process. These include the security situation inside Kabul. It includes evacuees being able to get through Taliban checkpoints. It includes processing evacuees once they reach the airport. And it includes the [local] weather and the weather at the receiving airport. "There's lots of tick points on the way to getting to throughput," he said. "What we want to make sure is that the one limiting factor is not airlift capacity."
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