More than 5,200 US troops on ground at Hamid Karzai Airport to assist with airlift operations, says military.
WASHINGTON (AA) – The US has evacuated more than 7,000 people fleeing the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Thursday.
The total includes those who have been evacuated since Aug. 14 when the US took control of Hamid Karzai International Airport. It has since assumed air traffic control for military flights as well as extremely limited commercial operations.
Gen. William Taylor, a deputy director for operations in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters 2,000 evacuees were flown out in the past 24 hours on 12 C-17 cargo planes, including about 300 Americans and their families.
The US has also reached its goal of being able to fly out up to 9,000 people per day, Taylor said, noting additional gates at the airport have been opened to expedite the processing of individuals seeking evacuation.
The general confirmed F-18 combat jets have been in the air above Kabul conducting “armed overwatch flights” for ongoing US operations.
“The ability to provide close air support is something that needs to be immediate if the condition on the ground ever required that,” said Taylor. “As prudent military operations, we ensure there are always military assets available so the commander, if required, can ensure the time and space of reaction is as little as possible.”
US President Joe Biden left the door open on Wednesday to continuing operations at the airport beyond an Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw US forces, if needed.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that should Biden order the US to keep forces beyond the deadline to facilitate evacuations “then obviously that would require additional conversations with the Taliban as well.”
Biden threatened the Taliban with a strong military response if they attack US troops or interfere in operations, and the Pentagon confirmed no attacks have taken place.
More than 5,200 American troops are on the ground at the airport to secure the facility and assist with evacuations, according to Taylor.
The State Department said 6,000 people have been fully processed for evacuation and “will soon board planes.”
Asked about massive crowds being held up near the airport, agency spokesman Ned Price said the US lacks the resources to carry out operations beyond the compound.
After capturing several key strategic provincial capitals in recent days, forcing government forces to surrender or flee, Taliban fighters on Sunday reached the capital city.
Former President Ashraf Ghani fled the country along with close aides that day.
Following the departure of Ghani, former President Hamid Karzai, veteran politician Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and top peace negotiator Abdullah Abdullah formed a council to ensure a smooth transfer of power.