A US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III.
US Air Force | Flickr CC
WASHINGTON – The US has flown about 7,000 people on cargo planes from Kabul, Afghanistan, in the past five days, the Pentagon said Thursday, while US forces are evacuating as many people as possible in less than two weeks before a self-imposed deadline for withdrawing from the country.
Since late July, the US has evacuated approximately 12,000 people from Afghanistan, including US citizens, US embassy staff, NATO nationals, vulnerable Afghan nationals, and Afghan nationals who have qualified for special immigrant visas.
US Army Major General William “Hank” Taylor said that while the US military can fly about 5,000 to 9,000 people out of Kabul every day, that number depends “on who is at the airfield, ready to leave a waiting area and.” on the plane.”
More than 2,000 people have been evacuated on C-17 aircraft in the past 24 hours, Taylor said. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby estimated that around 300 of the passengers were Americans. Kirby told reporters on Thursday that he did not know how many US citizens were left in Afghanistan.
There are currently 6,000 people at the airport who have been fully evacuated by the US and are waiting to board planes, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Thursday.
An Afghan child sleeps on the loading floor of a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III, which is kept warm by the uniform of the C-17 loadmaster, during an evacuation flight from Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15, 2021.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force
The latest revelation follows Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s admission that the Pentagon is currently unable to safely escort Americans to the airport for evacuation.
“I currently do not have the opportunity to expand operations into Kabul,” said Austin when asked about those who cannot reach the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul because they are behind Taliban checkpoints.
The US embassy in Kabul warned US citizens there on Wednesday that they could not guarantee “a safe passage” to the airport.
The US is relying on an agreement with the Taliban to ensure safe passage for Americans.
U.S. forces have opened another secure gate at the airport to provide easy access to the perimeter for evacuation, Kirby told reporters on Thursday. Around 5,200 soldiers secure the facility and help evacuate flights.
In an interview with ABC News, President Joe Biden defended his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, saying there was no way “to get out without chaos”.
“We will do everything in our power to get all Americans and our allies out,” Biden said, adding that he might consider extending the deadline for a full withdrawal to August 31.
Read more about developments in Afghanistan:
Although the Afghan military, backed by US and NATO coalition forces for the past 20 years, is vastly outnumbered, the Taliban captured Kabul on Sunday.
Members of the House Intelligence Committee are due to receive a secret briefing on the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan next week, a committee official told NBC News.
The briefing, which will be attended by several US intelligence agencies, aims to explain how the country fell under full control of the Taliban. The secret meeting will also give lawmakers an opportunity to learn about the evolving security situation in Afghanistan, shed light on US talks with the Taliban, and keep abreast of evacuation efforts.