Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said US troops are focused on keeping the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul secure and when pressed about potentially extending the perimeter around the airport.
“We’re going to evacuate everybody that we can physically, possibly, evacuate. And we’ll conduct this process for as long as we possibly can. We will continue to deconflict issues with the Taliban and we will stay focused on securing the airfield. We cannot afford to either not defend that airfield or not have an airfield that is secure where we have hundreds or thousands of civilians that can access the airfield at will and put our forces at risk,” he said.
Asked about the images of people struggling to get into the airport, Austin doubled down and reiterated that officials are attempting to “deconflict” with the Taliban to create passageways for people to get to the airfield.
“I don’t have the capability to go out and extend operations into Kabul,” Austin told reporters.
“And where do you take that? I mean, how far can you extend into Kabul, you know, and how long does it take to flow those forces in to be able to do that,” Austin added.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley added, that the State Department is still working on a “facilitation measure” to get evacuees onto the airfield.
“And I would tell you that for the American citizens, passport holders, the Taliban and the State Department… but they are working on a facilitation measure. So those numbers are likely to grow. For the others, the State Department is still working through exactly getting the procedures for the evacuees to get to the airfield,” Milley said.
The Pentagon and State Department issued conflicting statements Wednesday about the ability of US citizens and Afghans to reach the Kabul airport, with the State saying it could not ensure safe transit to the airfield, while the Pentagon said the Taliban is “guaranteeing safe passage.”
“THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT CANNOT ENSURE SAFE PASSAGE TO THE HAMID KARZAI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT,” the US Embassy in Kabul advised American citizens in a security alert Wednesday.
A few hours later, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told reporters at the State Department today that, “we have seen reports that the Taliban, contrary to their public statements and their commitments to our government are blocking Afghans who wish to leave the country from reaching the airport.”
Sherman said that the State Department’s team in Doha, Qatar, is meeting with Taliban officials, and “our military partners on the ground in Kabul are engaging directly with the Taliban to make clear that we expect them to allow all American citizens all third country nationals and all Afghans who wish to leave to do so safely and without harassment.”
But in a press briefing at the Pentagon that started while the the State Department was still briefing, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told reporters that, “the Taliban are in and around the Kabul right now but they are not interfering with our operations.”
“Through the State Department, the Taliban are guaranteeing safe passage to the airport for American citizens, that is, US passport holders,” Milley said.
When asked if the military had the capability to enter Kabul and extract people, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “We don’t have the capability to go out and collect the large numbers of people out.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin outlined three main concerns regarding the situation on the ground in Afghanistan in evacuating Americans and US allies.
The first area of concern is ensuring the safety and security of Americans “and the people that we’re trying to evacuate,” he said during a news conference at the Pentagon.
We are “laser focused on the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul and on doing everything that we can to continue evacuating Americans, allies, Afghans who have worked alongside us, and also other courageous Afghans at special risk,” he added.
Austin said that there are currently 4,500 US troops on the ground who are trained and equipped to “defend themselves and their operations.”
“There have been no hostile interactions with the Taliban. And our lines of communication with Taliban commanders remain open as they should be,” he continued.
Second, the defense secretary said US troops on the ground are focused on “maintaining security” at Hamid Karazi International Airport itself.
“In concert with forces from our allies, our troops have set up defensive positions around the airport and the airport is able to function safely. Now, we don’t take this for granted and I continue to be in daily contact with General Mckenzie and commanders on the ground to make sure that they have what they need to keep it safe.”
Third, Austin discussed the focus around keeping “the pace” and “increasing the flow of aircraft and people out of Kabul.”
“We’ve flown out several thousand since 15th of August and our goal is to be able to increase our capacity every day going forward. And as we build out this capacity, we work hand in glove with the State Department which is leading the whole of government effort to notify and process American citizens who are leaving, and to urgently identify and process Afghan applicants as well. We’ve dispatched small military teams to two of the airport’s gates to assist the State Department consular efforts as they evaluate and process individuals seeking entry. And we expect to be able to augment that capability in the coming days,” he said.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said that “approximately 5,000 people” have been evacuated from Afghanistan already, and the US military intends to “increase” the number of people who have been evacuated.
Milley did not breakdown the categories of evacuees.
“Right now, we are averaging about 20 sorties of C-17s every 24 hours,” Milley said, referring to US military planes.
Milley said the US military has “the ability to significantly increase” the number of people they are able to
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley outlined the dangerous situation on the ground in Afghanistan, saying US troops are “at risk” and that they need to be the nation’s main focus.
“Today the situation is still very dangerous, very dynamic, and very fluid. And all of us can be proud for the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines executing this mission. They are currently in harm’s way. That needs to be our focus,” Milley said at a Pentagon briefing Wednesday.
“There will be many postmortems on this topic, but right now is not that time. Right now there are troops at risk. And we are the United States military and we fully intend to successfully evacuate all American citizens who want to get out of Afghanistan. All American citizens who want to get out of Afghanistan. They are our priority number one,” he continued.
“In addition, we intend to evacuate those who have been supporting us for years and we won’t leave them behind. And we will get out as many as possible. Our troops in Kabul are taking high risk to accomplish that mission. Every minute these troops are on the ground making difficult decisions with incredible skill, incredible bravery, and incredible valor,” he added.
Milley said the security situation at the airport is currently stable, but there are threats and they are being monitored: “We can identify them [the threats], if we identify them, we will take immediate military action without hesitation in accordance with our rules of engagement. And the Taliban and every other organization in that country knows it.”
Remember: Earlier Wednesday, CNN’s Chief International Correspondent, Clarissa Ward, reported that people have been thronging the airport in a bid to flee as countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, try to evacuate their own citizens and some Afghan nationals looking for protection. The Taliban is outside the airport, in charge of crowd control.
“They’ve been whipping people … firing shots in the air, firing shots at people,” Ward said. “Inside the airport, it appears less chaotic because it is having some effect … But, on the perimeter, it is, of course, incredibly intimidating for people who desperately want to leave this country. And they’re fearful that the Taliban won’t even let them pass those checkpoints.”
Meanwhile, the US embassy in Kabul advised American citizens today that the US government cannot ensure safe passage to the airport for those looking to flee the country.
The Department of Defense has dispatched “small military teams to two of the airport gates” at Hamid Karzai International Airport to “assist the State Department Consular efforts as they evaluate and process individuals seeking entry,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said during a briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday.
Austin said the Defense Department is focused on increasing the capacity of people and aircrafts leaving Hamid Karzai International Airport.
“We’ve flown several thousand since the 15th of August and our goal is tot be able to increase our capacity going forward,” Austin said.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who served more than 40 years in the military, today drew on his personal experiences to say he believed the US has a “moral obligation to help those who helped us.”
“All of this is very personal for me,” he said. “This is a war that I fought in and led. I know the country. I know the people. And I know those who fought alongside me.”
“We have a moral obligation to help those who helped us,” he added. “I feel the urgency deeply.”
Austin concluded his prepared remarks on a note of comfort for US veterans and their loved ones who may wonder if their wartime sacrifices in the nearly two decades of US involvement were in vain.
“I know that these are difficult days for those who lost loved ones in Afghanistan and for those who carry the wounds of war, especially now we mourn those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.
“Our greatest asset as a nation is the extraordinary men and women who volunteer to keep us all safe and their families,” he concluded. “We honor your service, we understand your sacrifice and we and we will never forget it.”
Gen. Mark Milley, Joint Chiefs Chairman, discussed the “rapid collapse” of Afghanistan and the takeover by the Taliban.
He said that US intelligence indicated “multiple scenarios” were possible after the military began the draw down of troops in Afghanistan.
“One of those was an outright Taliban takeover following a rapid collapse of the Afghan security forces and the government,” Milley said, adding that other possible scenarios they foresaw were “civil war” and a “negotiated settlement.”
He continued: “However, the time frame of a rapid collapse, that was widely estimated and ranged from weeks to months and even years following our departure. There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days.”
Any Americans still in Afghanistan will be able to leave the country if they choose to, said Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a Pentagon news briefing Wednesday afternoon.
“[W]e are the United States military and we fully intend to successfully evacuate all American citizens who want to get out of Afghanistan. All American citizens who want to get out of Afghanistan, they are our priority number one,” Milley said. “In addition, we intend to evacuate those who have been supporting us for years and we won’t leave them behind. And we will get out as many as possible.”
Milley praised the US troops on the ground, and their efforts to evacuate Americans.
“Our troops in Kabul are taking high risk to accomplish that mission. Every minute these troops are on the ground making difficult decisions with incredible skill, incredible bravery, and incredible valor,” he said.
Some context: The US embassy in Kabul advised American citizens today that the US government cannot ensure safe passage to the airport for those looking to flee the country.
“THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT CANNOT ENSURE SAFE PASSAGE TO THE HAMID KARZAI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT,” the embassy advised American citizens in a security alert Wednesday.
The alert told citizens that space on evacuation flights will now be available “on a first come, first serve basis.”