The Afghanistan evacuation that has left 13 service men and women dead is now coming to a close, with its Aug. 31 deadline looming. The Pentagon on Monday briefed Americans on where the operation stands. The full press conference can be found below:
Approximately 122,000 people have been evacuated and 5,400 of them are Americans. U.S. military forces conducted on Sunday "an unmanned over the horizon airstrike on the vehicle known to be an imminent isis K threat," according to General Hank Taylor. Taylor acknowledged that there may have been civilian casualties and is investigating that possibility. Five rockets were also fired at the Kabul airport on Sunday. Force protection measures were undertaken to "thwart the attack."
According to the press conference, the following operations have occurred. The information is fluid and ongoing, but a "snapshot in time" shows:
- 26 U.S. military aircraft, all C-17s, departed with approximately 1,200 evacuees.
- 28 flights out of Kabul airport in the last 24 hours, including remaining coalition departures.
- Staging bases and DoD installments continue to accept passengers from Kabul.
- At CENTCOM, more than 27,000 passengers await follow-on movement from six active locations.
- At EUCOM, three active locations currently have more than 22,000 passengers. Today, 17 flights will transport about 3,700 passengers to both Dulles International Airport, with approximately 11 flights, and Philadelphia International Airport, with six flights.
- In NORTHCOM, there are nearly 13,000 passengers that remain at five different U.S. installations.
When asked about military weapons and equipment in the region, neither Pentagon Press Secretary Kirby nor Gen. Taylor could answer questions about whether American military equipment was being destroyed. Taylor explained that those decisions are at the discretion of personnel on the ground.
Approximately 5,800 Americans were left in Afghanistan at the end of July when the Bagram airbase was abandoned. According to Kirby, "baked into the retrograde plan way back in the spring" was a plan for non-combatant evacuations. Thus, it was something "they had been planning and were ready for." While the majority of the evacuation is now over, Kirby stated, "the State Department is going to continue to work across many different levers to facilitate that transportation."
Kirby continued to defend the position that there was simply no way to anticipate "how quickly that government (Afghan) would've literally just dissipated almost overnight." Kirby confirmed that the next 24-36 hours will be particularly dangerous for the troops and people on the ground.
"As for the airport," Kirby stated, "the airport will remain operational through our final flights. What it looks like after we are gone, I would just point you to what the Secretary of State said, that the international community—there's a couple of countries that have talked about being able to come up with an arrangement to—to keep it operational for commercial air traffic, in coordination with the Taliban. I'll let those countries speak for their efforts with the Taliban. That would not be a U.S. military function; it would not be a U.S. military responsibility once we have completed the retrograde and—and we are no longer there."