Pentagon Press Secretary Kirby relayed on Tuesday an Aug. 31 deadline to draw down operations and evacuate citizens and those with Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) in Afghanistan. Tuesday's Pentagon press conference addressed the ongoing mission, operations, and logistics being put in place to evacuate personnel and civilians.
As explained in yesterday's press Pentagon conference, the Biden administration has charged U.S. forces to:
"[Focus] on the present mission to facilitate the safe evacuation of U.S. citizens, SIVs and Afghans at risk—to get these personnel out of Afghanistan as quickly and as safely as possible."
Biden also outlined his rationale and plans for the hasty departure from America's longest war in a separate teleconference Monday afternoon. According to recent polling by the Trafalgar Group, about 69 percent of the American people disapprove of how the Biden administration is handling the exit from Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, Kirby and Army Major General Hank Taylor told reporters that:
"Yesterday, the U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan started at about roughly 2,500. And by the end of today, there will be more than approximately 4,000 troops on the ground in Kabul. Throughout the night, nine C-17s arrived delivering equipment and approximately 1,000 troops. Additionally, seven C-17s departed. These flights lifted approximately 700 to 800 passengers. And we can confirm 165 of these passengers are American citizens. The rest are a mix of SIV applicants, third-country nationals. Americans were evacuated overnight."
Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor/Press Briefing/Aug.17
Taylor continued saying that at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKAI) is currently open for operations with the hope of flying "one aircraft per hour in and out of HKAI." He continued, "We predict that our best effort could look like 5,000 to 9,000 passengers departing per day."
Kirby and Taylor spoke to the difficulty of the operation, describing it as one that is rife with "a number of unexpected challenges that can occur for personnel in a complex and dynamic security environment." As a result, the Pentagon and the Department of Defense (DoD) are working closely with each other to ensure that troops and civilians are kept safe.
As explained in yesterday's briefing, Major General Hank Taylor of the Joint Staff, Director of Current Operations, and Garry Reid, Director of the Afghanistan Crisis Action Group, are working together to ensure a safe evacuation.
Reid's focus is the "relocation of refugees, (including SIV) and transportation of our embassy staff, Americans, allies, and other partners from Kabul to their onward destinations." Reid's crisis action group was established in early July of this year. An excerpt of his remarks from Monday can be found below:
According to Reid, he is partnering with the:
"Department of Homeland Security, [with an] initial focus to relocate the SIVs, finalize their visas, and resettle them into the United States with the help of our non-governmental organizations. To date, nearly 2,000 Afghans have passed through this process, joining more than 70,000 that have participated in the SIV program since 2005."
The evacuation process requires cooperation from the Taliban, who have now taken control over most of the country much more quickly than anticipated by the Biden administration. As of Tuesday morning, Taylor told reporters, there have been "no hostile interactions, no attack, and no threat by the Taliban." However, he said, "We remain vigilant."
Both Kirby and Taylor repeated a number of times that, while they cannot tell reporters the details of the negotiations with the Taliban to keep Americans and other individuals safe, "the results speak for themselves." Kirby states:
"What I would tell you is coming out of General Mackenzie’s discussions with senior Taliban leaders in Doha, our commanders at the airport are in communication with Taliban commanders on the ground, outside the airport. There have been discussions. There is communication between them and us. And I would just let the results speak for themselves. I’m not going to get into the details of how those discussions are progressing because there are interactions multiple times a day. And as the General said, I think very well, there’s been no hostile interactions from the Taliban to our operations at the airport."
Many reporters in the room relayed concerns about Americans and civilians who have been allegedly beaten or thwarted at Taliban checkpoints around the country, making it difficult to get to HKAI. Kirby and Taylor made it clear that information like that will not be discussed and from a public-facing perspective, results are what matter.
The 82nd Airborne has now been sent in to support a safe evacuation. The 82nd Airborne is a "global response force" charged with the "unique task" of securing and operating the airfield. Two-star Major General Christopher Donahue is the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg.
Peter Gerard Vasely is a United States Navy rear admiral who has served as the Commander of Special Operations Joint Task Force–Afghanistan and NATO Special Operations Component Command–Afghanistan since May 17, 2021. Per Kirby, he is now in charge of commanding on the ground and "a spate of other duties to include liaison with the State Department, our allies and partners that are also on the ground there in Kabul, the Turkish support element." At max capacity, Kirby said the goal is to operate "more than two dozen sorties per day" with a goal of evacuating "five to 9,000 people out per day."
Mentioned during the briefing were the heart-wrenching photos coming out of Afghanistan over the past few days with hundreds of passengers huddled inside C-17s and alleged incidents of civilians clinging to landing equipment—in some cases allegedly being crushed or thrown from the bottom of the aircraft mid-flight. "Throughout the night," Kirby said, "Nine C-17s arrived delivering equipment and approximately 1,000 troops. Additionally, seven C-17s departed."
Kirby also stated, "two security incidents in which two armed individuals with hostile intent were engaged by troops and killed." Kirby could or would not give the number of casualties from the incidents. However, he indicated that the Air Force would speak to those incidents later in the day on Tuesday.
Biden, during his teleconference yesterday that ended without taking a single question from the press, told the American people that the "Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves." Afghan forces that remain face dangers daily from the Taliban as they assert control of territory in Afghanistan.
The Middle East and Central Asia operate very differently from the west. They have a storied history of shifting tribal alliances and foes, following a "unite or fight" ethos. As such, there is real and present danger in operating outside of what the Taliban has decreed as unified with their perspective. "Messages" are sent in often violent ways, as evidenced by Reuters reporting in early July:
"At least seven Afghan pilots [were] assassinated off-base in recent months, according to two senior Afghan government officials. This series of targeted killings, which haven't been previously reported, illustrate what U.S. and Afghan officials believe is a deliberate Taliban effort to destroy one of Afghanistan's most valuable military assets: its corps of U.S.- and NATO-trained military pilots."
One of the pilots, Afghan Air Force Major Dastagir Zamaray, was ambushed at his realtor's office as he attempted to buy a new home in a "safer" part of Kabul. "The father of seven collapsed dead on his 14-year-old son, who had tagged along. The boy was spared, but barely speaks anymore."
General Michael Flynn eloquently explains his experiences in Central Asia and the challenges Americans faced in Afghanistan in his important debriefing interview called the "Lessons Learned Interview" from November 2015. He also wrote a book called "The Field of Fight," which discusses in detail failures in the Middle East and Central Asia and how to better understand the mentality of fighters there.
Contrary to popular belief, not all Afghans have chosen not to fight. They just do it at a great personal toll.
“There are no such things as allies in the Middle East. There are only shifting sands.” Hussein Sumaida, a refugee from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.