On Monday, the US military completed its largest ever day of evacuation flights to Afghanistan. But, the Taliban signaled that they might soon shut down the airlifts.
Over 24 hours, about 10,400 people were safely evacuated from Taliban-held Afghanistan by 28 US military planes. White House officials stated that 15 C-17 flight crews brought out another 6,660 passengers in the 12 hours following.
John Kirby (the Pentagon’s chief spokesperson) said that evacuations took place at a quicker pace due to coordination between Taliban commanders and getting people into the airport.
Kirby stated, “Thusfar, and going ahead, it does require constant coordination with the Taliban.” “What we’ve observed is that this deconfliction has allowed access and flow, as well as reducing overall crowd size outside the airport.”
The access to the airport was still difficult and the US military attempted another helicopter retrieval.
Officials from the United States reported Monday that a military helicopter had picked up 16 American citizens and taken them to the airfield for evacuation.
Kirby said this was at most the second such rescue mission outside of the airport. Kirby said last Thursday that three Army helicopters picked-up 169 Americans close to a hotel just past the airport gate, and flew them onto an airfield.
Jake Sullivan (National Security Advisor to President Joe Biden) stated that talks with Taliban officials are ongoing as the administration searches for new ways to safely transport more Americans into Kabul.
“We are still in talks with Taliban on a daily base through both security and political channels,” he stated, adding that it would ultimately be Biden who will decide whether to continue military-led evacuate operations beyond August 31. That was the date Biden had chosen to complete the withdrawal.
California Democrat Rep Adam Schiff was the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He said after a briefing Monday about the withdrawal from Afghanistan that “it was difficult for me to imagine” wrapping-up the airlifts by end of the month.
He said that it was clear that “there were any number warnings” to government “of a very quick takeover by Taliban.”
After more than seven weeks of chaos and obstacles that made it difficult to get to the airport, the US forecasts were exceeded for the first time.
The number of people who died was twice that of the 3,900 Americans flew in the 24 hours preceding.
Army Gen. Stephen Lyons from the US Transportation Command, the head of the military aircraft involved in the Kabul Airlift, said at a Pentagon news conference, that more than 200 aircraft are involved. The arriving planes will spend less than one hour on the Kabul tarmac before loading up and departing.
He claimed that nonstop missions are putting pressure on aircrews.
Lyons spoke out about the crews saying, “They’re tired.” “They are probably exhausted in some cases.”
Lyons also stated that two other children were born in the same circumstances as the one reported by the media, including the Afghan woman who gave birth aboard an American evacuation plane. He did not provide details.
According to the Pentagon’s statement, the US has now added a fourth military base in New Jersey to its three existing bases in Virginia and Texas that can temporarily house Afghans. According to Maj. Gen. Hank Williams (Joint Staff deputy director for regional operation), there are approximately 1,200 Afghans currently at the military bases. Kirby stated that all four bases are capable of accommodating up to 25,000.
Afghan evacuees arrived at Dulles International Airport outside Washington.
Many of the adults looked tired. A journalist asked one man how it feels to be here. He said, “We’re safe.”
An elderly woman fell into a chair and was relieved to be able to move freely. A little girl, accompanied by an older boy, sat beside her and looked around.
Many arrived with only a bag or purse to carry their belongings, while others had to beg for a shopping bag or bookbag. Some people arrived empty-handed for their new lives.
Biden indicated Sunday that he was open to the idea of extending evacuations beyond August 31. Boris Johnson (British Prime Minister) will meet Biden in person on Tuesday to discuss the chaotic withdrawal.
The US’s lawmakers, veterans organizations, and refugee advocates also urge Biden to continue the U.S. military evacuation from Kabul Airport. This will allow the U.S. to airlift not only Americans but also Afghan allies.
Suhail Shaheen (Taliban spokesman) said in an interview that August 31 was a “red line” that the US must not cross, and that expanding the American presence “provoke reactions.”
The Taliban have taken the capital of Afghanistan August 15, in a dramatic rout by the US-backed Afghan government. The US has been conducting the evacuation in coordination and with the Taliban. However, they have not yet attacked Americans, as per a 2020 withdrawal agreement with Trump.
Monday’s warning suggested that the Taliban might insist on closing the Kabul airport’s airlifts within a little more than a week.
According to US allies, lawmakers, refugees groups, veterans organizations, as well US allies, the US could end the evacuation and leave behind thousands of Afghans and foreigners still seeking flights.
The US has assisted the evacuation of approximately 37,000 people since August 14th.
German officials stated that at least one Afghan soldier was killed by a firefight outside the airport early Monday.
It was the latest in a string of sometimes-lethal violence at the airport. People who arrive to flee Taliban rule will face occasional gunfire, beatings from the Taliban, and crowds that have trampled many.