WASHINGTON – The White House announced Monday that the US has evacuated or assisted approximately 48,000 people from Afghanistan since August 14, in airborne approximately 10,900 of them within 12 hours on Monday.
The balance sheet represents an obvious acceleration of the military’s colossal efforts to relocate as many people as possible during a Taliban takeover. In addition, the coalition forces evacuated around 5,900 people over the weekend.
The US has relocated around 53,000 people since the end of July, the White House said. According to the State Department, several thousand Americans are still waiting to be evacuated.
The Pentagon said evacuees are flying from Kabul to temporary safe havens in the Middle East and Europe, including U.S. installations in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Italy, Spain and Germany.
Afghan nationals arriving in the United States will be housed at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, Fort Lee, Virginia, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, and Fort Bliss, Texas.
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Army Gen. Steve Lyons, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, told reporters Monday that nearly 200 aircraft were used in some way for the evacuation.
“Well, when I say we’re all in. I’m serious,” said Lyons, adding that he was confident that the US military will be able to increase its current departure speed.
The latest update on evacuation efforts comes as U.S. and NATO coalition forces fly thousands of people out of the country before meeting a self-imposed deadline to leave Afghanistan in eight days.
U.S. Airmen and U.S. Marines lead qualified evacuees aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), Afghanistan, Aug. 21, 2021.
US Air Force | Reuters
President Joe Biden previously announced that he would be extending the departure date beyond August 31, but has yet to do so.
A Taliban spokesman told Sky News that the company would not accept such an extension.
“It’s a red line. President Biden has announced that they will withdraw all of their forces on August 31st. So if they are extending them, it means they are extending the crew while it is not required, ”Suhail Shaheen said, according to the report.
“If the US or UK is looking for extra time to evacuate, the answer is no. Or there would be consequences, ”he added.
When asked about the Taliban warning, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters that Biden is assessing the situation “day in and day out,” adding that “the president will make his own decisions” about a possible extension.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaks during the daily press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on August 23, 2021.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images
The State Department reiterated that the US would hold the Taliban accountable if the group fails to meet its obligation to ensure safe passage for evacuees traveling to the airport.
“The Taliban have agreed to allow safe passage for Americans, third-country nationals and Afghans who want to leave the country,” spokesman Ned Price told State Department reporters. “Together we will hold them accountable if they fail to do this,” he added.
Sullivan downplayed criticism that the United States botched its withdrawal from Afghanistan in the face of hasty military evacuations and panic scenes at the airport.
“What I am seeing is that the United States is securing an airfield at the risk of several thousand American troops, not only to facilitate the evacuation of Americans, but also to facilitate the evacuation of third country nationals from friends and foes alike, and evacuation of tens of thousands of people who want to leave Afghanistan for humanitarian reasons, “said Sullivan.
“This is a huge logistic, diplomatic and humanitarian security company. There is no other country in the world that could pull off something like this except none, ”he added.
At the Pentagon, Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said “the focus is on getting this done by the end of the month”.
Department of Defense Press Secretary John Kirby (R) and Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army William Taylor (L), Deputy Director of Regional Operations for the Department of Defense, attend a news conference in Arlington, Virginia on August 23, 2021 at Pentagon part.
Alex Wong | Getty Images
“We are aware of the Taliban’s declared wish to complete this mission by August 31st. I will tell you that we still plan to complete them by August 31st, the Commander in Chief and assigned to us and that is what we are trying to carry out, ”added Kirby.
On Monday before, the US military had confirmed that a brief firefight had broken out at a gate of the Hamid Karzai international airport in Kabul.
Navy Capt. William Urban, a spokesman for US Central Command – the combatant command that oversees US military operations in the region – said the incident “appeared to begin when an unknown enemy fired on Afghan security forces.”
He added that no American or NATO coalition forces were injured.