U.S. winds down mission, over 116,000 individuals evacuated since Aug. 14
A U.S. Marine provides assistance with an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2021.
US Marines | Reuters
WASHINGTON – The United States is a day away from completing its evacuation mission in Kabul, marking the seemingly end of a 20-year attempt by the West to establish stable democracy in Afghanistan.
Early Monday, Western forces evacuated 1,200 people from the Afghan capital on 26 military cargo plane flights in 24 hours, according to the latest White House figures. Since the mass evacuations began on August 14, around 116,700 people have been flown out of Afghanistan.
About 122,300 people have been evacuated since the end of July, including about 5,500 US citizens and their families.
On Monday, up to five missiles were intercepted by US anti-missile missiles near Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that President Joe Biden had been informed of the missile attack and reiterated that commanders should give priority to protecting US forces on the ground.
The Pentagon said Saturday it had begun its retrograde process – the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said fewer than 5,000 soldiers remain in Afghanistan, adding that the US would no longer provide an exact number due to security conditions.
On Monday, Kirby said the US would communicate with the Taliban through the evacuation mission.
“Our commanders on site remain in contact with the Taliban leaders around the airfield in order to resolve conflicts and avoid misjudgments and misunderstandings.
When asked about the security situation, Kirby described the threats as dynamic but added that the US “will retain the ability to protect and defend ourselves as we continue to step backwards”.
A State Department spokesman said Saturday that about 250 Americans are still seeking evacuation.
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Over the weekend, the US carried out two known drone strikes against ISIS-K members believed to have been involved in planning attacks against US forces in Kabul. The strikes followed a suicide bombing that killed 13 American soldiers.
The Pentagon said on Sunday that it is evaluating the results of the drone strikes after reports of civilian casualties.
“We are aware of reports of civilian casualties following our attack on a vehicle in Kabul today,” said US Navy Captain Bill Urban, spokesman for US Central Command, in a statement.
“We would be deeply saddened by the possible loss of innocent people,” he added.
On Sunday, the President and First Lady Jill Biden traveled to Dover Air Force Base to meet privately with the families of fallen U.S. soldiers before they dignified the handover of American flag-draped coffins from a C-17 military cargo plane to a vehicle observed.
United States President Joe Biden will attend the dignified transfer of the remains of a fallen soldier at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware on August 29, 2021
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
A dignified transfer is a solemn process in which the remains of fallen soldiers are transported from an airplane to a waiting vehicle. It is carried out for every U.S. soldier killed in action.
It was the first time Biden had participated in a dignified transfer since he became president.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley also attended the dignified transfer, along with U.S. Marine Corps Commander Gen. David Berger, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday and US Air Force Col. Chip Hollinger, who oversaw the military logistics of the transfer.
The August 26 attack near the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport that killed 11 Marines, one Marine and one Army soldier is currently under investigation.