U.S. Airmen and U.S. Marines guide qualified evacuees aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), Afghanistan, August 21, 2021.
US Air Force | Reuters
WASHINGTON – The Pentagon said Monday that the U.S. has evacuated or helped to get approximately 37,000 people out of Afghanistan since August 14, with about 10,400 of them airlifted out over the weekend.
The weekend tally represents an apparent acceleration in the military’s colossal efforts to relocate as many people as possible amid a Taliban takeover. In addition, coalition forces evacuated approximately 5,900 people over the weekend.
Since the end of July, the U.S. has relocated approximately 42,000 people. There are still thousands more awaiting evacuation.
The Pentagon said that evacuees are flying from Kabul to temporary safe haven locations across the Middle East and Europe, including U.S. installations in Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Italy, Spain and Germany.
Afghan nationals arriving in the United States will be housed at Ft. McCoy in Wisconsin, Ft. Lee in Virginia, Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst in New Jersey and Ft. Bliss in Texas.
Army Gen. Steve Lyons, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, told reporters on Monday that nearly 200 aircraft were dedicated to the evacuation effort in some capacity.
“So, when I say we’re all in. I mean it,” Lyons said, adding that he was confident that the U.S. military would be able to increase its current departure tempo.
The latest update on evacuation efforts comes as U.S. and NATO coalition forces rush to airlift thousands of people out of the country ahead of a self-imposed deadline to depart Afghanistan in eight days.
President Joe Biden has previously said that he may consider extending the departure date past August 31 but has yet to do so.
A Taliban spokesman told Sky News that the group will not accept such an extension.
“It’s a red line. President Biden announced that on 31 August they would withdraw all their military forces. So if they extend it that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that,” Suhail Shaheen said, according to the report.
“If the U.S. or U.K. were to seek additional time to continue evacuations, the answer is no. Or there would be consequences,” he added.
When asked about the Taliban warning, national security advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters at the White House that Biden was assessing the situation “day by day” and added that “the president will make his own determinations” on a potential extension.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on August 23, 2021.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images
Sullivan downplayed criticisms that the United States had botched its withdrawal from Afghanistan given the rushed military evacuations and panicked scenes at the airport.
“What I see is the United States securing an airfield at the risk of several thousand American troops to facilitate not just the evacuation of Americans, but to facilitate the evacuation of third-country nationals from friends and foes alike, and to facilitate the evacuation of tens of thousands of people who for humanitarian reasons, want to leave Afghanistan,” Sullivan said.
“This is an enormous logistical, diplomatic, security humanitarian undertaking. There is no other country in the world who could pull something like this off, bar none,” he added.
At the Pentagon, Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said that the “focus is on getting this done by the end of the month.”
U.S. Department of Defense Press Secretary John Kirby (R) and Army Major General William Taylor (L), Joint Staff deputy director for regional operations, participate in a news briefing at the Pentagon on August 23, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia.
Alex Wong | Getty Images
“We are well aware of the stated desire by the Taliban to have this mission completed by the 31st of August, I will tell you that we are still planning on completing it by the 31st of August. That is the mission that has been signed by the commander in chief and assigned to us and that’s what we’re trying to execute,” Kirby added.
Earlier on Monday, the U.S. military confirmed that a brief firefight broke out at one gate into Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.
Navy Capt. William Urban, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, the combatant command that oversees American military operations in the region, said the incident “appeared to begin when an unknown hostile actor fired upon Afghan security forces.”
He added no American or NATO coalition forces were injured.