The deployment beyond Kabul’s airport comes as President Biden considers pushing back his Aug. 31 deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal. Violent clashes continued at Kabul’s airport.
With just eight days left before an Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, the Pentagon is ramping up evacuations from Kabul’s airport by deploying American helicopters and troops into select spots in Kabul to extract stranded American citizens and Afghan allies.
Defense officials said that as of Monday, the military has helped to evacuate 37,000 people since Aug. 14, when Kabul fell to the Taliban. The pace of flights has picked up in the last few days, allowing for 11,000 people to be evacuated in one day. But that number is still just a fraction of the American citizens, foreign nationals, and Afghan allies who are seeking to leave the country.
President Biden has left the door open to maintaining the American troop presence — now at 5,800 Marines and soldiers — at the airport beyond the Aug. 31 deadline. But on Monday a Taliban spokesman warned of “consequences” if the United States sticks around beyond Aug. 31.
Mr. Kirby declined to offer details about how American troops will deploy into Kabul itself, or other parts of the country, to extract Americans, citing delicate ongoing negotiations between American and Taliban commanders. But he acknowledged two specific incidents in which American helicopters and troops have gone into Kabul to extract some 350 Americans, and said other cases may occur if Americans and allies are “in extremis.”
That is a change in the Pentagon’s position from last week, when officials said U.S. forces did not have the capacity to operate beyond the airport, and that people seeking evacuation had to make their way to the airport on their own.
In a 24-hour period from Sunday to Monday, “the U.S. military transported just under 11,000 personnel,” from the airport to other countries, Gen. Hank Taylor said at the Pentagon briefing — by far the highest one-day figure so far. “Since the beginning of evacuation operations on Aug. 14, we have evacuated approximately 37,000.”
He said Afghan allies are still being processed at the Kabul airport, although several times over the past week the gates of the airport have been shuttered because of the surge of people.
The Pentagon added a fourth American military base — Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, in New Jersey — to the list of temporary places where Afghan refugees will be taken upon arrival in the United States. John F. Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said that the addition of the base will bring the housing capacity to 25,000 in the next weeks.