August 16, 2021. By Jim Garamone, DoD news
Afghanistan has fallen to the Taliban, and U.S. troops now in the country are working to secure Hamid Karzai International Airport to enable the safe departure of U.S., allied and Afghan partners from the country.
News reports show many Taliban in the streets, some toting American weapons. Other videos show Taliban patrolling the streets in Humvees.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul is closed and President Ashraf Ghani has fled Afghanistan.
Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, met with Taliban leaders in Doha, Qatar.
«I’m not going to detail the specifics of that discussion … but I can tell you that the general was very clear in his discussions with Taliban leaders that any attack on our people, or operations at the airport would be met, swiftly, with a very forceful response,» Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said today at the Pentagon.
U.S. operations in Kabul are centered at the airport. «We are working to reestablish security at Hamid Karzai International Airport following breaches overnight that emanated from the civilian side of the airfield,» Kirby said. «At this time, out of an abundance of caution, there are no flights coming or going, military or civilian.»
This is due to the large crowds on the southern side of the airfield. U.S. troops are working with Turkish soldiers and troops from other partner nations to clear the tarmac of the crowds so air operations can resume, Kirby said. There have been at least two incidents, Kirby said, and two armed Afghans were killed by U.S. troops.
American forces continue to flow into Kabul as part of this non-combatant evacuation operation.
«Currently, there are approximately 2,500 U.S. troops at the airport,» the press secretary said. «Over the next 24 hours we expect additional forces to arrive from both the 82nd Airborne Division and a battalion from a Marine Expeditionary Unit. That should bring our force level to over 3,000.»
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has ordered another battalion of the 82nd Airborne to deploy directly to Kabul. The battalion was scheduled to be part of the quick reaction force in Kuwait.
Kirby repeated a notice from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that «all U.S. citizens, special immigrant visa applicants, and others should shelter in place until security can be re-established at the airfield and an orderly process can be established to marshal them onto the field and to get them out of the country.»
U.S. forces have taken over air traffic control in Kabul.
Once order is restored at the airfield, those seeking refuge will leave via commercial, charter or military aircraft. Almost 2,000 Afghans have relocated to the United States already under the program.
Afghans who have cleared security screening will continue to be transferred directly to the United States. Those who have not completed the screening process, will transfer to a third country.
More than 800,000 American service members have served in Afghanistan since October 2001. A total of 2,352 American service members died in Afghanistan, and more than 20,000 were wounded.
Kirby was asked a number of times if the collapse of the Afghan government forces was a surprise after 20 years of U.S. and coalition training. «You can resource. You can train. You can support. You can advise. And you can assist,» he said. «But you cannot buy ‘will.’ You cannot purchase leadership. And leadership was missing.»
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