Pentagon officials said Thursday that there are now over 5,200 US troops at the Kabul airport as the airlifts out of Afghanistan continue. Over the past day, US military aircraft removed another 2,000 people from Kabul.
Since Saturday, about 7,000 people have been evacuated. The military wants to step up its flights out of Kabul and reach an evacuation rate of 5,000 to 9,000 people every 24 hours. Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the US has enough airplanes to achieve this goal but said there are logistics issues on the ground.
The Taliban have set up checkpoints outside of the airport. There have been reports of the Taliban not letting Afghans through, but they have not impeded US citizens. “We haven’t received any reporting here that indicated that American citizens specifically were being stopped or harassed,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
Kirby said he wasn’t sure how many Americans are left in Afghanistan. Some estimates put the number at between 10,000 and 15,000. On Wednesday, President Biden said troops would stay at the Kabul airport until every US citizen that wants to leave is evacuated, even if it goes past his August 31st withdrawal deadline. The Pentagon has authorized the deployment of roughly 6,000 troops for the evacuation effort, so more could arrive in the coming days.
US military leaders have conceded that they are relying on the Taliban to allow Americans to travel to the airport, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he does not have the capabilities to deploy troops outside of the airport to extract US citizens. While they are trying to stop some of the US’s Afghan allies from leaving, the Taliban has an interest in the US evacuation going smoothly. Any attacks on Americans could risk an escalation, and the US has plenty of airpower at the airport.