The US military has stepped up flights out of the Kabul airport, and Pentagon officials reported Monday the biggest day of airlifts since the evacuation began on August 14th.
Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters Monday morning that within the previous 24 hours, 16,000 people were flown out of Kabul. Of that number, nearly 11,000 were evacuated by the US military, and the rest left on commercial, charter, and other military flights.
Taylor said that since the airlift began on August 16th, 37,000 people have been evacuated. It’s not clear how many US citizens have been airlifted. According to a government document obtained by Yahoo News, as of Saturday, a total of 3,376 US citizens were evacuated from Kabul. There have been instances of the US flying helicopters outside of the airport to get Americans in nearby locations in Kabul. But for the most part, US forces are staying inside the airport.
The White House still doesn’t know exactly how many Americans are in Afghanistan. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Monday that the US doesn’t know the exact number because not every American in Afghanistan registered with the embassy or deregistered when they left the country. Last week, government officials estimated there were about 10,000 to 15,000 US citizens in Afghanistan.
On top of the US citizens, Washington is also evacuating Afghans who supported the US war effort and their families. President Biden estimates that in total, between 50,000 and 65,000 Afghans are seeking refuge.
There are currently 5,800 US troops at the Kabul airport. Biden has promised that they would stay until every American who wants to leave is evacuated, even if that means extending his August 31st withdrawal deadline. But the Taliban warned Monday there would be “consequences” if foreign troops stay after the withdrawal deadline.
The US is counting on the Taliban to allow safe passage for Americans who are trying to get to the Kabul airport. Sullivan said the US is consulting with the Taliban “on every aspect of what’s happening in Kabul right now.”
Things have still been chaotic at the airport, and some casualties were reported over the past two days. One Afghan soldier was reported killed at the airport on Monday. The Pentagon said an “unknown hostile actor” opened fire on Afghan security forces, and Afghan, US, and other coalition soldiers fired back. On Sunday, seven Afghans were killed in a stampede by a panicked crowd.