U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley on Wednesday said that the United States has control over one airport in Kabul and is working on rescuing Americans who can get there. However, they added that though their military presence in Afghanistan has the capability to extract some Americans in extreme circumstances, they can’t gather up large groups of Americans who cannot get to the U.S.-controlled airport.
The top officials’ comments come after the Taliban seized near-total control of the country over the weekend.
“I would draw a distinction between extracting someone in an extreme condition or circumstances versus going out and collecting large numbers of American citizens,” Austin replied when he was asked during a press conference if U.S. forces would “extract” Americans not able to reach the Kabul airport for fear of being stopped or taken by the Taliban.
Austin pointed out that this became their plan because the U.S. forces do not have the capability to go out and collect large numbers of people. The U.S. forces in Afghanistan are currently focused on securing the airfield, American Military News reported.
Austin’s remarks came after reports surfaced claiming that the Taliban have set up different checkpoints around the country and blocked the access going to the Kabul airport. Reports, likewise, surfaced saying that those who attempt to get through will be beaten and whipped by the Taliban.
The U.S. State Department also said that it is just relying on the assurance that the Taliban will let Americans through their checkpoints as it has already communicated with the group to facilitate safe passage for American citizens.
“We will continue to coordinate and deconflict with the Taliban to make sure those people that need to get to the airfield have the right credentials to ensure passage. The Taliban has been checking those credentials. If they have them, they’ve allowed them to pass,” Austin said.
An advisory was also released by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, stating: “The United States government cannot ensure safe passage to the Hamid Karzai International Airport.”
However, it advised the U.S. citizens in Afghanistan to plan their entry to the airport at Camp Sullivan, which is located near the Hamid Karzai International Airport. The advisory detailed: “From the HKIA Airport South Traffic Circle, head east for 1km and turn right on to Camp Sullivan. Please note that gates may change frequently and that we will provide updates as necessary.”
Around 5,000 people have been evacuated since the start of the operations last Sunday. There are approximately 15,000 U.S. citizens stuck in Afghanistan.