The Pentagon is warning American citizens and Afghan citizens who worked with the occupation that it is entirely up to them to get past the Taliban’s checkpoints and security barriers surrounding Kabul’s airport.
The reason is that the U.S. military, despite having some 4,500 troops at Hamid Karzai International Airport, is not willing to risk the lives of their soldiers and Marines to retrieve Americans and would-be refugees from their hiding places to the tarmac.
“We don’t have the capability to go out and collect large numbers of people,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters during a Wednesday news conference at the Pentagon.
The comments come as the Taliban have reportedly formed a gauntlet close to the U.S. troops and have been beating back those desperately trying to reach the airport.
On Wednesday, the Taliban reportedly agreed to allow Afghans and American citizens to reach the airport but the scene remained chaotic as no clear system existed to bring people in, and checkpoints from the militant group have kept potential refugees and foreign nationals at bay.
While the Afghan government’s forces evaporated on Sunday without putting up any resistance to the Taliban offensive, Kabul’s international airport remains firmly under U.S. control. The U.S. currently has 20 ground combat units in Kabul including Marine infantrymen, soldiers from the 82nd Airborne and 10th Mountain Divisions, and “a variety of special operations forces,” said chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
However, these forces are devoting their resources to defending the airport.
“We cannot afford to either not defend that airfield or not have an airfield that is secure where we have hundreds or thousands of civilians that can access the airfield at will and put our forces at risk,” Austin said.
Austin also noted that senior U.S. military officials are communicating with the Taliban and trying to “deconflict” with the group to ensure that those who need to are able to evacuate.
“I don’t have the capability to go out and extend operations, currently, into Kabul,” Austin said. “And where do you take that? I mean, how far can you extend into Kabul and how long is it going to take to flow those forces in to be able to do that?”
President Joe Biden has defended his administration’s moves amid the confusion of the Taliban’s lightning offensive and the collapse of Afghan security forces supported by the occupation.
“The idea that somehow, there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens,” he said.
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