- The Washington Times
Tuesday, August 17, 2021

U.S. military commanders on the ground in Kabul regularly communicate with Taliban leaders as they continue a frantic mission to evacuate American diplomats and civilians along with their former Afghan allies seeking refuge from a country firmly in the insurgents’ control.

Pentagon officials on Tuesday said Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) remains secure and is open to military flight operations and limited commercial flights. They said nine U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo jets landed throughout the night, delivering about 1,000 combat troops and their equipment.

About 700-800 people — including 165 American citizens — managed to get out of Afghanistan on seven C-17s that left overnight. Within 24 hours, the pace of the evacuations should pick up with an aircraft leaving every hour, officials said.

“The mission is of historical significance. It is incumbent upon us to be resolute in the protection of American and Afghan lives,” said Army Maj. Gen. William Taylor, deputy director of the Joint Staff for Regional Operations at the Pentagon. As the mission continues, U.S. military officials hope to evacuate between 5,000 and 9,000 people per day.

“We are focused on the present mission: to facilitate the safe evacuation of U.S. citizens, (Special Immigrant Visa applicants) and Afghans at risk,” Maj. Gen. Taylor said. “To get these personnel out of Afghanistan as quickly and as safely as possible. That mission has not changed.”

So far, interactions between U.S. troops on the ground at the airport and Taliban fighters haven’t been hostile. There have been no attacks or threats, Maj. Gen. Taylor said, and Taliban leaders in Kabul claim they are extending an “amnesty” for the ousted U.S.-backed government members so long as they do not resist. However, there are multiple reports of reprisals and revenge attacks by Taliban fighters in other cities under the group’s control.

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Maj. Officials said that Gen. Christopher Donahue, commander of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, will be in charge of operations at the airport. The Pentagon is trying to organize in a week what officials once hoped would be an extended withdrawal and evacuation stretched over months.

“This is what the 82nd Airborne does really well,” said chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. “Their job is to be ready to assist in a very expeditious manner.”

• Mike Glenn can be reached at mglenn@washingtontimes.com.

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