Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is pushing back against allegations that American troops in Kabul are hunkered down behind the protective walls of Hamid Karzai International Airport while NATO allies like Great Britain and France are running missions into the city to rescue their own citizens.
During an interview Sunday on ABC News, Mr. Austin stressed U.S. troops left the airport compound on Thursday to ferry in more than 100 Americans who couldn’t make it past the mass of people blocking access.
The mission he referred to involved 169 Americans who were told by officials from another country, reportedly British military officers on their own rescue mission, to gather at the Baron Hotel, located just outside Abbey Gate — one of the main entrances into the airfield.
When large crowds made it impossible for the Americans to get to Abbey Gate, U.S. military commanders sent a flight of three CH-47 helicopters to the hotel to pick them up and carry them to safety. “It helped 169 Americans get into the gate without issues,” Mr. Austin told ABC’s Martha Raddatz.
Ms. Raddatz, who said the mission saw U.S. forces going only “about a thousand yards” outside the airport, pressed the defense secretary for an explanation of why U.S. troops aren’t reaching further into Kabul to assist people, including U.S. passport-holding Americans, trapped behind the lines in a city now firmly under the control of the Taliban.
“We’re the most capable military in the world,” Ms. Raddatz said.
Mr. Austin told Pentagon reporters last week after the quick collapse of the U.S.-trained and equipped Afghan army that U.S. troops lacked the capability and the capacity to mount rescue missions into the chaos of Kabul. Other Pentagon officials have since said an influx of nearly 5,000 American troops into Kabul‘s airport has made such missions more of an option.
“That ‘most capable military in the world’ is going to make sure that airfield remains secure and safe,” Mr. Austin told ABC on Sunday.
“We’re going to look at every means possible to get American citizens, third-country nationals, and special-Immigrant visa applicants to the airfield,” he said.
The defense secretary also pushed the Biden administration talking point that no one predicted that the pro-U.S. Afghan army and government would collapse so swiftly in Kabul. The collapse has led to chaos and sent a flood of terrified Afghans and foreign nationals toward the airport in hopes of an escape.
The Taliban has said it will not seek revenge against Afghans who worked with American or NATO forces over the past two decades. But a United Nations report last week cited instances of Taliban fighters hunting for those people and threatening their families.
Despite such instances, Pentagon officials have said the Taliban has been allowing Americans and Afghans with proper credentials to make it onto the airfield. When problems have arisen, U.S. officials raise those problems in communication with Taliban representatives, the officials have said.
“It is a dynamic and challenging environment,” Mr. Austin told ABC on Sunday. “A noncombatant evacuation operation is one of the most challenging operations in the inventory.”
• Mike Glenn can be reached at email@example.com.
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