Aug 16, 2021

Pentagon John Kirby Press Briefing Transcript August 16: Afghanistan & Taliban Takeover

Pentagon John Kirby Press Briefing Transcript August 16: Afghanistan & Taliban Takeover
RevBlogTranscriptsPentagon John Kirby Press Briefing Transcript August 16: Afghanistan & Taliban Takeover

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby held a news briefing on August 16, 2021 to provide an update on the situation in Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover of Kabul. Read the full transcript of the press conference here.

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John Kirby: (00:00)
… is with me this afternoon to flesh out some more detail from the kinds of things that we talked about earlier today. With me is Major General Hank Taylor of the Joint Staff, he’s the director of current operations, and Gary Reid, who I think you all know, he is the director of our Afghanistan Crisis Action Group. I’m going to ask each gentleman to come up and say just a few words, give you some updates from their perspectives, operations in the general’s case and on the SIV process and what DOD is trying to help along with that from Mr. Reid’s perspective. Then we’ll get to some Q&A for a little bit. I will moderate that Q&A, so I’ll still be up here calling on you and we’ll try and get through as many of you as you can in the limited amount of time that we have. With that, with the time being a constraint, I’m going to stop talking and bring up the general. General.

Major General Hank Taylor: (00:48)
Good afternoon. Thank you, Mr. Kirby. I want to reinforce what has already been said today and a little bit earlier. The US military remains focused on the present mission to facilitate the safe evacuation of US citizens, SIVs and Afghans at risk, to get these personnel out of Afghanistan as quickly and to safely as possible. When this plan was put in place, we prepared for a number of contingencies and recognize that events unfolding at HKIA has drawn concern and attention throughout the world. We’re actively monitoring the situation of what’s happening on the ground, and we will continue to support the commander and adjust forces as necessary to allow the mission to be successful.

Major General Hank Taylor: (01:38)
Our troops are trained professionals. They understand the complexity, the urgency, and the importance of their mission. They remain agile. Our mission was, and still is today, to secure the airport so that we can evacuate, as I said earlier, US citizens, SIVs, Afghans are risk, out of the country. We have approximately 2,500 troops that have moved into Kabul within the last 72 hours and more will arrive soon. By the end of the day, we expect nearly 3,000 to 3,500 troops on the ground.

Major General Hank Taylor: (02:17)
First, for a real time update, as of 15:35 local Eastern Time here, the airfield at HKIA was open for operations. Shortly thereafter, the first C-17 landed with US Marines onboard, and the next C-17 is preparing to land as we speak with members of the 82nd Airborne Division. I’d also like to offer a couple of additional operational details. More than 700 SIV applicants have departed Afghanistan in the past 48 hours by a combination of contract and commercial air, bringing the total to date to nearly 2,000 Mr. Reid here will have more details on that.

Major General Hank Taylor: (03:06)
The US military continues to support or supported the State Department with the closing of the US embassy in Kabul, moving several hundred personnel by helicopter to HKIA. Those personnel remains safe and are preparing to depart. Forces continue to conduct security operations at HKIA, and as I said earlier, we are in charge of air traffic control, and that includes with commercial, contract and military air. We expect to maximize our throughput of all means of transportation over the next coming days.

Major General Hank Taylor: (03:44)
Again, our focus right now is to maintain security at HKIA, to continue to expedite flight operations while safeguarding Americans and Afghan civilians. We’re proud of the professionalism and the skill of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are showing under extraordinary circumstance at HKIA. They are absolutely prepared to respond and self-defend if necessary.

Major General Hank Taylor: (04:11)
Many of us have spent time in Afghanistan over the years and feel a deep sense of connection to the current events. We are focused on the safest evacuation of Americans and Afghans. Thank you.

Gary Reid: (04:30)
Thank you, General. Thank you, John. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for taking time today. I’m Gary Reid, I’m the lead for the DOD Crisis Action Group for Afghanistan for matters pertaining to the relocation of refugees and transportation of our embassy staff, Americans, allies, and other partners from Kabul to their onward destinations. The secretary established the crisis action group in early July and we’ve been working very closely with the Department of State as a lead agency since that time. Partnered with the Department of Homeland Security, our initial focus was to relocate the SIVs, finalize their visas, and resettle them into the United States with the help of our non-governmental organizations. To date, nearly 2,000 Afghans have passed through this process, joining more than 70,000 that have participated in the SIV program since 2005.

Gary Reid: (05:22)
Our military has done an outstanding job supporting this effort. USNORTHCOM and US Army North operating predominantly from Fort Lee, Virginia have provided housing, food, medical treatment, medical screening, and other services to these Afghans. Our military embraced the opportunity to recognize their contributions to combined operations in Afghanistan, by welcoming them in the US.

Gary Reid: (05:49)
As we prepare for even more arrivals, USNORTHCOM and the US Army are working to create additional capacity to support refugee relocation in the US, including temporary sites under assessment at Fort Bliss, Texas and Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. There may be other sites identified if services are needed, additional capacity is needed. At this point, we’re looking to establish 20, 22,000 spaces. We can expand if we need to.

Gary Reid: (06:22)
As with the operation we’ve been supporting at Fort Lee, persons that come to these locations will have been pre-screened by the Department of Homeland Security to enter on condition of full immigration processing once they arrive. With this operation underway, but given the urgency of the situation in Kabul, our focus has shifted to supporting movement of our embassy staff, American citizens, allies, and other partners out of Kabul. Starting on August 14, we began movement of these persons on Department of Defense aircraft, providing them transportation that had flown into Kabul delivering our troops and hauling cargo.

Gary Reid: (07:03)
This is an important point. The numbers today are in the hundreds. We certainly have a much greater requirement. We are still in the process of bringing in forces, these aircraft, as spaces available on the outbound have been taking passengers. Of course, this has been somewhat disrupted in the last 24 hours, but nonetheless, we have transported several hundred to countries in the region and aligned them again with our State Department, DHS colleagues, further onward transportation.

Gary Reid: (07:34)
We anticipate picking up the pace, provided we can stabilize conditions at Kabul as described by the general. Our military team in Kabul is working side by side with the ambassador and his staff to coordinate future airlift operations in the coming days. The Department of State and Department of Homeland Security will facilitate initial processing at overseas transit points and prepare for onward movement for all of those transported by the Department of Defense. Thank you.

John Kirby: (08:04)
Okay, we’ll get to questions. Bob, do you want to go?

Bob: (08:08)
Thanks. A question for General Taylor.

John Kirby: (08:10)

Bob: (08:13)
General, has the US military conducted any airstrikes today or in the last 24 hours or so? Also, there’ve been some reports of Afghan pilots flying the aircraft into other countries. Is that happening, and is the US taking any other sort of steps to prevent aircraft or other military equipment from falling into the hands of the Taliban?

Major General Hank Taylor: (08:36)
Yeah. First, on the first question on the strikes. No strikes have been conducted in the last 24 hours, but the commander on the ground continues to maintain that capability if required to do so. The commander has the assets that are available there at HKIA and in support from other areas of the region. I don’t have information on your second part of the question, but we’ll get back to them.

Bob: (09:06)
So there’s no US actions being taken to prevent equipment from falling into the hands of the Taliban by destroying it or anything else?

Major General Hank Taylor: (09:13)
I don’t have the answer to that question.

Bob: (09:15)
You don’t have the answer.

John Kirby: (09:15)

Jen: (09:19)
General Taylor, was this a failure of intelligence or planning that led to the scenes we saw at the airport today?

Major General Hank Taylor: (09:28)
When the scenes at the airport of the everybody coming-

Jen: (09:32)
That caused it to be shut down.

Major General Hank Taylor: (09:33)
Yeah, what we know have happened at the airport was that there were a lot of Afghans that were trying to, reportedly, get out of the country. I don’t think that was a lack of planning. As we look at the coordination with those that were responsible for securing that, we’ll look at … Our mission though, as I talked earlier, is now that the airfield is open, is to make sure that it remains open so, as I said, we can-

Major General Hank Taylor: (10:03)
… that it remains open so, as I said, we can continue expediting flights in and outbound.

Speaker 1: (10:07)
But the quick fall of Kabul, was that a failure of intelligence?

Major General Hank Taylor: (10:11)
I can’t answer that.

Speaker 1: (10:12)
And Mr. Reid, you’re in charge of the SIVs. There are women who fought for the Special Forces. There are reports that the Taliban are now knocking on doors, going into the homes of those who served in the military. What are you doing to protect them? To get them out? Are you in touch with the Taliban and do you have assurances that they’ll be safe?

Gary Reid: (10:33)
We recognize that beyond the SIVs, there’s additional Afghans at risk, and they are included within the group of people that in time, as we get through the Americans and the immediate priority, that we have plans in place to support lifting them, transporting them out of the country on the defense side. Again, it would be Department of State, Homeland Security questions about immigration processing. We recognize the risk that they face and we’re doing everything we can to get this operation underway at scale so we can get through as many as possible under these very difficult conditions.

Speaker 1: (11:11)
But are you communicating with the Taliban? Do you have a line of communication?

Gary Reid: (11:14)
I’m personally not communicating with the Taliban, but I would imagine there is communications within the diplomatic channels.

John Kirby: (11:21)
As we said earlier, General McKenzie did meet in Doha with Taliban leaders. I’m not going to detail that conversation, as I said earlier, but the message was very clearly put to the Taliban that these operations and our people were not to be attacked or there would be a response. And as you and I speak, there has been no attack on our operation or on our people at the airport. To your other question, I would again like to just fill out that the mission that the military has right now is to secure the airport, to keep operations going, and to help make sure that we can safeguard the movement of personnel people from Kabul to onward destinations. That’s the focus right now. The State Department has methods of their own to reach out to people to communicate with them about the process of getting into the queue. And I would let the State Department speak to that. But, as I said before, the military mission is very narrowly focused around the airport and making sure we can secure operations there. Barbara.

Barbara: (12:22)
I’d like to follow up with you or the General, but let me start with you, please, at the mic if I may. To follow up on the previous question, the U.S. military, the Department of Defense, always, for decades, says, “We plan for everything.” Clearly, whatever you planned for did not get planned for at the airport. We’ve now seen a C-17 with more than 600 people sitting on the floor with a pilot making the decision that he would fly them out anyhow, even though that’s an extraordinary number of people. We’ve seen, the world has seen, all the scenes at the airport. So my two questions are, what failed in your planning because you didn’t plan for this? You would not have planned to fly in such dangerous circumstances. And how do you determine where the responsibility lies for this failure?

John Kirby: (13:18)
Well, first of all, Barbara, I would take issue with your designation of this operation at the airport as a failure, but let’s get back to that in a second.

Barbara: (13:29)
[crosstalk 00:13:29].

John Kirby: (13:29)
Let’s get back to that in a second. Yes, we do plan for all manner of contingencies. This is a planning organization, and we do that specifically to try to mitigate risk and to try to be ready for unforeseen circumstances. But it’s not a perfect process. Plans are not always perfectly predictive and as is a well-known military maxim that plans don’t often survive first contact and you have to adjust in real time. And I think when you look at the images out of Kabul, that would have been difficult for anybody to predict. Yes, we did plan on non-combatant evacuation operations as far back as May. There were drills being done here at the Pentagon to walk through what different non-combatant evacuation operations might look like. There was another one recently done just two weeks ago, a tabletop exercise to, again, examine what a non-combatant evacuation would look like out of the Hamid Karzai International Airport. I mean, specifically at the airport.

John Kirby: (14:36)
And we think that those exercises did prepare us in terms of having the resources forward. Secretary forward deployed troops, including Marines, off of their ship and into Kuwait so that they could be more readily available, as well as other forces in the region. So a lot of what you’re seeing transpired, the reason we can be so quick with upwards of 6,000 troops is because we anticipated the possible need to do this. Now, could we have predicted every single scenario and every single breach around the perimeter of the airport with only a couple of 1,000 troops on the ground? Absolutely. There are changes that happen, so plans are terrific and we take them seriously, but they are not and never have been perfectly predictive.

Barbara: (15:22)
When you practiced this, was one of the scenarios a complete Taliban takeover of the capital?

John Kirby: (15:30)
There was certainly, as you do exercises, and I don’t want to go into too much detail here on these, but it would certainly be wrong to conclude that the United States military did not view as a distinct possibility that the Taliban could overrun the country, including Kabul. Now, as we’ve talked about here many times, it happened very fast. And one of the things that we couldn’t anticipate and didn’t anticipate was the degree to which Afghan forces capitulated, sometimes without a fight.

Barbara: (16:05)
But the President said that he did not see that happening. Did you tell the President that you thought it was a possibility the country would be [crosstalk 00:16:13].

John Kirby: (16:13)
We won’t speak to advice and counsel that our leaders here in the Pentagon give to the President? What I can tell you is that in the planning that we’ve done and in the exercises and drills we ran, we certainly ran them against the possibility that the Taliban would make significant gains throughout the country. Yes, absolutely. Carla.

Carla: (16:35)
Speaking of the images that we’ve been seeing at the airport, a U.S. official has told VOA that there’s an investigation currently underway about multiple civilian deaths when a C-17 took off from the airport. What more can you tell us about that investigation? And can you confirm the number of deaths?

John Kirby: (16:51)
I can’t confirm that reporting, Carla. I mean, you’re getting information that I don’t have, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least that commanders would be taking a look at what happened this morning with respect to the C-17. And I won’t get ahead of that process. You can expect that we will take a look at this to does see what happened and what we can learn from it in the future. That is absolutely consistent and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if there was in fact a formal investigation. But I just can’t confirm that right now.

Carla: (17:21)
Looking at the images, was the U.S. too late to bring in the number of troops that it brought in? Did the decision come too late?

John Kirby: (17:29)
We flowed these forces in as fast as we possibly could, and it was aided in fact by the pre-positioning that was done in previous weeks. I mean, you all reported yourselves about the Iwo Jima, the Navy ship from which these Marines were based, being extended for a couple of weeks by Secretary Austin. That was a decision he made several weeks ago, because it was all part of the contingency planning for the need to maybe do some evacuations. To make that even faster, we moved those Marines ashore, and we saw the benefit now. Those Marines were the first ones on scene. So it was something that we absolutely had thought about.

Carla: (18:12)
And one last question, and this can be for you or the General, you spoke from the podium over the last several days, many times saying that the Afghan Air Force was conducting more airstrikes against the Taliban than the U.S. was. My question is, why was that? Why didn’t the U.S. conduct more strikes against the Taliban in these final days?

John Kirby: (18:30)
Yeah, Carla, I think Monday morning quarterback in here now, I mean, isn’t I don’t think a helpful exercise. But as we said from a while ago, that as our resources and capabilities in the region dwindled because of the draw down, we were ordered to draw down by the end of August, and we were nothing but honest about the speed with which we had to do that because speed is safety. We wanted to make sure we did this quickly. And a draw down means a draw down. It is not just about boots on the ground. The draw down is about capabilities and resources in the region as we wrapped up our advise and assist in combat missions in Afghanistan, which meant we had fewer airplanes, fewer strike capabilities in the region, as we continued to draw down. And, again, we were very transparent about the fact that we would conduct airstrikes in support of the Afghans where and when feasible fully cognizant of the fact that it wasn’t always going to be feasible on every day and in every place.

John Kirby: (19:28)
But the Afghan Air Force is indigenous and they are in the country and they did maintain their presence. And there were days where they flew easily twice as many strikes as we did. And they were able to often get on scene quicker because they were already there. And because they had tangible connections to their troops in the field. It also is a healthy reminder, something that I think we forget, that in the last year and a half, Afghans were in the lead of almost all, literally all, but just about almost all of their operations-

John Kirby: (20:02)
… really all, but just about almost all of their operations know on the ground. I mean, they advise and this mission was still there, but they were very much in the lead of their own operations and coordinating with their air force. Sylvie.

Sylvie: (20:14)
I have a question for Mr. Reid. You said earlier that your crisis action group for Afghanistan was set up in the early July.

Gary Reid: (20:26)
That’s right.

Sylvie: (20:27)
The decision of President Biden to enter the war was taken in mid April. Why did it take so long to create a group to take care of your Afghan allies?

Gary Reid: (20:43)
The Department of Defense enters into this in support of the State Department. And the State Department has for many years, as you know, executed the SIV program. The addition of the US military support to that program was new, and it was generated by guidance to try to accelerate and help the process due to the time delays inherent within getting them through. So we were asked by the State Department to provide support to their operation. That’s not a suggestion. That is when SIVs became a priority for the government. That has been for many years. It was just the contributions that the Defense Department could make, using our installations in the United States, as an example, where we could do this in a very orderly setting, free of distractions, without them coming individually or scattering to multiple locations. We could centralize the resources and contribute our resources, our logistics, our medical personnel.

Gary Reid: (21:46)
Fort Lee, Virginia is the center of excellence for army logistics. So it was a good example of how we could use our resources to support a program that we all wanted to see continue and accelerate and help as many folks out as we could, because we value what they did for us, and we want to be a reciprocal in that regard.

Sylvie: (22:06)
Do we have to understand that this group was created because of the slowness of the process at the State Department?

Gary Reid: (22:14)
No, that’s not what I said. It is a long process. And to the extent that the addition of DOD resources and support could make it again about bringing them all together. If you’re familiar with the process, there’s multiple stages and multiple agencies involved within our system. This gave us because of our resources, the ability to have a base with a location. We could bring that together and speed up something that may have otherwise taken weeks into a matter of days. And it became more economical. We increased the throughput of that process and create capacity to do more. So that’s really the contributions of the Defense Department.

John Kirby: (22:50)
We need to get into the phones too a little bit. I haven’t done that yet. Dan Lamothe of Washington Post.

Dan Lamothe: (23:00)
Thank you, John. To drill down a bit on the flights out that we’d seen on video. My colleagues at defense one have reported that were in excess of 600, perhaps 640 people on a C 17 flying out. And you also took a question this morning and your first briefing and said you’d try to get back to a sonnet. There appeared to be two people that fell from that aircraft likely to their death. Can you confirm those things? Thank you.

John Kirby: (23:28)
On the video footage that we’ve all seen of something falling off the wing, I don’t have an update for you in terms of specific validity of that. We’re obviously just as interested in learning more about what happened there. And on the first question about the C 17 with fully loaded. Again, I don’t have any additional information about that particular aircraft in that particular flight, but we’ll continue to try to dig down and see if there’s more information that can be had about that. It’s obviously difficult from 8,000 miles away to have perfect knowledge about everything that’s going on, on the ground over there. But again, we’re working hard to keep the airport secure and to keep these operations sustained now that they’re back on track. [Azira 00:24:25]?

Azira: (24:24)
Thanks so much, John. As you know, I’m from Afghanistan, and I’m very upset today, because Afghan women didn’t expect that overnight, all the Taliban came. They took off my flag. This is my flag. They put their flag. Everybody’s upset, especially women. And I forgot my question. What do you ask? Where is my president, former president Ghani? People expected that he [inaudible 00:24:56] by the people, and he immediately ran away. We don’t know where is he, and we don’t have a president. President Biden said that President Ghani know. He has to fight for his people. They have to do everything. And we were able to financially help them, but we don’t have any president. We don’t have anything. Afghan people, they don’t know what to do. A woman has a lot of achievement in Afghanistan. I had a lot of achievement. I left from the Taliban 20 years ago. Now we go back to the first step again. Do you have any comment [inaudible 00:25:31] our President Ghani? He should answer to Afghan people.

John Kirby: (25:34)
I obviously can’t speak for Ashraf Ghani or where he is or what his views are. I wouldn’t do that. But let me say with all respect that I understand. And we all understand the anxiety and the fear and the pain that you’re feeling. It’s clear, and it’s evident. And nobody here at the Pentagon is happy about the images that we’ve seen coming out in the last few days. And we’re all mindful of the kind of governance that the Taliban is capable of.

John Kirby: (26:13)
So heartfelt respect to what you’re going through. And we understand that. A lot of us have spent time in Afghanistan. The general mentioned that. Everything that you’re seeing in the last 48, 72 hours is personal for everybody here at the Pentagon. We too have invested greatly in Afghanistan and in the progress that women and girls have made politically, economically, socially.

John Kirby: (26:45)
And we certainly do understand, and we do feel the pain that you’re feeling, probably not to the same extent. We’re focused right now on making sure that we do the best we can for those Afghans who helped us. And to Sylvie’s point, when she was talking to the Garry, yes, the action group got stood up in July, but you can go back to the spring and hear the secretary himself talk about interpreters and translators and the sacred obligation that we know that we have to them.

John Kirby: (27:21)
And so in this moment, on this day, now that the airport is open again, we are going to be focused on doing what we can to honor that obligation to all those who helped make all that progress possible. Because by helping us, they helped us help you. And we take that very, very seriously. And again, I’m sorry for your pain. I truly, truly am. And I know that the general and Garry share that as well. Megan?

Carla: (27:49)
Mr. Reid has said that you guys want to make space for 22,000 Afghan’s other helpers to be able to come to the US. There’s about two weeks until all ships are supposed to be off of the ground in Afghanistan. Who is going to protect that mission into September assuming that 22,000 people are not going to get out in the next two weeks? And does that mean that there might be an extension of some of these security forces at the airport after that?

Gary Reid: (28:13)
Well, I can’t speak to the last part, but I can say that our commitment and the secretary’s task to me is to continue to do everything we can in this department to support this process. And as conditions change and opportunities change, we will do our very best to make whatever resources this department has to contribute to continued success in that regard, understanding, it could be very difficult. We don’t know what’s ahead, but we are going to stay in this as long as it takes, as long as we can contribute.

John Kirby: (28:41)
And I would just add, Megan, it’s up to 22. That’s the capacity that we’re looking at these three installations. It doesn’t mean that there are going to be 22,000 people that need that support. We’re just trying to fill out the capacity as best we think we need right now. If we have underestimated that capacity, the secretary is fully committed to finding additional locations and installations if we need it. And if we’ve overestimated, then to Barbara’s excellent point, we’ve planned well. We want to make sure we’re ready. So it’s a capacity thing of up to 22. We’re not being predictive that it’s going to actually be 22,000.

Carla: (29:25)
So is that to say it’s as many people who can get on the next two weeks? Or they’re considering [crosstalk 00:29:29]-

John Kirby: (29:29)
What I can tell you is that over the next two weeks, we’re going to be as aggressive as we can and moving as many people as we can. And as you’ve heard me say, once we get the operation up and running well here, we could get conceivably up to 5,000 out a day. But that’s seats on airplanes, not just military airplanes, but commercial and charter airplanes as well. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be that demand signal on the other end. Does that answer your question?

Carla: (30:01)

John Kirby: (30:01)
Let me go back to the phones here. I haven’t …

John Kirby: (30:03)
Does that answer your question? Yeah, let me go back to the phones here. I haven’t been good about this. Tara Copp.

Tara Copp: (30:09)
Thank you for doing this. We just reported on the C17, a separate C17, that was able to airlift 640 Afghans out, and learned that that was one of several C17s that have that number or more board. So I was just wondering, how is the Pentagon or State Department tracking just how many Afghans and Americans it’s helping assist depart the country and how going forward, are you able to track those people to be able to help them as they repatriate elsewhere?

Major General Hank Taylor: (30:48)
So the number of 700 that I gave earlier was the number reported by the Department of State and the commander on the ground. So the question as we continue to go forward, that is one of the more important tasks that we will do is as Department of State continues to provide names of those that will depart, the military will continue to ensure we have the aircraft, whether it’s military or civilian aircraft to get them out and continue to report forward.

John Kirby: (31:22)

David: (31:22)
This is a lot like Megan’s question. What is the determining factor here? Is it August 31st or is it the completion of the mission to evacuate diplomats, US citizens, vulnerable Afghanis?

John Kirby: (31:41)
The mission is to evacuate our embassy personnel, American citizens, as well as Afghans who we can help. That’s the mission set. The timeframe that we’re on right now is to do that, complete that mission by August 31st. And if we’re at 5000 and I’ve seen some estimates that go north of 5000 a day, depending on how many sorties you can fly. And obviously that’s dependent on a lot of factors, including weather.

John Kirby: (32:15)
We believe that with that capacity, should air operations be able to go uninterrupted, that we can meet that goal by the end of the month. Beyond August 31st, it’s just too difficult to speculate and we wouldn’t want to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made yet. Where our head is right now on getting the air operations going again, getting airplanes in with troops and getting people on those same airplanes as they head out, and then once the troop flow is done, to continue to flow in a military aircraft empty to pick up people and go out. But again, our focus is on getting as much done as we can as quickly as we can. And yes, the date August 31st is when the president has told us to be done this draw down and this movement. I won’t speculate about what it’s going to look like beyond that.

David: (33:14)
Are there any plans for helping people get to the airport?

John Kirby: (33:17)
Right now, as I said before, our military mission is to secure the airport, to safeguard air traffic and people and the flow at the airport. And that’s what we’re focused on right now. Courtney.

Carla: (33:33)
General Taylor, can you tell us a little bit more, Kirby said that there hadn’t been any Taliban attacks, but there were a couple of security incidents earlier in the day. Were those Taliban these armed fighters that the US had-

Major General Hank Taylor: (33:45)
No, we can’t confirm that those were Taliban. We do know that there was some random shooting that came in during that piece, but not confirmed to be Taliban.

Carla: (33:57)
Have there been any other security incidents like that? And have there been any Americans wounded?

Major General Hank Taylor: (34:00)
There haven’t been any other major security incidents that other than what we saw last night. There was a report of a one US wounded, but superficial and already back to duty.

Carla: (34:12)
Was that individual shot?

Major General Hank Taylor: (34:14)
I don’t know that detail, he was wounded.

Carla: (34:17)
And I’m not sure who this is for, but I’m still unclear on the numbers. So let’s take it from August 14th until right now. There have been 700 SIB candidates, how many Americans have been moved? How many aircraft have left taking people out? How many total people have been moved as part of this evacuation operation so far?

Major General Hank Taylor: (34:36)
Yeah. So I can give you the answer for the SIV. So in the last 48, we know that we had 700 out on flights. That gives us that total of 2000 SIVs since we began operations.

Carla: (34:52)
But how many Americans? Haven’t there been Americans moved down to the embassy, right? And other Afghans who were not as SIV candidates as well? I’m trying to get a sense of, this is an ongoing for 48 hours and I hate to say it, but have you only moved 700 total people in 48 hours?

Gary Reid: (35:10)
So, first thing, just to remind everyone, the SIVs that we’re talking about who were or on the charter flights that the State Department had chartered, and we have been running those since the 29th of July. I think flight 10 arrived overnight last night, 265. None of them went to Fort Lee, they already had their electronic visas and they’re being processed by the state. The outflow of Americans and embassy staff, it’s in the hundreds. I don’t have an exact number for you, but just to reinforce, this is sort of available space on aircraft that are coming in configured, not ideal to just load up completely. There’s equipment back hauls and other things that are occurring on these aircraft. So just think of it as a space available with those aircraft going out. And as Mr. Kirby said, as soon as we all the forces in, you will have aircraft coming in solely for ramping of these evacuations, getting up to the 20 or 30 a day, getting you up to 5,000 per day.

Carla: (36:08)
But as of now, it’s still in the hundreds, as part of this evacuation mission in the hundreds-

Gary Reid: (36:13)

John Kirby: (36:13)
That’s right. And we talked about that earlier today. We’ve got time for just a couple more guys. Mike?

Mike: (36:18)
Can you tell how the US is going to keep Afghanistan from becoming another terrorist safe haven, since arguably we’re in a worse position than we were pre 9/11?

John Kirby: (36:29)
We’ve talked about this too, Mike. We have a robust over the horizon counter-terrorism capabilities already in the region. We can fly from ships at sea, we can fly from basis in the region. Just in terms of the support we were able to give to the Afghans and just the airstrikes that we did in support of them. There were multiple sorties per day, and sometimes several strikes, sometimes as many as 10 to a dozen per day. So we’ve got the capability and the capacity and we continue to talk-

Mike: (37:07)
[crosstalk 00:37:07]allies anymore.

John Kirby: (37:07)
We continue to talk to partners in the region to see if we can explore additional options that are closer to Afghanistan. But you’ve heard the secretary say this many times, there’s not a scrap of the earth that we can’t hit if we don’t need to. Now, is it more difficult to do counter-terrorism strikes over the horizon?

John Kirby: (37:27)
You bet. Do you have to travel more distances? Yep. Could it take more time? Yes, but it’s not like we haven’t done this before. And if you look at other places around the world where we execute over the horizon counter-terrorism, it is possible, it is effective, and we believe that our intelligence apparatus and the networks we have in the region now are far more mature than they were in 2001. And we believe that we can execute effective over the horizon counter-terrorism capabilities going forward. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to try to improve that, we absolutely will. I got just time for one more. I’ll go to Tony.

Tony: (38:06)
Yeah, for General Taylor. I want to go back to the question that the Afghan national security forces collapsed quicker than anticipated. What was anticipated? I asked you because you’ve been there, you said you had a deep, emotional connection to the events on the ground. Roughly $83 billion has been spent 66,000 of these great people have been killed, according to the [inaudible 00:38:28]. Can you give a sense broadly, why do you think they seem to have collapsed quicker than expected?

Major General Hank Taylor: (38:35)
I think it was Mr. Kirby said earlier, and others is that the anticipation of the lack possibly of action by some of the Afghan leaders, I think is one of the areas that we are continuing to look at.

Tony: (38:52)
When you say Afghan leaders, are you talking military or political leaders?

Major General Hank Taylor: (38:55)
Military and some of the political. But really, as we look at what were the actions or lack of actions at the military level throughout the country is what we’re looking at right now.

Tony: (39:06)
Because $83 billion, people are going to say that was wasted. What do you respond to somebody who has not been following this closely?

Major General Hank Taylor: (39:14)
I know that we will continue to look to find out and dig deep into the why we’re at where we are today. Thank you.

John Kirby: (39:22)
Thanks everybody. We got to get going. Appreciate it.

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