Aug 20, 2021
Pentagon Officials Hank Taylor & John Kirby Press Briefing Transcript August 20: Afghanistan & Taliban Takeover
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby held a news briefing on August 20, 2021 to provide an update on the situation at the Kabul airport and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Read the full transcript of the press conference here.
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General Hank Taylor: (00:00)
Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you for being here and for really the important work that you’re doing. We’re all working around the clock right now. I know it’s not easy, but I’m glad that absolutely we’re in this together. I’m pleased to report that our throughput has increased and we continue to observe steady progress in Kabul. I’ll run through some of those specifics here during that update.
General Hank Taylor: (00:26)
First, the military footprint in Kabul is approximately 5,800 total troops on the ground. Our mission to defend Kabul Airport and evacuate people from Afghanistan as quickly and safely as possible continues. The airport remains secure. Evacuation flights are steadily increasing, and we are doing everything we can to maximize safe evacuations. In the past 24 hours, 15 C-17s arrived with several hundred more troops that allowed us to get to that 5,800 number, and also some supplies.
General Hank Taylor: (01:03)
As of 03:00 Eastern EDT today this morning and for the previous 24 hours, 16 C-17s and one C-130 departed Kabul. These flights contain nearly 6,000 passengers, including a couple of hundred American citizens. Since August 14th, as the president noted earlier today, we have airlifted approximately 13,000 total evacuees during the operation. In total, since the end of July, the cumulative number of people moved out of Afghanistan is greater than 18,000. There are SIV applicants, at-risk Afghans who have worked alongside us throughout our time in Afghanistan, and other vulnerable Afghans, including women and children.
General Hank Taylor: (01:51)
Many of the flights leaving Kabul have stopped in designated safe havens and staging bases in Qatar and others where State Department and military personnel are actively processing passengers for their follow on flights to other destinations. We did pause flights earlier today leaving Kabul, now while we adjusted resources and personnel to ensure a temporary capacity issue at one of our stopover locations, although flight operations have resumed. And us military flights to Qatar and other locations are departing and they’re departing Kabul as we speak right now.
General Hank Taylor: (02:31)
We are looking at additional locations for these initial flights to land. We’re grateful for our allies, including Germany, where flights will land today, who are cooperating with us in this global effort. Aircraft availability is not an issue. We intend to maximize each planes capacity. We’re prioritizing the evacuation of people above all else. And we’re focused on doing this as safely as possible with a great sense of urgency. We have not experienced any hostile acts since my last update. The troops on the ground are steadfast in an extremely dynamic environment.
General Hank Taylor: (03:07)
We see a tremendous amount of discipline, humanity, and professionalism in their mission. We continue to assess the operating environment and we’ll aggressively address any threat to the mission. The safety and security of American citizens and service members, our partners who remain in Kabul alongside us, and the Afghan people is absolutely our top priority. I want to reinforce that we are focused on the mission of this great national importance. The massive effort is the result of teamwork and the tireless commitment of US military to supporting the US government around the world.
John Kirby: (03:45)
Thank you, general. Okay, Bob, there you are. Not your normal seat.
Thank you. President Biden in his remarks earlier today made a reference to having… I forget what word he used, but essentially rescued 169 Americans outside beyond the perimeter, I believe he said. Can you explain how that happened? What happened?
John Kirby: (04:11)
Yeah, he’s referring to a small number of people that are troops that were very close to the perimeter of the airport, very close. And in a short amount of time with a short amount of distance, some of our troops were able to go out there and retrieve them and bring them in.
On foot, you mean?
John Kirby: (04:36)
Okay. It’s 169 Americans, or do you know the breakdown?
John Kirby: (04:40)
I don’t have the breakdown of everybody.
And then a related question would be, has there been any further consideration to `going further beyond the perimeter to do that?
John Kirby: (04:51)
Well, you heard the President today say that he wants to do whatever is going to be necessary to rescue Americans and our Afghan partners in need. I’m not going to speculate one way or another about potential future operations. The main focus is on security at the airport and making sure that as the general said, that air operations resume and continue as unimpeded as possible. But clearly, we will be prepared and postured if we had to do something additional. But I won’t speculate right now. Courtney?
Did the US troops have to go through any Taliban checkpoints to go and get the Americans?
John Kirby: (05:34)
And then, General, can you talk a little bit more about this flight pause? How long did it last? I mean, can you say when it started, when it stopped?
General Hank Taylor: (05:45)
Early this morning and it lasted about six to seven hours, and it was allowed to ensure that flights at our intermediate staging basis could receive more personnel. And that has been cleaned up as flights have departed there. It has allowed us now to continue with those that are ready to fly on Kabul to leave.
So this was Qatar, right? There was a backlog. Were there any other locations that had a backlog or that maybe-
General Hank Taylor: (06:10)
Just a quick follow-up.
General Hank Taylor: (06:12)
Do you have permission to fly Afghans from Kabul to the United States or only to a third country? And is that what the holdup was?
John Kirby: (06:22)
That what the holdup was. The sites at Qatar were just at capacity. There was just no room to flow in additional people. Now, Jen, for special immigrant visa applicants who are already in that process, they will be flown back to the United States. And you’ve seen that we’ve done this at Fort Lee. We’ve announced Fort McCoy and Fort Bliss will be able to receive additional SIV applicants. For those who aren’t in the SIV applicant process, there has been no final determination about whether they will be able to come right back to the United States again or on what timetable. That’s a whole different category that we’d be dealing with, essentially people that are not technically part of that process. So that’s something we’ll be working out with the State Department.
What is your current estimate for how many Al Qaeda are inside Afghanistan?
John Kirby: (07:16)
I haven’t seen an estimate on that. Okay. I don’t know that we have an exact estimate.
I’m talking about military intelligence estimates about how many Al Qaeda remain in Afghanistan.
John Kirby: (07:26)
We know that Al Qaeda is a presence as well as ISIS in Afghanistan. And we’ve talked about that for quite some time. We do not believe it is exorbitantly high, but we don’t have an exact figure for you. As I think you might understand, Jen, it’s not like they carry identification cards and register somewhere. We don’t have a perfect picture. And our ability, our intelligence gathering ability in Afghanistan, isn’t what it used to be because we aren’t there with the same numbers that we used to be.
The president just said that there is no Al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan. That does not seem to be correct.
John Kirby: (08:00)
What we believe is that there isn’t a presence that is significant enough to merit a threat to our Homeland, as there was back on 9/11, 20 years ago.
The president also said there is no national security interests, no national interests in Afghanistan. I’m a little confused by that. Can you explain why there’s no national interest in Afghanistan? Why did we have troops there for 20 years if there’s no national interest in Afghanistan?
John Kirby: (08:32)
We had a significant interest in being in Afghanistan to our national security 20 years ago. You’ve heard the president talk about this. The goal was to defeat, decimate Al Qaeda, also to prevent Al Qaeda from launching attacks on the Homeland from Afghanistan. And we did that. We did that and a whole heck of a lot more over the course of 20 years, and to include helping with social, political, economic, just progress in Afghanistan. The president decided that it was time to end this conflict, that there was really only two choices because of the May 1 deadline. Either plus up, because after May 1st, we would come under attack by the Taliban. And we hadn’t, since the Doha agreement had been signed, or go ahead and complete the draw down. And the decision was made to complete the drawdown. Now, obviously we’re still going to maintain an over watch vigilance with respect to the counter-terrorism threat emanating out of Afghanistan. And if we need to, we will take action to eliminate and defeat that threat.
But John, you just said that you don’t have intelligence on the ground in Afghanistan anymore. How are you going to have over watch? And you still have Al Qaeda in the country.
John Kirby: (09:49)
Jen, what I said was we don’t have the degree of dexterity intelligence to be able to give you a head count, a nose count of exactly how many Al Qaeda fighters are in Afghanistan. Nobody’s walking away from the fact that they aren’t there. And we’re certainly-
John Kirby: (10:03)
… away from the fact that they aren’t there and we’re certainly going to maintain as much vigilance as we can absent a presence on the ground. The other thing I would say, Jen, is our intelligence capability is, certainly it’s more difficult if you don’t have boots on the ground, but we have come a long way since 9/11 in terms of the way we collect, process, analyze and distribute intelligence information, a long way in the last 20 years. While it’s never perfect, we do believe that we will be able to have appropriate warning should there be that kind of level threat coming from Afghanistan towards the Homeland. We have also the capability in the region to deal with that.
John Kirby: (10:41)
Thank you. The president also suggested that extending the perimeter outside of HKIA might put U.S. troops at too great of a risk, although it was not clear if he was meaning that the risk would be with the Taliban or with groups like Al-Qaeda or ISIS. Can you talk about that risk and is it because there was some sort of agreement with the Taliban that U.S. troops will not be on the streets of Kabul?
John Kirby: (11:03)
I don’t think there was any agreement that we wouldn’t be anywhere in particular, but risk is a big part of managing any mission, Tara. You’re absolutely right. There are other threats in Afghanistan and in Kabul than those that might be posed by the Taliban and we have to be mindful of that. We talked yesterday about overwatch flights that were flying over Kabul. That’s to make sure that we’re ready if we need to defend ourselves.
John Kirby: (11:35)
I’m not going to get into potential future operations one way or the other. I’m not going to speculate about whether or when or under what conditions we might expand the security perimeter that we’re working with. But the president is absolutely right and expansion does incur extra risk and you have to balance risk versus gain in every particular military operation you’re conducting. That will be no different for this one.
Follow up on Al Udeid. We’re also seeing reports that there might be food, water, sanitation shortages for the evacuees that are there [crosstalk 00:12:09] and so I was just wondering, General Taylor, are you making plans to flow in more supplies?
General Hank Taylor: (12:15)
Absolutely. So, understand that requirement to increase that throughput is there. To ensure that we have food, water, healthcare, and all those things, absolutely. Those are part of those other flights, the supplies are being in there to make sure that we can take care of that.
To Al Udeid?
General Hank Taylor: (12:33)
John, a follow up on expanding the mission and the risk to Americans. Apparently the Germans are sending helicopters out throughout Kabul to pick up their citizens and bring them to the airport, the reports of the French doing something similar, getting their people out, commandos going in. So, why can’t the Americans do that? Is it because it’s too risky for that kind of operation?
John Kirby: (12:55)
The president, I think, was clear that we’ll whatever we have to do to rescue as many Americans as want to leave Afghanistan and the secretary is not going to rule anything in or out in terms of what the possibilities might be there. I would also note though, Tom, that though there have been sporadic reports of some Americans not being able to get through checkpoints, I fully admit that, by and large, what we’ve been seeing is that Americans are able to get through those checkpoints and are able to get onto the airfield. We’re not aware of indications that there is that big a need for that. But obviously, now we’ve built out extra capacity over the course of just the last couple of days, if there’s a need to do something additional to what we’re doing now to get Americans processed and on planes, the secretary is going to want to keep as many options open to him as available.
It sounds like what the president was saying today is he doesn’t want to risk American lives to save Afghans who helped Americans for the past 20 years. That seems like the message.
John Kirby: (14:03)
The president doesn’t want to risk American lives to go and save Afghans who helped Americans during the past 20 years. That was the message today I heard.
John Kirby: (14:15)
I didn’t hear it that same way, Tom. I mean, in fact, I think the president was very clear in his remarks that we know we have an obligation to the Afghans that have helped us over the last 20 years. And Tom, the numbers belie that impression. I mean, if you just look at the numbers, the general brief, 13,000 since August 14th, 18,000 total, the vast, vast majority of that number are Afghans. So I mean, the numbers speak for themselves.
Well, the numbers are all over the map, frankly. I mean, some were saying 35,000, others are saying 100,200-
John Kirby: (14:49)
In terms of what’s left to get?
John Kirby: (14:51)
Yeah. I couldn’t be perfectly predictive about what that’s going to look like, the total pool, because you also have to flow in families and we are moving and have been moving a lot of family members. But I mean, just to give you an example, the general noted nearly 6,000 came out in the last 24 hours. 5,000 of them were Afghans. 5,000 were Afghans. So, I just don’t accept the premise that this administration and this government and our military is not prioritizing moving Afghan partners and people who have helped us out of the country. Just the numbers don’t say that. Yeah, Barb.
Can we go back to the 169 please? I have several follow-up questions. First of all, the president said it was 169 Americans. You say Americans are having no trouble getting through checkpoints to the best of your knowledge, except for any anecdotes that may be out there.
John Kirby: (15:45)
My questions are this. First of all, what was the situation of these 169 Americans that required U.S. troops to go outside that perimeter and get them? Why these 169 Americans? When did this happen? How long did the mission last? Was it 169 Americans all together? Did you feel you had safe passage from the Taliban? Tell us more about this.
John Kirby: (16:17)
I don’t have that level of detail. General, do you have any context?
General Hank Taylor: (16:20)
Not about that.
Oh, I’m sorry. U.S. troops went outside the wire at the airport to rescue 169 Americans. That’s what the president said and neither of you have any additional information about it?
John Kirby: (16:37)
Barbara, I’m happy to take the questions as you’ve asked back and try to provide additional context. I do not have that level of tactical detail here today, but I’m happy to take those questions and I’m happy to go look and see if we can find answers for you on that absolutely. But as my understanding of what happened was they were really just outside the wall. It wasn’t very far to go. It was in a relatively short period of time and it wasn’t a rescue so much as assisting them getting onto the field. So, I think that’s the context in which I understand the incident. Your questions are fair. I will go back and see if we can provide additional context.
Can you also tell us then have, just for the record, have American troops, in any other instance or circumstance, gone outside the wire at the airport, gone into the city to get people? Have American troops at all left the airport to go get people? You said you had extended capacity. The secretary said the other day you didn’t have the capacity to really go get Americans. So do you now have the capacity to do that? Is there any other circumstance in which you’ve done it?
John Kirby: (17:55)
I don’t know of any other circumstance and yes, since Wednesday, since the secretary spoke to you, we have flown in and you’ve heard the general update you, literally every day we have flown in additional capacity, additional forces. Security is in a more stable position at the airport. So if there would be a need to do something additional to help Americans or other people at risk that we need to get to the airfield, we would examine those options, tee them up, weigh the benefits versus the risks, and then offer up opportunities to the secretary to make a recommendation and we would go from there.
So now, just to make sure I understand what you’re saying, for the first time, this many days into the operation, the U.S. Military has the capability and capacity to go into Kabul and get Americans for the first time.
John Kirby: (18:55)
We have additional capacity now, as we have flown additional forces in. But as I said earlier, I’m not going to talk about potential future operations one way or the other and every decision that is made has got to be weighed against the risks and the benefits of what you’re doing. The other thing I’d say, Barbara, is, as I mentioned to Tom, that there hasn’t been that demand signal now. Most Americans [crosstalk 00:19:20], they’re getting through the checkpoints and they’re getting on. I’m not suggesting that in every case it’s gone unimpeded.
Why did you wait so many days to have that capacity?
John Kirby: (19:29)
We didn’t wait so many days, Barb. We have been flowing in forces consistently over the course of the last week. We have been nothing but transparent to you about what we’ve been flowing in. So again, we will obviously do whatever we can and if there’s a need to do this, and it’s an operation that we can talk about, we’ll talk about it. Okay? Yeah.
Speaker 1: (19:55)
Defense Secretary Austin just now in a briefing call with House lawmakers said the reports Americans have been beaten by the Taliban in Kabul. Is the U-
Speaker 2: (20:03)
Americans have been beaten by the Taliban in Kabul, is the US military under orders to stay at the airport and not go protect them?
John Kirby: (20:08)
I think we’ve been talking about this throughout the entire briefing. We’re certainly mindful of these reports and they’re deeply troubling. And we have communicated to the Taliban that that’s absolutely unacceptable, that we want free passage through their checkpoints for documented Americans. And by and large, that’s happening. And as we’ve talked about before, the mission right now, as you and I are speaking, is to keep security at that airport sound and to keep air operations moving, even after this delay. I’m not going to speculate about anything, any changes to that mission at this time, if there’s a change and we feel like we need to execute that change, then we’ll do it.
Speaker 2: (20:49)
Does that require a conversation with the Taliban coordination-
John Kirby: (20:52)
I’m not going to talk about potential future operations and what that would look like in any way, shape or form. I mean, I haven’t gone to a phone yet. Tracey Wilkinson.
Tracy Wilkinson: (21:06)
Hi, thank you. Just to follow up on my colleagues’ questions. We have reports of American helicopters going out and picking up people from multiple locations, both Americans and Afghans. So, I want to know, I want to understand how that mission has changed, that you actually, despite what generals Austin and Milley said yesterday, you are actually going out of the airport and picking up people. Can you elaborate on that [crosstalk 00:21:43]-
John Kirby: (21:43)
Can’t confirm those reports, Tracy, not at this time. Yeah, Megan.
So, I feel like we’re kind of bifurcating the issue between Americans and Afghans. You said Americans are not having any issues and you’ve settled with the Taliban that they’re not going to have any issues, but have you made that same negotiation over Afghans? Because that’s where most of these reports are coming from. That Afghans, even credentialed, are not being allowed for-
John Kirby: (22:07)
We’ve seen those reports too, Megan. And we have made it clear to the Taliban that these Afghans with the proper credentials should be allowed through the checkpoint. And again, Megan, certainly, we recognize that there have been multiple cases of Afghans, even some credentialed Afghans being assaulted and beaten and harassed, no question. But by and large, those Afghans who have the proper credentials and we have made it clear to the Taliban what those credentials look like, what they are, by and large, they are getting through the checkpoint. We have not seen that become a major issue.
My other question is now that the president has opened the door to possibly having some rescue missions into the city, are commanders on the ground now speaking with the Taliban about letting those missions go off unobstructed?
General Hank Taylor: (23:00)
First, I just want to say, those discussions with commanders and the Taliban haven’t stopped, that’s a continuous piece of what’s been going on. So, I think the question you asked is, are we talking to the Taliban to go out and rescue folks, like Mr. Kirby said, that is not, those demands have not been brought to the commanders as of yet.
But the President has opened up that possibility. So, it would stand to reason that commanders would start-
General Hank Taylor: (23:26)
I think we all heard that.
… laying the groundwork for that if that’s going to happen.
General Hank Taylor: (23:29)
I think we all heard that same comment from the president today to ensure that we use all the capability we have to meet the mission.
So, as of now, they’re not asking for that specifically? Or planning for that [crosstalk 00:23:40]?
General Hank Taylor: (23:40)
That’s correct. As of this point, you just said two things, you said planning and asking. As I’ve always said, prudent military planning is always continuously happening. We are always forecasting for those types of things and planning for that. Request, no, I can report that, that hasn’t yet, we have not received those.
John Kirby: (24:02)
A couple of questions. One of the communications with the Taliban, general, are these fairly regular calls to the Taliban and it allow a deconfliction with the Syrian army, [inaudible 00:24:13] of the Russian army, deconfliction calls are regular and is there fairly good communication? Do they speak good English? Do they understand what we’re conveying?
General Hank Taylor: (24:22)
So, let’s just talk about communication at echelon, meaning from higher to lower, I think those continue to regular talks at the TPC at that level. Those things continue. You heard reported earlier in the week from Mr. Kirby, about CENTCOM commander having communications. CENTCOM has other military channels open that there is continuous at that level.
General Hank Taylor: (24:47)
Then, at the tactical level, as we speak, at the two-star level for those type of talks happen. And these are the discussions that are happening to allow the further increase of information to the checkpoints of who needs to come through, what passes look like, what are the right credentialing to get through, who needs to come. Then, at the lowest tactical level, those other discussions, of course, those are always, I would say, probably a little harder, just the community, but those are happening. I mean, making sure that what needs to be communicated is done.
Well, I got you up there too, General Milley, the other day, talked about the after-action process. We’ll continue with… Now, it’s not the time to talk about it, but any emerging theories on why the Afghan army collapsed? I mean, you’ve been studying this for years. Is there any emerging theory? Negotiated settlements? The Post talked about that earlier in the week, negotiated settlements had started last year at the village level. And it went to the district and province level, any emerging theories?
General Hank Taylor: (25:51)
As the chairman said, after action reviews will happen at the appropriate time. And that guidance has been given. And I will tell you, at the operations level, that focus is just like the president laser focused on the current flights, the the current mission right now. Thank you.
Speaker 3: (26:07)
General, can I ask one quick thing about Taliban communication?
General Hank Taylor: (26:09)
Speaker 3: (26:10)
Do you get a sense there’s a strict command structure? Or there’s a sense of various Taliban militias around the city that if you talk to one Taliban leader, these guys in these militia is going to say, “Well, I’m not going to listen. I’m going to do my own thing,” not letting people through. Can you talk about that? And is it a problem if so?
General Hank Taylor: (26:29)
I can’t personally give you that level of detail you want, but what I do know, which I think is a positive, is there’s constant communication and it’s being received. And we’re seeing that things that we are asking for passage, and that is happening and getting better.
John Kirby: (26:46)
Yeah, [inaudible 00:26:47].
Speaker 4: (26:47)
Yeah. For the time being, up until now, have all US flights from the Kabul airport gone to Qatar? A follow-up, now with planes going to Ramstein, how many other nations have offered to house Afghan evacuees? And of those, which are the most viable. And lastly, are you looking for foreign facilities? Or is it exclusively American facilities like Ramstein in these foreign countries that you’re looking at?
John Kirby: (27:18)
Qatar has been the first way station for the evacuation flights that we’ve been conducting. Because we’ve been doing it so consistently, that’s one of the reasons we reached capacity there as quickly as we did. We are grateful for other countries, who have already agreed to accept additional numbers, and we’re working out the details of that with them right now, I’ll let those countries speak to their contributions and the State Department. But from a military perspective, we are in need of additional capacity and we’re grateful that other countries are going to be helping us out with that capacity, even if it is obviously on a temporary basis. But to help us with the throughput, because we saw what happened today, when that was the limiting factor, it wasn’t aircraft on the ground. It wasn’t people queued up and manifested. It was a destination. So, it’s good to have that freed up right now.
John Kirby: (28:18)
And as I think I answered, I think it was Jen’s question. Obviously, a large portion of these individuals will come to the United States and we’ve got three military bases now set to receive them, Fort Lee, Fort McCoy, and Fort Bliss. And the capacity at those three bases, we want to get up to 22,000 capacity. We’re not there yet, understandably, but we’re building out to that.
John Kirby: (28:47)
As the secretary has made clear to the department, that if we need to offer additional US installations here in the continental United States, we’ll do that. But right now, we think we can get up to 22, 000 in relatively short order here over the next coming days and weeks. And we’ll see where that goes.
Speaker 4: (29:07)
But aside from SIVs, so let’s say the P-2s or other Afghans who are at risk, would you look at say foreign installations, like maybe Aviano Air Base in Italy or other US bases in continental Europe?
John Kirby: (29:20)
That’s really a better question put to the State Department, that runs that part of the immigration process. That really wouldn’t be our call to make.
Speaker 4: (29:28)
John Kirby: (29:29)
John, does the secretary currently possess the authorities he needs to call up more forces if needed, or does he have to ask the White House for signup?
John Kirby: (29:38)
If he was going to make a major muscle movement in terms of additional forces of a significant size, he would absolutely want to have that conversation with the commander in chief.
Sure. But I mean, given the possibility that their muscle movement may occur in the future, has that pre-authority, and in fact already been-
John Kirby: (29:59)
I’m not going to get into the planning process, Gordon, but we-
John Kirby: (30:03)
I’m not going to get into the planning process Gordon, but we feel like with the additional capacity that we have, that should there be a need to expand the mission in any way that we have what we require. And if that would change, if it would require a change, you can bet that General McKenzie would flow up his recommendations, the secretary would review them as would the chairman of the joint chiefs and we’d go from there. Yeah?
Speaker 5: (30:29)
Just following up on that. Have any more force has been put on Ready to Deploy orders?
John Kirby: (30:33)
Speaker 5: (30:34)
And then how long was the airfield close for? Was it six hours? Three hours. Two hours.
General Hank Taylor: (30:40)
Yeah. It’s roughly six to seven and a half hours, right in there.
Speaker 5: (30:44)
And then during that time, what was happening? Were you trying to get other countries to accept the refugee, or not refugees, evacuees or what was happening in that time?
General Hank Taylor: (30:51)
So first of all, on the airfield, processing kept to continue. So when we say… Really what’s happening, just flights were paused to, I think like I said earlier, to allow for backlog to ensure reception of folks leaving Kabul. So we were scheduling other flights and ensuring that we could get those flights out first, as we brought other flights in.
Speaker 6: (31:14)
Can I ask just one? Since that pause has restarted and that 6-7 hours, how many flights have gone our since then?
General Hank Taylor: (31:21)
Before I left, right before I came in here we’d had three leave Qatar, and one left Kabul and one was getting ready to take off from Kabul.
Speaker 6: (31:29)
So since the pause and the restart one has left and potentially a second?
General Hank Taylor: (31:33)
That’s right, and potentially a second. Yeah.
Speaker 7: (31:34)
Can I follow up on that, sir, very quickly?
General Hank Taylor: (31:35)
Speaker 7: (31:37)
Is it accurate and correct that the backlog at that time on the airfield of Afghans that couldn’t board planes because they couldn’t land them anywhere, was that backlog about 10,000 people? Or more?
General Hank Taylor: (31:53)
Less than. I don’t have the exact number, sorry about that, but it was less than that.
Speaker 7: (31:57)
Less than 10?
General Hank Taylor: (31:58)
Yeah, I think.
Speaker 7: (31:59)
But in the thousands.
General Hank Taylor: (32:00)
Speaker 7: (32:01)
So at that time, since they were there for seven and a half, maybe as much as eight hours, was there sufficient food, water and sanitation, are they sleeping outside on the airfield? How does all that work?
General Hank Taylor: (32:15)
Reports are that it was sufficient, but we are actively continuing to ensure that it is sufficient for the future and continuing as we build out even more.
Speaker 7: (32:27)
Did they, the people who were stuck there for so long, did they have food, water and sanitation?
General Hank Taylor: (32:31)
Yes, and I have no report that they didn’t.
Speaker 7: (32:32)
General Hank Taylor: (32:33)
I want to follow up on the 169 Americans who were rescued. Was that an incident where a commander took a decision and left the wire to help those people, were weapons drawn, or did that commander ask for higher-up authority to leave the wire?
General Hank Taylor: (32:50)
Yeah, I’m going to absolutely get a more… But you know, as you look about the gate and where there are, you already see that soldiers that are out there are starting now to increase that capability, that security around the gate. But the specific details of that I don’t have, but as Mr. Kirby said, I’m going to get.
Yeah, we’re just trying to figure out, because we’ve been told there have been no hostile interactions with the Taliban, but if the Taliban were stopping those Americans from getting to the gate and a US service member had to go to rescue them, was it a tense situation where weapons drawn, that would count as a hostile interaction.
General Hank Taylor: (33:28)
I can understand the questions.
John Kirby: (33:28)
We’ll have to get you more.
General Hank Taylor: (33:28)
John Kirby: (33:31)
Yeah, Tom. Me or the General? Tom.
John Kirby: (33:36)
I’m sorry, Paul.
John Kirby: (33:38)
I’m sorry. The masks are killing me.
I have two questions. One. If you’ve restarted the flights to from Kabul, the people we hear from inside Qatar say that the wait is three to five days to get out of there, it’s so backed up. Where are you flying these people to? Are you already flying them to another country?
General Hank Taylor: (33:59)
Yeah. So, like we said earlier, that constraint of ensuring we have other flights scheduled and the timing of those, that’s already being worked and increasing our throughput throughout the entire chain requirements of flights. And so flights that left, as Mr. Kirby said, some of those were going in and planned for the United States.
When you say, “flights that left,” left Qatar-
General Hank Taylor: (34:27)
… to the US. So you’re saying right now you’re at a pace where the incoming and the outgoing in Qatar is more, there’s some equilibrium?
General Hank Taylor: (34:37)
Okay. Are they flying to other countries yet? Other ISBs?
General Hank Taylor: (34:42)
I don’t have that report, those flight plans yet. I mean, that’s very, you know, an extremely dynamic piece. But I don’t have those flight schedules as of right now.
Follow up. We’ve seen videos of babies being hefted over the barbed wire and walls and US servicemen taking them on. Can you tell us what’s going on? Are these babies of families who have visas, have US passports? Are they Afghans? Are they people with credentials? So what’s happening to their families?
General Hank Taylor: (35:12)
So we do know-
John Kirby: (35:12)
I have details on that.
General Hank Taylor: (35:12)
John Kirby: (35:15)
The video you’re talking about, the parent asked the Marines to look after the baby because the baby was ill. And so the Marine you see reaching it over the wall, took it to a Norwegian hospital that’s at the airport. They treated the child and returned the child to the child’s father.
Was there only one?
John Kirby: (35:41)
I’m only aware of the one incident. But it was an act of compassion because there was concern about the baby’s-
Are they going to be brought out, the father?
John Kirby: (35:49)
I don’t know.
Or were they put back outside the airport?
John Kirby: (35:51)
I don’t know, Jen. The baby was returned to its father. I don’t know where they are now. We don’t… I mean, obviously we have a responsibility to return a child to the child’s parent, and I don’t know who the parent is and whether they’re an SIV applicant or… I just don’t have that level of detail. But I think this was a very humane act of compassion by the Marines and it’s exactly the kind of skill and professionalism the General talked about. Ah, I already got you. Go ahead.
Speaker 8: (36:20)
I have a question for the general. Sir, I was wondering if now that the airport is secure, if you could take us back to the breach that occurred on Monday?
General Hank Taylor: (36:27)
Speaker 8: (36:27)
What’s the latest assessment of how that occurred? What forces were in the area of that part of the airport at the time, and what was your interaction there?
General Hank Taylor: (36:35)
As we know, early on as we built combat power and in that early stages, it was very dynamic. We assessed after that happened and obviously reinforced. And throughout those days have ensured that the 360 degree perimeter is. I don’t have the tactical AR, it was not a requirement to pass that up to the joint staff. But what I do know is that that was quickly fixed and the commanders there were able to use the assets they had immediately, and then as we built more combat power to ensure that that hasn’t happened since then.
Speaker 8: (37:17)
Was there any interaction with the Taliban ongoing on this?
General Hank Taylor: (37:20)
Always. I mean, like I said earlier, that communication at that level is continuous and happening.
John Kirby: (37:29)
Okay, we’ve got time for just one more and I haven’t taken hardly any from the phones. Terace?
Yes, sir. Thank you so much. Going back to the children that were being passed over the wall, is there going to be any, I guess, regulations stating that this should not be happening to kind of regulate that aren’t taking their children and trying to pass them off to get them inside the gate?
John Kirby: (37:58)
I don’t know of such effort to do that, Terace. Again, these are US service men and women deployed in a still-dangerous and difficult mission. And I think what you saw there is the same thing that you saw when that Air Force jet packed to capacity with people wanting to get out. Now they’re doing the best they can to be as compassionate as they can. And again, the baby was not harmed. It was treated for whatever the illness was and returned to the father.
John Kirby: (38:35)
And I think you’re seeing, again, these men and women incredibly brave, doing the best they can to be as compassionate as they can. And I think you’re going to continue to see that kind of compassion going forward. Okay, guys, we got to get going. Thank you very much.