Aug 23, 2021
Pentagon Officials Hank Taylor & John Kirby Press Briefing Transcript August 23: Afghanistan & Taliban Takeover
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby held a news briefing on August 23, 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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John Kirby: (00:00)
… to walk you through an operational update. And then when he’s done, I have a couple of other things that I’m going to kick off the briefing with, and then we’ll get to questions if that’s okay. All right. With that, General.
Thank you, Mr. Kirby. Good morning everyone, and thank you for joining us this morning. Once again, I want to provide an operational update, and then as Mr. Kirby said, we’ll follow up with questions. As we know, this continues to evolve, the situation, and we continue to strive on the ground. What we really want to do is continue to provide you details in a timely manner. As you know, recently, the Secretary of Defense activated the stage one of the civil reserve air fleet. Right now that activation includes 18 aircraft from six commercial airlines. This will increase passenger movement from the intermediate staging basis, temporary safe havens, to the United States. While we continue to prioritize military aircraft for the transportation of individuals out of Kabul and out of harm’s way. Please note, as I said, these craft flights will not be flying into Kabul.
As of this morning within the last 24 hours, 25, US military C-17s, three US military C-130s and then a combination of 61 charter commercial and other military flights departed Kabul. The total passenger count for those flights was approximately 16,000. Of that number, the US military transported just under 11,000 personnel. Our mission remained focused on ensuring a steady flow of evacuees out of Kabul to the intermediate staging bases and safe havens and our installations continue to rapidly build out capacity as needed to ensure reception and providing humanitarian assistance.
The use of temporary safe haven locations across Europe and the Middle East in areas that include US installations in Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Italy, Spain, and Germany. We deeply appreciate the support from these countries. This is truly a testament to the importance of our alliances and our partnerships. In the past 24 hours, five flights landed at Dulles International Airport with approximately 1,300 passengers. At this time for military installations, as well as Dulles International, are receiving Afghans as they come into the United States. These installations include Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, Fort Lee, Virginia, Joint Base McGuire-Dix, Lakehurst, New Jersey, and Fort Bliss, Texas. The total number currently at these installations is approximately 1200, and North Comm continues to build out capacity to ensure they are prepared to receive more flights that will come in the next few days.
This is absolutely a worldwide effort, which includes several countries, multiple commands, and thousands of service members across the joint force. Over the weekend, the airport in Kabul remained secure. However, as many of you’ve seen already, Sent Comm released a statement regarding an incident to report, as no US casualties or partner force or coalition forces were involved, but regrettably, an Afghan security force member lost his life. As the president referenced last night in his remarks, we are in communication with the Taliban for the establishment and sustainment of several checkpoints to increase throughput and facilitate safe passage for individuals working to gain access to the airport. Today, the number of troops at the airport continues to stand at 5,800. Commanders on the ground continue to actively monitor threats. They are empowered to make the appropriate force protection decisions. As always, US forces retain the inherent right to use force in self-defense. We’re using all of our available tools to maintain the highest threat awareness, both in Afghanistan and throughout the globe. While this mission is not without risk, the safety of our personnel, American citizens and Afghan evacuees at risk is of paramount importance.
To wrap up, we continue to make progress in the completion of this mission. Since the end of July, we have relocated approximately 42,000 people. Since the beginning of evacuation operations on August 14th, we have evacuated approximately 37,000. All of this progress stems from the teamwork, professionalism and dedication of our military, our inter-agency colleagues, and our allies and partners. We know more hard work remains in the coming days, and we’re absolutely prepared to meet that challenge. Thank you.
John Kirby: (05:18)
Just a couple of other points that I’d like to make. As you all are aware, the FDA approved full licensure of the Pfizer vaccine this morning. And as also I’m sure you’re aware, back in August on the 9th, the secretary articulated that it was his intent to mandate the COVID-19 vaccines upon FDA licensure, or by mid-September to seek a waiver from the president. So now that the Pfizer vaccine has been approved, the department is prepared to issue updated guidance requiring all service members to be vaccinated. A timeline for vaccination completion will be provided in the coming days. The health of the force is as always, of our military and our civilian employees, families, and communities, is a top priority. So it’s important to remind everyone that these efforts ensure the safety of our service members and promote the readiness of our force, not to mention the health and safety of the communities around the country in which we live.
John Kirby: (06:15)
A schedule item, the secretary and General Milley will be attending this afternoon the funeral for former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at Arlington National Cemetery. Mr. Rumsfeld served as the 13th Secretary of Defense, as well as the 21st. He also served the United States Navy in the mid 1950s as a pilot and a flight instructor, and he continued to service as a reservist until 1975 when he became the Secretary of Defense for the first time. On behalf of the Department of Defense, we extend our deep condolences to his family, to the loved ones and indeed to the country. With that, we’ll start taking questions. Bob.
Hey John, thank you. On the Pfizer vaccine, it is the secretary’s intention to require it. He has not yet made that direction. Did you say there’s not yet a deadline for doing that?
John Kirby: (07:10)
We’re preparing now actionable guidance to the force. We’re going to move forward, making that vaccine mandatory. We’re preparing the guidance to the force right now, and the actual completion date of it, in other words how fast we want to see it get done, we’re working through that guidance right now.
Okay. Can I ask you a question on Afghanistan also?
John Kirby: (07:34)
A couple of things. One is you have said, I think General Taylor has said a number of times as well, that the military’s airlift capacity at the airport was in the neighborhood of 5,000 to 9,000. I see you’ve now gone beyond that, at least yesterday. Can you say what the capacity has grown to? And also, can you explain a little more about the perimeter issue that the general alluded to very briefly when the president yesterday said something to the effect that the perimeter had been moved back significantly to facilitate entry? Can you explain that?
John Kirby: (08:07)
So a couple of things, Bob. On the capacity thing, you’re right. We had set a goal of 5,000 to 9,000 a day. Yesterday, we exceeded that. We’re not taking anything for granted, Bob. We’re taking this day by day. We’d love to see those numbers continue to rise, but we’re going to just take it day by day. There’s a lot of factors that go into being able to reach that output capacity, to include temporary safe havens that you can bring these individuals to as they complete their screening. And the screening is a big part of that. We have intelligence and law enforcement personnel at these sites making sure that a robust screening is done of these individuals so that nobody comes into the United States that hasn’t been screened in a robust manner. So there’s lots of factors that affect throughput. We were very glad to see that we were able to get that number out yesterday, but we’re going to take it day by day. Day by day.
So, the number of aircraft that are available-
John Kirby: (09:05)
I believe the number of aircraft was like 20-
John Kirby: (09:09)
Yeah. No, no, no. But I mean the same number of aircraft are about available on any given day. I mean, we can get up to, on a given day, you can get up to about 30 C-17s. That doesn’t mean that 30 you’re going to fly every day. We were under that yesterday and we’re still able to get out more than 10,000.
And then the perimeter question.
John Kirby: (09:32)
The perimeter question. I think the general addressed this a little bit in his opening statement, but without getting into tactical details here, Bob, and I think you can understand why we wouldn’t do that, we are very interested in making sure that access to the airport remains as fluid as possible, particularly for American citizens trying to get in, as well as our special immigrant visa applicants. There’s a lot of factors that go into making sure that access remains secure and that we can facilitate it. And what the president was referring to was efforts to improve that access from a geographical space, out beyond just the perimeter of the airfield. I won’t speak to the details of how we’re managing that, but you can imagine thus far and going forward, it does require constant coordination and deconfliction with the Taliban.
John Kirby: (10:44)
It’s absolutely requiring of us to keep these lines of communication with the Taliban open, who do have checkpoints out beyond the airport. What we have seen is that this coordination has worked, well this deconfliction has worked well in terms of allowing access and flow to continue, as well as reducing the overall size of the crowds just outside the airport. And those crowds have been a factor, Bob. You heard me talk about this the other night, when several days ago one of our commanders used a helicopter to bring people in, and it was largely because of the crowd size outside the Abbey gate. So crowd size matters here too. And that’s what the president was referring to.
John Kirby: (11:31)
Hello. I have two questions. I would like to go back to the incident. Can you be a little bit more specific and tell us if you can rule out that the attackers were Taliban, first? And I would like also to go back the deadline. The French foreign minister said today that it’s, “Necessary to continue the Afghani evacuations beyond August 31st.”
John Kirby: (12:01)
Cannot rule out who the hostile actor was in the shooting incident last night. I think, as you saw, Central Command’s statement referred to it as a hostile actor. We don’t know more than that. And this just happened, Sylvie, so I don’t know when we’ll have more forensics on this. Again, our focus was on making sure that we could maintain security at the airport. It was maintained. Sadly, it resulted in the loss of a life of one Afghan soldier and wounded several others. So, I mean, obviously that’s our focus right now.
John Kirby: (12:36)
On the deadline, I can’t speak for other nation-states. I can only speak for the Department of Defense. And you heard the Secretary address this over the weekend. The goal is to get as many people out as fast as possible. And while we were glad to see the numbers that we got yesterday, we’re not going to rest on any laurels. The focus is on trying to do this as best we can by the end of the month. And as the Secretary said, if he needs to have additional conversations with the Commander in Chief about that timeline, he’ll do that, but we’re just not at that point right now.
John Kirby: (13:10)
Has the Taliban told you that August 31st is the deadline and that you must leave then? Are those communications happening? Is that something you’ve agreed to with the Taliban?
John Kirby: (13:21)
We’ve seen the public statements by the Taliban spokesman about their views on the 31st of August. I think we all understand that view.
Can you explain, is it only Americans and SIV holders that are allowed through the gate now? Has that changed? What is the policy about Afghans in need now coming-
John Kirby: (13:39)
Afghans in need are still being processed and facilitated.
Given the number of people who are in hiding, who were either SIV recipients, some Americans, Afghan allies, why not reopen Bagram Air Base? Why not go get an agreement from the Qataris to come and land-
… get an agreement to, from the Qataris to come and land in Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif, elsewhere. We saw the Qataris bring the Mullah Baradar back with a C17. Why not use the Pakistanis and the Qataris to help bring people out from, because right now you’re just bringing people out from Kabul and it’s a choke point?
John Kirby: (14:24)
Well, first of all, the throughput has improved and increased, and I don’t think it would be a useful expenditure of our time to Monday morning quarterback the whole issue with Bagram. It was closed down as part of the retrograde. Jen?
I’m not talking about Monday morning quarterbacking. I’m talking about why not look at the situation now. You need air fields that you can land on to get people out.
John Kirby: (14:52)
Jen, we are-
[crosstalk 00:14:54] Major General Taylor about this-
John Kirby: (14:55)
Let me try it first and then I’ll give it to the general clearly. We are improving our throughput at a Hamid Karzai International Airport, and we think that we will be able to continue to try to improve that. That’s the goal. But what you’re talking about would be an expenditure of resources and personnel, as well as an increase, most likely, to the threat that they’re under to try to go back and, as you put it, retake Bagram Airbase, which is the size of a small city. And I understand a lot of people have views and opinions about this. It was closed down as part of the retrograde. It was always supposed to be closed down as part of the retrograde. It was the last base to be turned over to the Afghans.
John Kirby: (15:44)
Even as recently, as three weeks ago, before we actually had to conduct a non-combatant evacuation operation, the leaders in this building ran a tabletop exercise on what it would be like to run an effective Neo operation out of Hamid Karzai International Airport, and we’re actually running that play. Now it’s not without its challenges for sure, but we’re doing that now. And that’s the focus is on making sure that we can get as many people out as possible using Hamid Karzai International Airport. And Jen, the numbers are showing that it’s working. Nobody’s taking it for granted, don’t want to be predictive about tomorrow, but it’s working. Do you have anything to add to that? Okay, Tara.
Thank you. Back to the August 31st question. Is August 31st, extending that deadline. Is it really an option for the US anymore? Is this wholly dependent upon whether the Taliban would agree to let a US presence remained in Afghanistan past that date?
John Kirby: (16:40)
Our focus is on getting this done by the end of the month, Tara. And what we do here at the building, at the Pentagon, is options. Our job is to provide the president, the commander in chief options. And as you heard the secretary say, if he gets to a point, he and Chairman Millie, they believe they get to a point where they need to provide that advice and counsel to the president about an extension, then he’ll do that. We just aren’t there right now. And you heard the secretary say himself, if he had more time on the clock, he would absolutely use more time on the clock. But we’re focused on getting this done by the end of the month.
And secondly, for a Major General Taylor, you’d mentioned that 42,000 have been evacuated since July. Is that 42,000 just on military airlift or does that include the commercial and chartered plane?
Yeah, so that total number is US military plus US Civilian State Department. Some of that was State Department contract there that went out also early on.
And do you have any break down of the number of US citizens in that 42,000 that have gotten out?
I do, but I don’t have that right now.
John Kirby: (17:49)
So just a couple of quick questions. Firstly, on the vaccine, this would be specifically to Pfizer, right? That would be mandatory or would it be the other vaccines?
John Kirby: (17:57)
Right now, we’re focused on the Pfizer vaccine because of the FDA approval that came in this morning.
And just another couple of quick ones stop. How many, I guess Afghan soldiers remain in the perimeter? I think you had said 500 to 600 a week. Is that still the number?
John Kirby: (18:12)
I believe that’s the operative number.
And then how many Americans have been… I think you gave 2,500 Americans. Has that number changed?
John Kirby: (18:21)
We think that overall, we’ve been able to evacuate several thousand Americans. I’d be reticent to get more specific than that. But since the 14th, we believe we have been able to evacuate several thousand Americans.
Very quickly lastly, so the last table top exercise for a new operation from [inaudible 00:18:46] was about three weeks ago?
John Kirby: (18:46)
It was about three weeks ago. It was certainly before a Kabul fell. And I’ve talked about this before. I mean, this was something that the Pentagon had been thinking about for a long time, as far back as late April, when we held a rehearsal of concept exercise here at the Pentagon, looking at the retrograde and how that was going to parse out over and through the summer. Part of that conversation was the potential for non-combatant evacuation operations and what that would look like and how we would execute that. Nancy?
Thank you. I wanted to know if you could clarify a couple points that you made earlier. You said that any extension beyond August 31st would be the secretary talking with the president. Would that decision include inputs from NATO allies, particularly those who say that they need more time? Is that a factor in the US consideration about saying that?
John Kirby: (19:32)
I think we would absolutely consider the views and opinions of our allies and partners who also have people there and are, as the general briefed, very much apart moving people out.
And have any of those NATO allies communicated to the United States that they need more time beyond August 31st?
John Kirby: (19:49)
I’m not aware of specific conversations that we’ve had with respect to that deadline.
Okay. And then on the perimeter, I’m having a hard time understanding. When president talked yesterday, he said about expanding that perimeter. Can you help me understand who’s part of that? Is that US forces? Have they moved where they’re positioned from, where they were a few days ago?
John Kirby: (20:08)
I want to be very careful here to talk about specific movements at a tactical level on any given day. So I’m just not going to do that and I know that will be largely unsatisfying, but-
John Kirby: (20:21)
But let me finish. So that as caveat, we continue to look at security on the airport itself, as well as the immediate environs of the airport because in those immediate environments, outside the airport, that’s where you have Taliban checkpoints, that’s where you have crowds assembling. That’s where access to the gates is critical in that space just outside the airport where we don’t have a military presence of a sustained nature. And what we’re doing is that we are in constant communication with the Taliban about that space and what that space looks like. And the only thing I would say is that, as you heard the secretary say this, you’ve heard General Millie say this, we’re going to do what is required on any given day at every possible opportunity to make sure that those who need to get out can get out. And that includes the monitoring and the accessibility of that space outside the airport. But what it looks like on any given day, Nancy, is going to change.
I appreciate that, but I’m not looking for tactical details. I just think once that movement happens, it’s a different threat to US forces and something that the public has a right to know. So I just want to get an understanding of how often they cross it, how we should be thinking about where the US military is in that environment.
John Kirby: (21:45)
I will tell you that we already consider our troops in harm’s way at the airport. It’s a dangerous situation. There’s no question about that. And we’re not taking any of these threats for granted. The commanders on the ground have the wherewithal to move their forces as they see fit to, again, do essentially three things, make sure the airport is secure and can be defended, make sure that air operations can continue to carry on at the clip we need them to carry on, and see, and this is an important one, to make sure that American citizens at risk Afghans or SIV applicants can get access to the gates to get entry process and entry to the field.
John Kirby: (22:29)
Those are the three primary tasks and our commanders on the ground know that’s what their tasks are and can move forces, can employ forces and assets as they see fit to do that. And again, on any given day that could change, Nancy. I just don’t think it would be helpful, particularly because the threat environment is so high, for us to talk with any great specificity about what that’s going to look like. David?
John, were you being deliberately vague when you said the number of Americans was several thousand or was it because you’re not sure of the number? If you need to check the number… I mean, that’s the most important number here are the number of Americans. So if it’s just a matter of checking the number, can you do that and give it to us? Or if you’re being deliberately vague, tell me why you’re being deliberately vague.
John Kirby: (23:24)
I think I’m just going to leave it at several thousand right now, Dave.
Well then tell us why.
John Kirby: (23:30)
Because I think the number is very fluid and it literally changes nearly by the hour.
Speaker 1: (23:35)
It’s not more fluid than, than these 11,000, 37,000.
John Kirby: (23:39)
I’m going to leave it several thousand right now. [inaudible 00:23:42]
You said that you heard the public statements from Taliban about the redline, that August 31st. Does this mean that you didn’t hear it directly from them since you’re communicating with them on daily basis? Are you communicating with them on this issue? Did you tell them, discuss with them the need for maybe extending the August 31st?
John Kirby: (24:07)
I’m not going to speak to specificity with the communications that we’re having with the Taliban on any given day. It happens several times a day. We are well aware of the state of desire by the Taliban to have this mission completed by the 31st of August. I would tell you that we too are still planning on completing it by the 31st of August. That is the mission that have been signed by the commander in chief assigned to us and that’s what we’re trying to execute. Go ahead.
Are the forces remaining now in Kabul focusing on the evacuation mission, the US forces, et cetera, of course? Are they maintaining the capability to maybe deal with a threat from Taliban beyond the August 31st deadline or maybe attacks?
John Kirby: (24:59)
Yeah, again, I appreciate the question. In terms of hypothesizing past the 31st, we are just aren’t there yet. Our troops are focused on the mission, the three missions I just articulated. And that includes, as I said, being able to defend the airport, which means being able to defend themselves and their operations. And we have assets in place to allow them to do that as well. I am not going to speculate about post August 31st. We are head down focused on keeping these numbers up as best we can, getting as many people out as we can by the end of the month. And if there needs to be a discussion about extending that timeline, then we absolutely will have that discussion at the appropriate time with the commander in chief. Let me go to the phones, which I have not done yet. Jeff Schogol, you get the first one.
Thank you very much. Regarding the incident, was the gunman killed and was it us troops who shot this person?
John Kirby: (25:59)
I do not know on either Jeff. You could certainly reach out to central command for more detail at that level of the incident. But again, this just happened, Jeff, and so I just don’t think we have that level of forensic detail to offer you today. Carla?
I think he has one more question.
John Kirby: (26:18)
Did you have one more, Jeff?
Oh, yes. I’m sorry. From what we’re hearing on the ground, only American citizens and green card holders are being allowed into the airport. Do you know when that will change and Africans at risk will be able to enter?
John Kirby: (26:29)
As I mentioned to Jen, it’s for American citizens, it’s for SIV applicants can still be processed through the gates. At risk Afghans are absolutely being considered for entry. Carla?
Two questions. First of all, how many people have been killed at the airport? We’ve been hearing reports of seven, nine. A NATO official told ABC there were 20 killed in and around their airport. What’s that number?
You’re talking about Afghans at the gates?
If you’re adding the people who were killed on Monday during the incident, when the C17 took off, the two that were killed during skirmishes inside the airport, the guy killed today. What’s that total number of people who have died?
Less than. I don’t have exact numbers of that. So I can’t answer the exact number right now.
Can you take that question and get back to us on that?
And then also you had mentioned, sir, that the capacity was 5,800 troops at the airport right now and then the Secretary of Defense had told us last week that he did not have the capability to go out and do extractions because there’s just not enough troops. They’re defending the airport. Have you asked for authorization of additional troops to go into the airport to help with potential extraction should it come to that?
I think the word capability and the actual troop number I think are two different things. So we have 5,000, approximately 5,800 forces. And as I briefed over the week, as forces flew in, float in, capability-
… forces flew in, you know, flowed in, capability continued to increase. Initial security was the most important ability to establish, because without that security the ability to do other things is just not possible. So as our capability increased and at that 5,800 number, as you’ve seen, we have the capability and have executed other operations to ensure that American citizens are being brought in, safely, and prepared for evacuation.
So just so I can understand what you’re saying, just to recap, you think that at 5,800 troops, the U.S. has the capability now to expand the perimeter at the airport and continue all of this to, or to do whatever the President had mentioned with the opening up the perimeter and also to do extractions if needed, or are you going to ask for authorization of more troops?
What I said is at 5,800, we’re able to continue to secure the airfield, continue to increase safety there, and continue to do the operations that we already have.
John Kirby: (29:08)
And Carla, what the secretary said was that where he was on last Wednesday, that we didn’t have the capability to do large scale, massive movements of people. But he did say if there’s an incident where somebody is in extremis and we need to get them in small numbers, we can do that. And we have been doing that. And as the general said, that was last Wednesday. Over the course of the ensuing days, more capability has flown in, more troops have flown in. And so we do have the ability to help, when we can and where we can, to help Americans move towards the gates. And we’re not going to talk about the details of each and every one of those, but we do have those capabilities.
One last one, I guess what I’m asking is, do you foresee the need to authorize additional troops to go in, should the situation, should you have a hard stop at August 31st, and you have to ramp up capacity again, do you foresee authorizing additional troops [crosstalk 00:30:02]?
John Kirby: (30:02)
I don’t think it would be helpful to get ahead of where we are right now. There are no plans at this time to request or to authorize additional U.S. forces to this mission. Courtney.
Are U.S. troops leaving the airport on a regular basis? I still don’t understand what’s going on.
John Kirby: (30:19)
Courtney, on occasion as needed, our commanders have the authority that they need to use their assets and their forces to help assist Americans who need to get to the airport, get to the airport on a case by case basis. Your question was-
Are they leaving [crosstalk 00:30:42]
John Kirby: (30:42)
… leaving in a regular. It’s not regular. I don’t want to, I don’t want to leave you with the idea that we’re somehow patrolling the streets of Kabul, but on occasion where there’s a need, and there’s a capability to meet that need, our commanders on the ground are doing what they feel they need to do to help Americans reach the airport. And there’s a variety of methods that that can be affected. And without going into detail, we’re using the variety of methods at our disposal.
So we know about the Chinooks last Thursday at the Baron Hotel. Have there been additional cases since then? Can you tell us any details about that?
John Kirby: (31:20)
There has been at least one additional instance where a rotary airlift was used to help Americans get from outside the airport, into the airport. And I think I’m just going to leave it at that today.
[inaudible 00:31:34] I got more. Your planning organization. What is your, when do you expect that you will have to, assuming that you’re sticking to this August 31st deadline, when will you have to stop taking in additional people at the airport to evacuate? Because you’re going to have to get the 5,800 American US troops out.
John Kirby: (31:55)
You mean to stop taking in evacuees?
Yes. And additional Americans, whomever is left out there, like what is the deadline? So that you’ll be able to get the American military, who are there at the airport supporting and any last embassy people who are there out, when will you stop accepting the evacuees in?
John Kirby: (32:12)
Remember, it’s important to remember that we are not the only people flying evacuees out. So it’s certainly conceivable that, that even without a U.S. military footprint there, that people could still be able to get out of Kabul. I don’t have specific retrograde, the timeline to speak to today. We’ll work through that as appropriate as we get closer to the end of the mission. And as you well know, we very methodically and deliberately plan in the movement out of assets, and equipment, and resources. So that we can preserve the capability we need for as long as we need it. And I think I just [inaudible 00:32:56] that.
I only ask that because it took several days to flow these 5,800 in. So I know that there were logistical hurdles to get them in. Presumably it won’t take as long out, but it could theoretically take a day or two to get everyone, the military, back out. So that may bump the timeline back from August 31st to the 29th?
John Kirby: (33:14)
Look, clearly- [crosstalk 00:33:16]
[inaudible 00:33:16] speaking about 28th.
John Kirby: (33:18)
Clearly there, you know you have to do some backward planning for retrograde. Obviously. I am not prepared today to speak to the specific dates or process by which that would occur. But obviously we’re thinking through that right now. And a lot of that’s going to depend on how far we get as fast as we can get by the end of the month. I just don’t want to speculate now about what that’s going to look like, but let me just back up. I mean, the focus is on getting as many people out as we can, as fast as we can. That means being able to secure and defend the airport, which we are doing now. And we will factor all of those things in to whatever the departure timeline looks like to make sure we can continue to maximize throughput as best we can and without getting anybody hurt. And thus far, with obviously some exceptions, some small exceptions. I mean, we’ve been fortunate that that nobody has. Okay. Mike.
Yeah. Is there any effort to tally up the number of U.S. weapons and equipment that are now under Taliban control. And is there any program to mitigate this problem through destruction or confiscating them back, taking them back?
John Kirby: (34:37)
Yeah, we talked about this before. I don’t have an exact inventory of what equipment that the Afghans had at their disposal that now might be at risk. Obviously we don’t want to see any weapons or systems that, to fall into hands of people that would use them in such a way to harm our interests or those of our partners and allies. I mean, we have a vested interest obviously in not wanting that to happen. But I don’t have any policy solutions for you today about how we would, or could address that going forward. I would remind you though, Mike, that an awful lot of equipment, weapons, resources were drawn down even in the last years and months of the previous administration, as President Trump decided to move down to a force of 2,500. So there was a lot of retrograde of things up to that point.
John Kirby: (35:48)
And then after the President’s decision in mid-April to complete this draw down, albeit on an extended timeline, a very, and we talked about this to, the very big part of the retrograde was the disposition of weapons and equipment and systems and vehicles. Some of them were destroyed. Some of them were brought back home. Some of them were redeployed into the region. And yes, some were turned over to the Afghans. And we’re working through right now to try to get a better sense of what that would look like. But I don’t have any specific solutions for you in terms of what we’re, what we can or will do going forward on this. And to the degree… Well, I’ll leave it at that. I’ll leave it at that. Jen.
Thank you all. Let me ask of the General Taylor, please. General Taylor, the United States has [inaudible 00:36:47] the South Korea to [inaudible 00:36:51] Afghan [inaudible 00:36:53]. Do you have any more detail on this?
I don’t. Other than that communication is happening. And that, like I said earlier, we’re very grateful for all of our partners, allies that continue to offer any assistance to allow the safe evacuation of Afghans and American citizens.
Is there any military support to the United States [inaudible 00:37:22] from South Korea? Certain, like, military aircraft?
I don’t know how many Republic of Korea aircraft have been used. We’ve had, you know, as we’ve said today, a lot of countries have been supporting and we appreciate that, but I don’t have the number offhand.
Can you take [inaudible 00:37:52]?
Thank you very much.
John Kirby: (37:51)
All right. Back to the phones here, Kim Dozier.
Kim Dozier: (37:57)
Thanks, John. I wanted to ask if you were, given the short amount of time left, just seven days, are you going to allow private charters to start landing in greater numbers at HKAI daily to pick up Afghans at risk? Because even by conservative math, you can’t possibly move all the American citizens out in just seven days, much less the green card holders, the Afghan special operators, et cetera. Also private charter companies tell me, they’ve been told, when they can land, that they only have an hour to land, pick everybody up and take off. And some of them are leery of even going, because they don’t think they can get it done that fast.
So the ability to continue throughput is very important. And so as we look at airfield operations and the ability to get aircraft landed safely, immediately in and loaded, that drives a lot of the, what we would call time on ground, to maximize the amount of evacuees that we can get out. As you saw in the last day that the numbers, that required, as you just said, aircraft on average to be on the ground less than an hour, which is very quick. I do know that TRANSCOM and the commanders on the ground who are facilitating that synchronization are using, and want to continue to use, every capability possible to get people out of Kabul. So, that’s all I have.
John Kirby: (39:35)
One more on the phone here, [Sam LeBron 00:39:38].
Sam LeBron: (39:40)
Hey, John, update on us support for the Haiti earthquake and the disaster relief.
John Kirby: (39:47)
Yeah, I think we can facilitate that a little bit later, Sam, but yes, we can get you an update on that. Yeah.
Reporter 1: (39:54)
I have question for the general real quick. Sir, it sounds like from what we’re hearing from the podium, that the U.S. is essentially relying on the Taliban for crowd control outside the gates. Obviously that was not part of the original plan. What forces were originally assigned to conduct security outside the perimeter and how did that fall apart? Where are they now? And then I have a follow-up.
Yeah. So the 5,800 forces were a part of that force package to provide security for the airfield. As you know, within the last seven days, we’ve seen the ability to continue to coordinate and synchronize with Taliban checkpoints. And I would say, as you look the last two days, that ability with the commanders on the ground to work with the Taliban tactical commanders has allowed, and I would say the ability to control better, the access into that.
Reporter 1: (40:57)
So you’re saying that U.S. troops were originally planned to be on the perimeter outside the airport, but that did not work out. Is that what I understood?
No, that’s what I said. The original 5,800 forces were planned to secure HKAI and those gates.
Reporter 1: (41:11)
The interior of the airport. There was no one planned to be on the outside.
That’s not what I said. I said that, you know, as the plan that went in and what has changed is the coordination and using the use of, or the Taliban being there.
Reporter 1: (41:28)
Understood. Okay, one last question if I might. Given this arrangement, I mean, does this mean that the Taliban is, for better or worse, now in a better position to potentially dictate when we leave?
I can’t answer that. What I do know is that our continued mission, which we were given, was to secure the airfield and to ensure the, to facilitate the evacuation by August 31st. And I’ll just refer back to the comment that Mr. Kirby has already made about the August 31st date.
Reporter 1: (42:01)
John Kirby: (42:02)
Yeah. I mean, we’ve covered this pretty well.
First date, yes.
John Kirby: (42:03)
Yeah. I mean, we’ve covered this pretty well, about August 31st. Megan?
So the vaccine roll out plan. Is the idea now that Pfizer will become mandatory and the Secretary will wait until mid-September to ask for Moderna and Johnson and Johnson, will he ask earlier, or will the vaccines become mandatory as they become fully licensed?
John Kirby: (42:24)
Yeah, Megan, what I can tell you is the focus right now today, with this FDA approval, is on the Pfizer vaccine, and moving forward to implement a mandatory vaccination regimen for Pfizer. I don’t want to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made yet.
John Kirby: (42:38)
Yeah. Dan. I’m sorry.
John Kirby: (42:41)
John Kirby: (42:43)
You guys with the masks on getting everybody confused. Go ahead.
Can you speak a little to any COVID prevention that’s going on at the airport? Are evacuees being tested before they get on aircraft? Are they being tested in intermediary countries?
John Kirby: (42:56)
Yup. Good question. As I understand it, medical personnel at Hamid Karzai International Airport are conducting COVID screening for those who are febrile or symptomatic, and then as appropriate, depending on what the temporary safe haven, what the guidelines are at the temporary safe havens, additional screenings at some of those safe havens occur. And then upon arrival at the United States, all passengers are being tested upon arrival. And then medical professionals make the proper decisions after that.
Are there any concerns about positive tests for soldiers on the ground?
John Kirby: (43:41)
Of course there’s-
Or have there been any examples of soldiers testing positive?
John Kirby: (43:45)
I don’t have that level of detail. I don’t know what positive results that may have come in for soldiers working at the airfield, but obviously their health and safety remains a top concern for all of us.
John Kirby: (44:01)
A clarification. At the top, I think you announced that Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is now-
John Kirby: (44:11)
That is correct.
Is that in addition, is that something new?
John Kirby: (44:11)
That is one additional base. We had been talking about three prior to that, Fort Lee, Fort McCoy, Fort Bliss. Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is now available to receive some of these SIV applicants, and with the four bases, what our goal would be is to reach the ability, not necessarily the actual count, but the ability to build out to about 25,000 capacity. We aren’t there yet, Louie, it’s going to take days and weeks, I think for all four to be able to combine to get to that level. But that’s the goal as we are right now. And the other thing I would say is if the Secretary, in communication with the Chairman and with General Vanherck at Northcom, feels like we need to add to that capacity and add to the list additional U.S. military installations, then we’ll do that. But right now we’re at four.
And what is the current number of individuals who are at those four bases?
John Kirby: (45:14)
I do not have that. We can take the question and I’m sure Northern Command would have a better number than I do right now.
My last question is this. I apologize for asking three. It’s such an effort to get into the airport, and some people are lucky to get in, but now we’re hearing that the food supplies, the water supplies, sanitation, hygiene, are really bad inside the airport and so bad that some people are actually returning, to go outside the perimeter. So my question is this, how can you prevent a humanitarian crisis inside the airport as this goes on and on?
Yeah. Fair question. I’m going to let the general take it, and I think you had the number, too, for the installations.
So that was in, right now [inaudible 00:46:08] right at approximately 1,200 have entered into United States. As we talk about the conditions and the ability to continue to provide a humane and safe peace on the airfield, as you see some of those flights, that continue to come in to Kabul, those are bringing those supplies in. So as those supplies are used, we are continually replenishing those to ensure that we have food and all those things that are needed, water, for those that are preparing for evacuation flights. So the last 48 hours, we had a lot of folks on there, which is a good thing, right? That means we had gotten people through the gate. We processed them. It means we have people safe. Then we can fly out. The commanders there are always assessing what the requirements are to ensure that safe and a humanitarian environment.
John Kirby: (47:11)
I would just add, Louie, I mean, we’re mindful of these reports too. It’s not lost on us. There’s a lot of people and they are desperate and we are trying to do the best we can to get them out of harm’s way as fast as possible. And when you have a throughput problem, it means that some people are going to be stuck in a given location, whether it’s at Hamid Karzai International Airport, or Qatar, or other temporary safe havens, nobody wants to see this go on for any longer than it has to be.
John Kirby: (47:41)
And, believe me, nobody more than the U.S. military and our troops want to see anybody suffer any more than they have to. And we are very aware that there are, and have been, some sanitation issues, as well as issues of sustainment. And as the general said, we’re making that a priority as we float. Some of these planes are coming in with that material on it, that kind of support. And then they’re leaving with people. We’re doing the best we can under extraordinary circumstances and believe me, the pain and the suffering, the fear, the anxiety, all of that, none of it is lost on us or our troops. Jen?
I just received a report that the British evacuation commander in Kabul, Vice Admiral Ben Key has been locked out of all negotiations between U. S. Sincom staff, 82nd airborne, and Taliban commanders. And that there’s a great deal of tension right now between the Brits who are sending people outside the airport, and members of the 82nd airborne who want to join them. What is happening with our British allies? Is this report accurate? And supposedly there was supposed to be an 82nd airborne jump into Bagram Air Base to open that field, and that that was shut down by the White House. Is that accurate?
John Kirby: (48:59)
Jen, first that I’m hearing these reports. You’re going to have to let me go back and look at this. I don’t know. You mentioned that the Brits who want to go out, we are doing it as well. We are going out as needed and helping Americans get into the field.
You only described one of those instances to Courtney [crosstalk 00:49:21].
John Kirby: (49:21)
She asked me specifically about airlift, and I mentioned one using rotary wing aircraft. That doesn’t mean it’s the sum total of what we’re doing to go out and try to bring and assist Americans coming in. We’re just not going to detail all of them because the threat environment is so high. As to these reports, first I’ve heard. You’ll have to give us a little time to dissect this and come back to you. Yeah, in the back.
Speaker 2: (49:42)
There’s reports that some of the equipment that you left and have landed in the hands of Taliban are going towards Pakistan. Do you have that report as well? If it lands in the hands of Pakistan, those equipments, are you asking Pakistan to get them back to you?
John Kirby: (49:56)
I don’t have anything on that reporting that you’ve got there. I think we’ll just have to take a look. We can take the question, see if we can get back to you. I don’t have anything on that.
John Kirby: (50:02)
Could you clarify something that you said to Jen and Courtney about on occasion going out to do missions outside of it. What kind of coordination then happens with the Taliban forces on the ground? Are there joint patrols happening now between Taliban and the U.S. forces-
John Kirby: (50:17)
No. There are no joint patrols.
Movements? What kind of communication happens? Can you give us any sense once that happens?
There’s no joint patrols. There’s no joint coordination. But obviously we are in communication with the Taliban about their presence and where it is around the field. And I think, Nancy, for reasons I hope you understand, we’re just not going to get into the tactical level details of what we’re doing to help facilitate the passage, and assist the passage, of Americans getting on to the field. And we want to preserve as many options as we can going forward, because the threat environment outside the airport is so dynamic and, quite frankly, dangerous. So for I think very good reasons of operational security, we’re just not going to detail everything we’re doing and every opportunity we’re taking advantage of.
I do appreciate that. I just want to understand. The U.S. forces are side by side with Taliban? I’m trying to get a visual of what it looks like. That’s all.
John Kirby: (51:12)
No. We are not out there side by side with them. It’s not about joint patrols, so you can erase that visual. That is not what’s happening.
John Kirby: (51:21)
Okay. I’m going to have to get going guys. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. Our goal is to come back here again at around 1500 for an afternoon update and we’ll keep you apprised if and when that changes. Thanks very much. Thank you. Yes.