Aug 24, 2021
Pentagon Officials Hank Taylor & John Kirby Press Briefing Transcript August 24: Afghanistan & Taliban Takeover
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby held a news briefing on August 24, 2021 to provide an update on the situation at the Kabul airport and the ongoing evacuation effort in Afghanistan. Read the full transcript of the press conference here.
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General Hank Taylor: (00:00)
… first Afghanistan, specifically Kabul.
General Hank Taylor: (00:04)
I’m pleased to report our best departure results since evacuation operations began have happened in the last 24 hours. Where 37 US Military aircraft, 32 C-17s, five C-130s departed from Kabul with approximately 12,700 personnel. On top of that, 57 coalition and partner aircraft left Kabul aircraft with 8900 personnel.
General Hank Taylor: (00:35)
This tremendous display of teamwork and focus resulted in a passenger count of 21,600 individuals leaving Afghanistan in just 24 hours. To date, 63,900 American citizens, NATO and other partners’ personnel, Afghan SIV applicants, and vulnerable Afghans are out of harm’s way, now safer and on their journey to a better life. And the majority of these people, approximately 5000, or 58,700 of them have left just since August 14th.
General Hank Taylor: (01:19)
I want to reiterate that we’re able to achieve this level of increased departures because of US Military personnel and our partners work around the clock to conduct this highly important mission, including airport security and flight operation. To that end, we’re seeing increased pace and increased pace in the flight schedule at Kabul. As of yesterday, in that last 24-hour period, one aircraft left on or about every 45 minutes.
General Hank Taylor: (01:50)
As we look beyond Kabul, and in order to maintain a steady flow out of Afghanistan, we rely on the intermediate staging bases and safe havens in both CENTCOM and the EUCOM AORs. We’ve been focused on building capacity, while also rapidly processing and facilitating onward movement. It has been challenging to keep up with the flow, but we’ve made progress in caring for and safeguarding these vulnerable individuals and getting them moving onward. We are committed to doing more and to continue to expand and improve our facilities, from adding shelter to additional sanitation, hand washing stations, refrigerator trucks, providing cold water and the appropriate food, and we’re working with our partners to increase this capacity as soon as possible.
General Hank Taylor: (02:44)
In the EUCOM AOR, Afghans transitioning through Ramstein Air Base Germany have started departing to onward destinations. So far, five aircraft and more than 800 travelers, who have been screened and cleared for entry, departed for United States. EUCOM has received nearly 8000 evacuees since August 20th, and is considering other installations in Germany, Italy, and Spain in preparation to receive more flights to allow greater throughput to the United States.
General Hank Taylor: (03:17)
As I mentioned yesterday, the number of temporary safe haven locations across Europe and the Middle East now stands at 14. This allows us to expedite movement out of Kabul and gives us flexibility from these intermediate staging bases. We are appreciative of the support in this global effort from our allies and partners. We remain focused on the mission of bringing as many people home as we can, and as quickly as we can.
General Hank Taylor: (03:45)
An update on NORTHCOM operations. In the past 24 hours, four flights landed at Dulles International Airport with more than 1000 passengers. Again, these passengers and their families will go to one of the four military installations designated as processing locations. All of this progress stems from the teamwork and professionalism, and especially of our inner agency partners here in the States. We know more hard work remains, that our personnel in Afghanistan remain vigilant, and we share the sense of urgency in this effort. We’ll continue to keep you updated on Afghanistan through the week.
General Hank Taylor: (04:27)
Lastly, as we look at Haiti, the Department of Defense continues support of USAID relief efforts in Haiti. Over the last 24 hours, Joint Task Force Haiti conducted 56 missions, assisted in the saving of 40 lives, and delivered more than 35,000 pounds of good supplies and medical supplies to the people affected by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Haiti. Four United States Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys arrived to provide additional options for personnel and supply movement. These air assets are in addition to the 18 US Military and Coast Guard aircraft already supporting humanitarian relief operations. US maritime vessels continue the support also. That concludes my update.
John Kirby: (05:21)
Thank you, General. Okay, before we get to questions, I just have a slight update on the baby count. As the general let you know yesterday, three babies total. Just to clarify, one was born on the C-17. That’s the one I think you guys know about. The other two were born shortly after arrival at Ramstein in the Landstuhl Hospital there on base, so two were born in the hospital shortly after arrival. I am told that moms and dads and babies are all fine and healthy, and all is looking good there. And if we can get more information on this, I’ll be able to provide it a little bit later. Lita.
John, a couple of questions. I know that you are not going to be able to answer whether or not the deadline is going to be extended beyond the 31st, but can you give us some perspective from the military? Can you get all Americans out in the next several days by the 31st? Do you need more military bases in the United States to house them? Do you need more throughput in order to get that done, and do you need to increase the pace? And one … Go ahead.
John Kirby: (06:35)
No, go ahead. Keep going.
And the other day, the General told us that there were about 2500, I think, Americans that had gotten out, but that number has increased over the last several days. About how many have gotten out so far?
John Kirby: (06:51)
About how many-
John Kirby: (06:53)
Okay. Okay, so the deadline. I mean, I’m going to miss some of these, Lita-
John Kirby: (06:59)
… so just walk me back. You’re right. There’s been no change to the timeline of the mission, which is to have this completed by the end of the month. We continue to make progress every day in getting Americans, as well as SIV applicants and vulnerable Afghans out. And you heard the numbers that the General briefed just a minute ago, and the vast, vast majority of these individuals are Afghans. So, we remain committed to getting any and all Americans that want to leave to get them out, and we still believe, certainly now that we have been able to increase the capacity and the flow, we believe that we have the capability, the ability to get that done by the end of the month. You asked for, I think, bases here in the United States was another one of your questions.
[crosstalk 00:08:00] Will you need to increase the number?
John Kirby: (08:02)
It’s possible that we might be looking at additional US Military installations here in the United States. Right now, we’re working with four of them, Fort Lee, Fort McCoy, Fort Bliss, and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. Those are the four that are operating now and are beginning to see a flow of SIV applicants.
John Kirby: (08:29)
It is very well possible that we could need to use additional US Military installations here stateside, and as we make those decisions, and as we’re able to announce them, we certainly will. But we want to make sure that, just like we wanted to make sure in Kabul that airlift wasn’t a limiting factor, we want to make sure that when we get these individuals to the United States that temporary, safe, secure, and an accessible temporary lodging is not the limiting factor to their ability to get on with their new lives and to finish the process. I’m sure you had like three other ones that I forgot.
No, no. The Americans. The General at one point told us that 2500 had gotten out. What is your assessment now as to the number that have gotten out of Afghanistan, and do you think you can get all of them out?
John Kirby: (09:21)
I think I answered the second part of that. For, I think, for all Americans who want to leave, the State Department is working very hard to contact them, and we are getting them out every day, and that’s not going to change. And I understand the question about the specific detail. I would just tell you that several thousand, we know several thousand Americans have been safely evacuated from Afghanistan. I understand that’s not the degree of specificity that you want, but that is as far as I’m going to be able to go today, several thousand. And to include, several hundred just yesterday we’re able to get onto the airport for follow-on transportation, so it’s every day we are moving Americans out of the country. Tara.
Barring any other factors besides like weather, do you anticipate the DOD will be able to keep this pace up another 20,000 in the next couple of days to maybe have 100,000 evacuated before the end of the week?
John Kirby: (10:17)
That’s definitely the plan, Tara. But as you know, the throughput is a function of many different factors, including even weather. So, our plan is to continue this pace as aggressively as we can. You heard General Lyons speak to that, I think, very specifically yesterday. That’s the goal. That’s the intention.
One fun one for you. The babies that were born on the aircraft and on the US side of military base, are they considered American citizens? We’ve gotten that question a lot.
John Kirby: (10:45)
Yeah, that’s a good question. I do not know the answer to that. I’m probably going to have to punt to my colleagues at the State Department or Immigration. I don’t know the answer to that. And just to remind, it was one born on the aircraft, actually in flight, two born at Landstuhl shortly after the flight arrived into Ramstein. If I can get you any more details, I certainly will.
One last one. Expansion effort. There’s a FedBizOpps opportunity now for seeking Farsi and Pashto speakers for Keesler Air Force Base. Is Keesler going to be one of the expansion sites?
John Kirby: (11:16)
I don’t have any announcements on future possible installations that might be of use. We will do this in a rolling fashion, Tara. If and when we decide we need additional installations, we’ll let you guys know as soon as we possibly can.
John, has the US started preparations to leave, in order to leave by August 31st? When does the US military have to begin making those preps? When does that decision have to be made?
John Kirby: (11:44)
I’m not going to get into a specific tick-tock here. Just as when we were talking about the retrograde out of Afghanistan writ large for military, we were very careful about the details we provided. The threat environment is very real around the airport, so I am going to be equally as judicious about the kind of information that we give out.
John Kirby: (12:05)
But roughly speaking, you need at least several days to get the amount of forces and equipment that we have at the airport to get that safely and effectively retrograded. I won’t get into a specific tick-tock. And this is going to be the pace and whatever the daily extraction is going to be, that’s going to be up to the commanders on the ground to determine what they’re going to move, and how and when they’re going to do it. Because we have a concomitant mission all the way through to continue these evacuations, so you have to be able to do both. And it’s a balance, and the Secretary is going to trust the judgment of our commanders on the ground to properly meet that battle.
But it sounds like you’re still working on an August 31st deadline.
John Kirby: (12:49)
We’re absolutely still aiming towards the end of the month.
And are the public statements by the Taliban the same as the private statements being made to US officials about the deadline and when US should leave?
John Kirby: (13:00)
What I can tell you is that the Taliban have-
Speaker 1: (13:03)
… Should leave.
John Kirby: (13:03)
What I can tell you is that the Taliban have been very clear about what their expectations are as well.
Speaker 1: (13:11)
[crosstalk 00:13:11] the public and private statements are the same?
John Kirby: (13:12)
Without getting into details, I’m not seeing much dissonance.
Speaker 1: (13:17)
And can you give any more details about the firefight that took place today, a second firefight outside the airport, and that there were some arrests by the Taliban of some so-called ISIS people taking videos of the airport?
General Hank Taylor: (13:32)
Ma’am, I don’t have those details. We’re we’re working with Centcom right now as that is currently ongoing. So I know that Centcom has continued to do that and there is no security, if you would, breach or any problems there at security of the airfield.
Speaker 1: (13:52)
Is the US providing any intel to the Taliban about an ISIS threat?
General Hank Taylor: (13:54)
I know the commanders on the ground continue to communicate to ensure that the safety of not only around the gates, but the other checkpoints, so that we can continue to process vulnerable Afghans, other coalition folks and American citizens in.
John Kirby: (14:12)
We can go over here, Dave.
So when this evacuation began, there were already close to 1,000 US troops at that airport. So just to be clear, when we’re talking about pulling US troops out, we’re talking about pulling all the troops, so you go to the zero at the embassy, is that correct?
John Kirby: (14:36)
That’s correct. No, I followed the question. That’s correct.
So you have to take out more than you put in?
John Kirby: (14:45)
So how does that happen without the active cooperation of the Taliban to keep the crowds away as US troops first fin out their perimeter and then pull back? How does that happen?
John Kirby: (15:06)
I’m going to let the General take that in just a second, because I think he’s much more informed than I am about this. But I would just make the larger issue that any retrograde or draw down, if you will, out of an environment that you can’t assume is always going to be permissive is one that has to be done very carefully and it has to be sequenced in a very methodical way so that the safety and security of our people and the people we’re trying to protect is considered of paramount importance.
John Kirby: (15:48)
And I’ll level set with you now, we’re not going to be able to tell you once we start to affect this withdrawal, and like I said, still planning on the end of the month, whenever we start it, we’re not going to be able to provide a tik tok every day of exactly what we’re moving out and at what pace so that we can limit vulnerabilities in the information space and in the actual physical space of the airport as we move out. But it’s all done in a very careful, methodical way so that you can preserve as much capability to the very end as you need, as well as security. And not just the security for our folks, but the security for the people that we’re trying to safely evacuate. But I’ll turn it over to the General in case he has more to add there.
General Hank Taylor: (16:30)
Thank you, Mr. Kirby. You covered that very well. I just would add to that is security is paramount during any phase of an operation. So as you look at, as we go forward here, the commanders are going to continually communicate, coordinate to ensure that security is set to allow all those flight operations, all those things to continue to the end.
Does the methodical, orderly withdrawal that he just referred to, does that require the assistance of the Taliban?
General Hank Taylor: (17:09)
It requires the coordination that I think we’re doing right now to maintain that security.
John Kirby: (17:15)
Yeah, there’s no question, David, as we work through this, the daily communication with the Taliban commanders is going to have to continue. That’s just a hard fact.
Is there a promise of cooperation expire on August 31st?
John Kirby: (17:32)
Well, I’m not going to speculate about or even speak for them or for their intentions. Again, the mission has been to end on the 31st. That is the assumption that we are working towards and we’ll just have to keep moving forward. Carla?
Have there been any additional air evacuations in the city of Kabul? Has the US military done any evacuations of any sort outside of the city of Kabul? Because there are still lots of Americans that aren’t even in Kabul.
John Kirby: (18:10)
I’ll let the General take that.
General Hank Taylor: (18:12)
So when you talk about evacuations, you mean going out and we continue to closely coordinate to ensure the safe arrival of Americans and others on HKAIA. So we have not gone any further air operations this time. But as I said earlier, we continue to ensure the capabilities that we’ve had and as required that we’re able to do so.
Is there a plan in place to help extract Americans who are outside of Kabul at this point?
General Hank Taylor: (18:48)
We are always planning and assessing what needs to be done to help Americans get to HKAIA, to Kabul airport.
John Kirby: (18:57)
I haven’t gone to the phones at all, so let me start doing that. I need my glasses again. Jack Dutch from foreign policy?
Jack Dutch: (19:09)
Thanks, John. I’m just wondering, do you have a specific update on the throughput now? Obviously you’ve obviated the 5,000 to 9,000 number. I know you mentioned the 30 C-17 evac flights, but just wondering if there’s a specific update on what your goals are for daily throughput?
General Hank Taylor: (19:25)
And I think as you go back to what General Lyons said last night, that right now the pace, the throughput that we’re able to maintain, as I said earlier, is about a plane every 45 minutes. But that is also driven upon the requirement of what needs to be taken out. So right now, we assess that we have the required air flow, not only US military, but as you said, you saw those numbers of our coalition and our other partners that are coming in, we assess that we will be able to maintain the throughput that we have seen in the last two days and then we will continue to assess what those requirements are from here forward of what we have to get that throughput into Kabul.
Jack Dutch: (20:14)
So you’re looking at about 20,000 per day?
John Kirby: (20:17)
If you don’t mind, we’re trying to get as many out as we can. And so if we can exceed what our previous expectations were, and we have over the last couple of days, that’s a good thing and we’re going to continue to drive at that. Adresse?
Two quick questions. First thing, is the intention to get every American out who wants to leave plus as many SIV holders or applicants, or is it to get out all Americans plus as many Afghans as possible by the August 31st-
John Kirby: (20:51)
As many Americans who want to leave that we can get as fast as possible, as many of our SIV applicants who can get to the airport and get them out as fast as possible, as many vulnerable Afghans that we can also work towards getting. But we understand the challenges of time and space here. We’re mindful of that. That’s why we are trying to continue to keep up this capacity and even improve it if we can.
And just a follow up to Elida’s question, you said you have the ability to get all Americans who want to leave, and you said several thousand. Do you have a percentage for how many Americans have been removed? Without giving a number, have more than half been removed?
John Kirby: (21:35)
I can’t give you that number, Adresse, because I don’t think there’s a perfect number that we know with certainty of all Americans in Afghanistan. There’s no requirement, you can’t force an American when they go to a foreign country to tell you that they’re there. And we encourage them to do that, the state department has a robust set of communication vehicles at their disposal, especially in a country like Afghanistan, we want to know when Americans are there. But they don’t have to tell us, so that’s why it’s difficult for us to give you the denominator here. How many are there? And what I can tell you is, and this is out of my lane, but I’ll do it anyway, the state department has been working very hard to reach out to those who they know are there, or even who they hear are there, to communicate to them, to let them know what evacuation plans are possible and achievable for them. So they’re working very hard at this. Our job at the Defense Department is to help facilitate their safe passage to the airport, and then getting them manifested and getting them on a plane out.
What about the ones who have registered? Have more or less than half of the Americans who have registered been evacuated?
John Kirby: (22:55)
I do not know. I don’t. You’d have to go to the state department for what they think they have on the registry. But I think even they would tell you, Adresse, that that is an imperfect database, because not every American has to register. So it’s perfectly conceivable that you might have an American who nobody knew was in Afghanistan, but still pipes up and says, “I want to get out.” And we’re going to help that person get out to the best ability that we can. Barbara?
I don’t really understand this. This is the answer we’ve gotten for days and days and days from every podium in this town. Even if this administration does not have the denominator, that is not my question. My question is, can this administration tell the American people how many Americans it has evacuated from Afghanistan? And if you cannot, can you please explain not the denominator? Why can’t you just say the number?
John Kirby: (23:50)
Barbara, I think we’re just going to leave it at several thousand right now. And I understand that’s not a satisfying answer to you. I would tell you that the number literally changes almost by the hour.
Well so does everything else.
John Kirby: (24:02)
I understand, Barbara. We’re going to leave it at several thousand for right now. Helene?
May I have a follow up since everybody else asked eight questions? Thank you. I have two other follow ups, if I may. Just to clarify General Taylor’s answer. If there had been no missions outside of Kabul, can you tell us about missions that have taken place at least outside essentially the fence line of the airport? And my other follow-up is as you prepare to depart, whenever that happens, your previous retrograde, as you’ve called it, included provisions for destruction of weapons in place. Can we assume that this part of the effort to leave Afghanistan will also include what you cannot put on an airplane, any weapons you can’t put on an airplane or dangerous items you would destroy in place?
John Kirby: (25:04)
I think the General answered your first question, that there’s no other additional operations to speak to. We continue to facilitate safe passage-
[inaudible 00:25:13] I believe [crosstalk 00:25:16]
John Kirby: (25:16)
There are no additional operations to speak to that I’m aware of.
General Hank Taylor: (25:22)
John Kirby: (25:23)
Outside the airport either, but we continue to facilitate safe passage for Americans and SIVs as they need to get to the airport. And as I mentioned to Elida, just in the last 24 hours, I can tell you that several hundred Americans have made it safely to airport gates for further on transportation.
With US government assistance, then?
John Kirby: (25:47)
I’m just going to leave it at that, Barb. And as for your question on retrograde, the short answer is yes. As a part of any retrograde, and I know that’s a technical Pentagon term that the draw down of-
John Kirby: (26:03)
… term that the draw down of both people and equipment will be done in the same manner that we would do it anywhere else. And obviously, there’s a strong bias to be able to get our material out with our people. If there needs to be destruction or other disposition of equipment there at Hamid Karzai International Airport, then we’ll do that and we’ll do that appropriately. Carla, did I get you already? [crosstalk 00:26:31] I’m sorry. We’ll come back to you. My fault, my fault, my fault. Helene?
Thank you. Can I ask you both about the bottlenecks? Because you got 20,000 people out in the last 24 hours, which is a big number, the biggest you’ve had yet. Do you have 20,000 people now inside the airport to get out in the next 24 hours? Or are there bottlenecks that are preventing people from getting in and getting people on planes and those planes in the air because there’s nowhere to receive them?
General Hank Taylor: (27:04)
Yeah, I’ll talk about just bottlenecks. And I think I talked a little bit about that earlier. Those that depart Kabul and get to those staging bases within EUCOM or [inaudible 00:27:21], that is the coordination that I was talking about earlier to ensuring that we place evacuees in one of those 14 locations there to prevent a bottleneck so that as our increased throughput, as increase that number that they’re able to hold their CENTCOM and EUCOM are continuing to coordinate together and with the joint staff at TRANSCOM of where to put those evacuees to allow flights to continue to leave Kabul. So as we look at those on Kabul, there is no constraint of allowing flights to leave today. We still expect the throughput that we saw in the last two days to be able to continue with no bottleneck and others. We continue to manage that on an hourly minute basis to ensure we know where to fly people to.
Do you have enough people in the airport compound now in Kabul in order to get-
General Hank Taylor: (28:23)
I don’t have the exact number in Kabul. There are evacuees on Kabul right now being processed through all stages of the process there to be ready to fly.
But you don’t have the number?
General Hank Taylor: (28:38)
I don’t have the exact number. I don’t when I left here, but we have folks ready to evacuate.
John Kirby: (28:43)
We can get you the number that’s on the airport now. As the general said, it literally changes by the hour. If you think about what we did yesterday, just do the math. It’s almost a thousand people per hour over the last 24 hours. So it changes a lot. It’s a fair question. We’ll take it. We’ll get you the number of what there is now. I would just caution you to understand that that number constantly changes, that’s the whole goal is to keep the throughput. So you get down to a certain level and then you get more and so you keep moving people through. It’s constantly fluid.
Speaker 2: (29:19)
Thanks John, good morning. I know you said you’re fixed on August 31st as the departure date.
John Kirby: (29:25)
Hang on just a second. Brook, I think we can probably find that number now. Can you just go get it and bring it up here? So we don’t have to wait until the end of the briefing. I’m sorry, go ahead.
Speaker 2: (29:33)
You had said earlier, you’re fixed on August 31st as a departure date. Nevertheless, there is some discussion of the possibility of changing that mission. Does something like that fall under what you would call sometimes speculation or does that fall under what you would call planning? Because you’ve always made a distinction between those two when we ask you about possibility of things. And I just trying to get clarity on that. Thanks.
John Kirby: (29:56)
I’m not completely sure I understand the question. So let me take a stab at it. And if I fail, you can tell me I failed. The president’s direction has been to complete this withdrawal, this evacuation and withdrawal by the 31st of August. That is the direction that we are operating under and therefore that is driving a lot of our plans. You heard us say, and you heard the secretary say that if there needed to be a conversation about changing that, that he would have that conversation. I’m not going to get in to internal deliberations about what people may be thinking one way or the other. But you heard the national security advisor say yesterday that he believes that we can accomplish this mission by the end of the month. So we are still driving towards the end of the month. That’s where we are now. And if and when there’s any change to that, we’ll certainly make it clear to the American people.
Speaker 2: (30:58)
The reason I ask this question John is because in the past couple of weeks, the Pentagon has come under, rightly or wrongly, criticism for not, “Planning,” for eventualities that seemed to have happened in Kabul. And so this seems to be a possible eventuality of a mission that may have to extend past the deadline. So I was just asking is there planning going on in the event that this has to happen?
John Kirby: (31:19)
We are a planning organization, Tom. We plan for all manner of contingencies, even as we execute the orders that we’ve been given. And that’s what we’re doing right now. Megan.
So you’ve always said that airlift is not the limiting factor here. Obviously there are a lot more people getting into the airport and getting out. What do you attribute that to? Is that expanding the perimeter? Are there checkpoints that are getting more people through? And we don’t have the number of how many people are on each cargo right now, but about how long are they spending there before they’re able to get on a plane?
General Hank Taylor: (31:49)
Yeah, so within the last 48 hours, that timeline of staying in Kabul has been very short. As soon we are getting people in and processed, as you can see, a flight every 45 minutes is a lot in getting people out of there. So as we look at what have been the factors behind that, numerous. Weather continues to play in everybody’s factor, great coalition and partners and other people volunteering aircraft. And as General Lyon said yesterday, the ability to get not only the aircraft coming into Kabul, but others providing aircraft to fly people from the lily pads or the safe havens into the states, and then moving them around has allowed us to keep that throughput going. And then also I think the continued ability to inform and get the word out of how to get into the gates, where to come, the processing of those not only through the gates, but the processing internally on Kabul by our troops that are there continues to become more efficient.
Are there more people showing up now than there were last week when there was so much panic?
General Hank Taylor: (33:06)
I would say as we look at those that are showing up with the right documentation, the right people that come I think is one factor that has allowed us to increase the throughput.
John Kirby: (33:18)
And there also have been the crush of those first few days has reduced as more order and structure around the airport has increased, security, the processing flow itself has just gotten better and the crowds around the airport are smaller than they were before. So the situation around the airport right now is just not the same. It’s not as chaotic as it was in those first couple of days. Tarris.
Thank you for taking my question. I’ve spoken to service members and spouses on one of the bases where evacuees are expected to be housed and they have a serious concern about COVID. So what are service members or anyone living on these spaces being briefed to try to ease that concern? Because obviously as of yesterday, they’re still very concerned about that issue
John Kirby: (34:11)
Oh sure, and they have every right to be. We’re in the midst of a pandemic and conducting one of the largest airlift operations in recent American history is no small feat in the best of circumstances and this one is obviously not the best of circumstances, because, in addition to this, we’re doing it in the midst of a COVID pandemic. What I can tell you is that screening occurs at every stop at every stage of the process and we’re doing the best we can to make sure that we’ve got enough visibility on everyone’s health. But again, the focus is on getting the numbers out. And so there’s an elementary screening done at Kabul for those who are symptomatic, additional screening takes place at the temporary safe havens, and then of course upon arrival here at the United States, there’s a screening that’s done as well. So it’s on everybody’s mind, believe me. We’re also mindful of the health of our air crew and our troops at the airport. It’s a constant process and we’re not leaving anything for granted. We’re taking it seriously. So we [crosstalk 00:35:32].
Speaker 3: (35:36)
If they’re flagged for COVID any step of the way, are they pulled?
John Kirby: (35:39)
I don’t know the exact medical process. Let me go over here. Apparently I’m missing a… Yeah, go ahead. Syliva, I’ll come back to you. I promise.
Speaker 3: (35:48)
Thank you, Mr. Kirby. You’re hearing different statements from the White House, Pentagon, for example, number of troops operation in Kabul, et cetera. Can you talk about why there’s a consensus among the highest level of United States? Is there any communications issue?
John Kirby: (36:08)
I’m sorry. I misunderstood. What’s the dissonance that you’re talking about?
Speaker 3: (36:13)
So for example, Biden said Al Qaeda gone from Afghanistan, but [inaudible 00:36:17] said yes, there is Al Qaeda. So we can see different statement from the White House, different comment from the Pentagon. Is there any communication issue from the highest level?
John Kirby: (36:28)
No, I think you’re reading way more into things than you need to. I think we’re all cited on the fact that there’s still an Al Qaeda threat in Afghanistan, and as well as Al Qaeda affiliates that we know are there. We’ve said that consistently. There’s no gap in understanding here,
Speaker 3: (36:49)
Just for example, [inaudible 00:36:50] say 11,000 American in Afghanistan, but you say 10,000, between 5,000, between 10,000. So different statement. That’s why I want to ask.
John Kirby: (37:00)
Look, the defense department can’t speak specifically to the number of Americans in Afghanistan. I think we already addressed this earlier in the briefing. There is no firm certain hard number on that because not every American that goes to Afghanistan has to tell the government that they’re there. We have made it clear that any American that wants to leave, we’re going to find a way to get to them or find a way to get the information to them to help them make the right decisions for transportation out of the country. But everybody’s cited that this is a dangerous perilous environment, it’s very dynamic, it’s very fluid, and we’re doing the best we can to move as many people as we can, as fast as we can.
Speaker 3: (37:44)
One follow up. If they cannot reach the airport who live in Afghanistan, the Americans, don’t Taliban ISIS threat for them if they stuck somewhere, if they cannot communicate with-
John Kirby: (37:55)
We absolutely understand that Afghanistan is a dangerous place right now, which is why we’re trying to move as many Americans as we can, as fast as we can. And we want to get that done before the end of the month. Gordon,
Can you address situation and conditions at Al Udeid and Qatar to be described as squalid for a lot of the people coming through there? And then if you could, I didn’t quite understand what the general was saying earlier about the 14 different weigh stations. Because I understood the three main hubs to be [inaudible 00:38:28], Qatar, and Bahrain. So are there way more now?
John Kirby: (38:35)
I’ll let the general come up here in a second, but let me just set this a little bit. So yes, so those are three main hubs, but we are adding to that. You’ve seen Italy, US military installations in Italy, US military installations at Spain also provide additional capability, and there are other countries in the Gulf region who are willing to take on a temporary basis some individuals. So it’s a bigger…
John Kirby: (39:03)
Some individuals. So it’s a bigger, broader sort of hub-and-spoke network than it was just a few days ago. I’ll let the general fill that out for you. On your first question, just let me level set it right away. We are aware of, and as concerned as anybody about what had been some terrible sanitation conditions at Qatar that were facilitated by the sheer numbers and the speed with which those numbers got there. And we all recognize that. And nobody here wants anyone to be less than safe, secure, comfortable, and well cared for as they go through this process. We take it very seriously. But we’ll be the first to admit that there were conditions [inaudible 00:39:58] could have been better. They are improving now. I’m not going to stand up here and tell you that they’re perfect, because they’re not. Because evacuees continue to flow into Qatar.
John Kirby: (40:09)
And there’s a lot on the ground right now. And as the general said, we’re working hard to clear out that population so that we can ease the pressure there and continue to move these people along their way to their new lives. Nobody’s making excuses, nobody’s ducking from this. We recognize that things were, and in many ways still are not at the level of sanitation and good hygiene that we want. I can tell you that from the secretary on down, everybody’s focused on trying to improve that. And as a matter of fact, you saw a statement from central command last night, they are taking measures to ease that pressure and to improve conditions there. But it’s something we’re going to watch, not just there, but at every other temporary safe haven that we’re operating from.
Before the general speaks to the hubs, can you clarify, you said that you don’t think there is a crush around [Askaya 00:41:03] currently or [less of one 00:41:04], can you just clarify what you meant?
John Kirby: (41:08)
The crowd size is smaller now than it was in those first few days. And so we’re not experiencing to the degree we did last Monday, the physical crush and chaos. I’m not suggesting Gordon that there aren’t desperate people outside that airport who want in. Absolutely. We’re not ignoring that. I’m just saying that to Megan’s question, that we’re not seeing the same pressure put on the system now that there was in the early days. [General 00:41:42]…
General Hank Taylor: (41:41)
First go back to a question. So approximately right now, a little bit about 5,000 are on [inaudible 00:41:51], going through the processing, continuing to be manifested and ready to fly. So gates are still open. We’ll continue to assess those numbers throughout the day. When we go back to hubs-and-Spokes, I’ll give you the macro, and then we can possibly get back on the real details there. So both within the CENTCOM and the Yukon [AOR/AIR 00:42:17], we have main hubs, think of it, Ramstein, and then going into Qatar. But from there within the last 24 to 72 hours, both of those commands have started building up and going from an initial operating capability to get what we would call smaller satellite areas to ensure that with the throughput that we’ve had, that we can safely and humanitarianly keep those people there until their flights go back into the states.
General Hank Taylor: (42:51)
When you specifically talk about, and I can just bring it up… When talking to CENTCOM this morning, as we look at capabilities, and I just talked about this a little bit earlier, but a lot of work has been done in the last 48 hours of bringing in more portable hand-washing stations, refrigeration trucks, to ensure there’s cool water and the food is there to ensure that people have these humanitarian capabilities.
John Kirby: (43:21)
I would also say just as a scheduling note, this afternoon’s briefing, I’ll be joined by General VanHerck of Northern command, as well as General Walters of European command. So they will also be able to address in greater detail, some of these specific questions about the temporary safe havens, and you’ll have a chance to talk to them directly.
Speaker 4: (43:40)
[inaudible 00:43:40] Can you commit to evacuating that Afghan commanders and other troops that are helping with the evacuation currently?
John Kirby: (43:46)
Speaker 4: (43:47)
All of them?
John Kirby: (43:50)
Any of them that want to leave. And we have to assume that that’s all of them, they will be evacuated. Yes.
Speaker 4: (43:59)
John Kirby: (43:59)
I don’t have an exact number as, as I think we’ve talked about before, the general has. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 to 600, we know Afghan forces are there at the airport with us and actually helping us in the security mission. And they will all be able to come out.
Speaker 4: (44:19)
[Even if they don’t have their ID 00:44:19]?
John Kirby: (44:19)
They will all be able to come out.
Speaker 4: (44:20)
And then also just as a follow up. What has happened to the money that was intended to go for the Afghan security fund?
John Kirby: (44:27)
Yes, obviously, and we’re working closely with Congress on that, but that money is being held now. [inaudible 00:44:35].
John Kirby: (44:35)
John Kirby: (44:36)
Let me go to the phones. In addition to not getting one side of the room, I have not done a good job here on the phones. [Dan Lamoth 00:44:45].
Speaker 5: (44:45)
Hey John. Good morning. Thanks for taking my call. Look in the check-in just get some additional fidelity on what’s going on at the gates. We’ve heard a lot of frustration with some of these veterans groups and other organizations that are trying to assist people to get to the gates and through the gates. Sounds like there’s a beast to some degree, inconsistencies, on who’s being allowed in, when they’re being allowed in. And just some chaos there that’s to a degree understandable, but also frustrating. Thanks.
General Hank Taylor: (45:16)
Yes. Gates continue… The coordination there is the critical piece of getting through the checkpoints. And that has been a lot of the work that’s been done over the last 48 hours, is the coordination between US forces for… They’re the commanders to ensure who comes through and what checkpoints that people are coming through to expedite things. And the key has been, we have had an increase in information coming to the foresters commanders on the ground of who needs to come. I think that has been one of the increase in our throughput, is understanding in all of, the populations of who is where and who needs to come through the gates so that we can provide better information, which gate, when to come in and make sure the conditions are set to come on to [HCI 00:46:18].
John Kirby: (46:18)
Okay. Time for a couple more. Sylvie, you have been very patient.
I wanted to go back to the airport. I know you don’t want to speak about deadline and August 31st or not. But whenever the US troops are leaving, are you speaking with the Talibans or a third party or third country about the security of the airport to allow the airport to remain open?
John Kirby: (47:04)
I will let the general take it. I would just say that we are in daily communication with the Taliban about the security situation at the airport now. Our focus from a military perspective is going to be… Right now the plan is to end this mission on the 31st of August. I don’t want to suggest that that’s not what we’re planning on. As we get there, as I said earlier, we want to preserve as much capability as long as we can to continue to conduct evacuations while safely removing our people and our equipment all at the same time. That’s our focus right now. It’s on properly executing the mission and effectively and safely drawing it down. But I’ll ask the general if he has any other thoughts.
General Hank Taylor: (47:53)
I just think when you talk about transition, absolutely. There is planning going on of how to transition all of the space that we currently occupy here in the future.
John Kirby: (48:09)
John Kirby: (48:10)
Okay, Theresa, go ahead.
Thank you so much. It’s just a followup to my previous question. For those that are symptomatic, what are they being told when they arrive for processing? And then once they’re…
John Kirby: (48:21)
What are they being told?
So when they’re arriving, are they being told, “Hey…,” Like what’s the process for those who may have symptoms? I don’t know how the information, how they’re getting the information about where they need to go, which gates they need to go to, et cetera. So what are they being told?
John Kirby: (48:38)
Let me take the question and see if we can get a more contextual answer to that. I suspect what they’re being told and how the process is being done varies at each location, because there are different demands. Obviously the demands at Hamid Karzai International airport in terms of timing is much more urgent than it would be at Ramstein where there’s obviously much greater medical capability. So I think it’s going to vary, but let me see if we can get you a better answer.
John Kirby: (49:09)
Okay. I’m going to have to wrap it up. We’ll see you again at 3 o’clock sorry, with General VanHerck from Northern command and a General Walters of European command. I will basically turn the podium over to them and I assume that that’ll be the focus of the briefing, if I need to stick around after for other issues, I’ll do that as well. So we’ll see you later this afternoon. Thank you.