Aug 25, 2021
Pentagon Officials Hank Taylor & John Kirby Press Briefing Transcript August 25: Afghanistan & Taliban Takeover
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby and General Hank Taylor held a news briefing on August 25, 2021 to provide an update on the ongoing evacuation effort in Afghanistan. Read the full transcript of the press conference here.
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Major General Hank Taylor: (00:07)
US and coalition troops maintain security at the Kabul Airport. This security continues to allow for the evacuation operations and allowing to us to remain to process people in to become ready to fly. Our focus is continuing to get as many people out as efficiently and safely as possible.
Major General Hank Taylor: (00:32)
In the past 24 hours, we exceeded the previous 24 hour flight departures and evacuated a number of passengers nearing the previous days record. Yesterday, 42 US military aircraft, of which were 37 C-17s and five C-130s, departed with approximately 11,200 personnel. Combined with our 48 coalition and allied partners, with those departures in additional 7,800 personnel left Kabul. That is 90 flights total yesterday that left the Kabul Airport, that has accounted for 19,000 evacuees now safely out of Afghanistan within a 24 hour period. Since the US and coalition forces began the evacuation, to date approximately 88,000 have safely departed from Afghanistan. Every 39 minutes yesterday, a plane departed Kabul Airport. These numbers are a testament to the hardworking and brave service members carrying out this mission.
Major General Hank Taylor: (01:54)
In cooperation with the State Department, I can also tell you that there are more than 10,000 people currently, at this time, at the airport awaiting departure. This is a snapshot in time and, as we said yesterday, will continue to change. As more people are able to come onto the airfield and as flights depart.
Major General Hank Taylor: (02:15)
As I said yesterday, in order for this throughput to remain steady, we depend on the capacity and efficiency of our intermediate staging bases and safe havens. We are appreciative of the support and rely on our allies and partners in this global endeavor. In the EUCOM AOR, six flights will transport about 1,800 vulnerable Afghans from Germany to the United States today. In addition, approximately 2000 more will arrive, in this case, Ramstein Air Base Germany is scheduled to receive approximately 13 flights. Since August 20th, EUCOM has assisted approximately 10,000 vulnerable Afghans and evacuees for transit to onward locations. You will likely hear more details today at a planned press schedule with Mr. Kirby and plan for General Walters later today.
Major General Hank Taylor: (03:14)
Several thousand evacuees have arrived in the United States so far and will continue to do so. In the past 24 hours, five flights landed at Dulles International Airport with approximately 1,200 passengers. As part of this process, these individuals completed biometric vetting and screening in accordance with the FBI, NCTC and customs and border control standards, all directed by the Department of Homeland Security. We are working around the clock to provide safe, sanitary and appropriate receptions at processing at all of our locations throughout the world.
Major General Hank Taylor: (03:58)
We know you have questions about our current timeline and intent for departure. Our mission remains unchanged. For each day of this operation, we have carried out the direction of the president and the secretary of defense. Until that mission changes, we will continue to put forth our maximum effort to safely evacuate as many people as possible and we will keep you updated.
Major General Hank Taylor: (04:24)
Lastly, I want to give you a short update on Haiti. The Department of Defense and US Southern Command continue to be in full support of USAID as the lead federal agency. The USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance team has been on the ground since the beginning and we’ve been supporting them since then, as have a lot of our allies and partners working with international community to identify points of need. This life-saving aid and assistance mission is where DOD’s unique capabilities, specifically in airlift and logistics, are engaged each day to get that life-saving aid where it needs to be rapidly. As of late last evening, JTF Haiti has conducted over 364 full-spectrum missions, both with the DOD assets and the United States Coast Guard, which have assisted or saved over 436 lives and delivered over 163 pounds of vital aid as of late yesterday.
Major General Hank Taylor: (05:26)
John F. Kirby: (05:40)
Okay. Good morning, everybody. Just one more note and then we’ll get to questions.
John F. Kirby: (05:47)
I think you may have seen now, we have released the secretary’s memo with respect to mandatory vaccinations for COVID-19. He has determined after careful consultation with medical experts and military leadership, and of course with the support of the president, that mandatory vaccination against the coronavirus disease, COVID-19, is necessary to protect the safety of our service members and our force. Mandatory vaccination will only use COVID-19 vaccines that receive full licensure from the Food and Drug Administration in accordance with FDA-approved labeling and guidance. Mandatory vaccination requirements will be implemented consistent with DOD immunization program instruction 65, sorry, 6205.02. In other words, the existing structure and regulations that govern policies and procedures for managing mandatory vaccination across the force. This is consistent with the department’s efforts to ensure the safety of our service members and, again, to maintain the readiness of the force.
John F. Kirby: (06:49)
With that, we’ll take questions. Bob?
John, thank you. With regard to Afghanistan, I wonder if you could give us a sense of what the evacuation endgame is likely to look like or expected to look like in terms of sort of the sequence of events over the last say three or four or five days? Will the US need to have sort of exclusive use of the fields and the apparatus to execute the final flights?
John F. Kirby: (07:18)
I’ll ask the general. Probably be more specific than me, Bob. But what we anticipate happening in the last couple of days, first of all, we will continue to evacuate needed populations all the way to the end, if we have to, and we need to. If you’re an evacuee that we can get out, we’re going to continue to get you out.
John F. Kirby: (07:44)
Right up until the end. But in those last couple of days, we’re going to try to preserve as much capability as we can at the airport, as you might imagine. In those last couple of days, we will begin to prioritize military capabilities and military resources to move out. That doesn’t mean that if you’re an evacuee and you need to get out that we’re not going to try to get you out, but that we will have to reserve some capacity in those last couple of days to prioritize the military footprint leaving, because we want to be able to keep it there as long as possible to do the job that it’s intended to do.
The charter flights, for example, would be finished earlier? And when you refer to military resources, you’re talking about American only?
John F. Kirby: (08:41)
I’m talking about primarily US military troops and equipment. We are now, and have been, working with our allies and partners to help them withdrawal their people and we’ll them withdraw their forces as well.
Right to the very end or you have to do that earlier?
John F. Kirby: (09:00)
Well, look, I mean, obviously we want to preserve as much capability as possible. Now some of that capability is not ours. Some of it is our allies and partners. There’ll be a balance there, and it’ll be up to Admiral Vasely to determine how he strikes that balance in terms of making sure he has the maximum capability for as long as possible. There will be a transition more towards getting military assets out as we get closer to the end; but again, we’re going to continue to work the evacuation mission right up until the last day.
Major General Hank Taylor: (09:35)
Just, I think what I would add for the great answer Mr. Kirby gave there is, as you’ve seen in the last three days, the complexity and the amount of aircraft moving in and out. The capability to continue to sequence and plan for the actual requirements that leave on a daily basis is going to be made on the ground. But as you’ve seen, we have that capability to manage quite a lot of throughput and be able to put the right things on those aircraft as they come in and as they leave.
Speaker 1: (10:11)
John, who is guarding the US embassy right now? Who will guard after the US military pulls out? Are there any contingencies? Do you have an agreement with the Taliban? In terms of the airport, do you have an agreement with any NATO allies to keep, like the Turks, to keep the airport open after the US military pulls out?
John F. Kirby: (10:32)
As I understand it, I know there’s no military assets guarding the embassy compound. The US embassy is operating out of Hamid Karzai International Airport. As for the Turks, they are still on the ground at the airport assisting in this security mission that we have there. I won’t speak for their intentions one way or another going forward. When the mission is over, and when we are leaving the airport, the airport will not be the United States, our responsibility anymore. How it gets managed going forward will be something that the Taliban, who are now in Kabul, will have to manage then on their own and I assume with the international community; but that won’t be an American responsibility.
And just one more, how many individuals on terror watch list have been screened or found at any of the screening points, either in Qatar, Ramstein or in the US?
John F. Kirby: (11:42)
I don’t know. We’ll have to take that question and get back to you.
John F. Kirby: (11:48)
Thank you, John. Thank you, General. On behalf of Afghan, thank you very much for your hard job and good job, actually.
John F. Kirby: (11:57)
Afghan people, they are happy, but some of them that they are not eligible for SIV visa, P1, P2, but still they have a serious problem. They are not in Kabul. They are hiding. They move from one place to the other place. They contact with me, like more than 100 people contacted with me a day that what can we do? I say I’m nobody to do something. There’s any plan from the State Department or from the Pentagon, because they are under target of the Taliban? But as Taliban yesterday, the spokesperson Mujahid said that, “Why United States make a problem for us? We are not allow the people to leave Afghanistan.” Now they are in a jail. On the other hand, Taliban is not one group. They are different group, like five groups. A lot of people there under problem, but they are not eligible for those visa. There’s a possibility and any other option for them to be safe?
John F. Kirby: (13:05)
Nazeera, I can’t speak for each and every Afghan who wants to leave and is dealing with their own individual circumstances to get out. We know there are a lot of desperate people who want to leave, and that’s why we are working as fast as we can. You saw the numbers that we continue to be able to get out. We’re working as fast as we can to get out American citizens, special immigrant visa applicants and vulnerable Afghans. We continued to work at this. I can’t begin to try to give you specific advice on what these individuals ought to do. I certainly would encourage them to reach out to the State Department. But from the Pentagon’s perspective, we’re doing the best we can, as fast as we can, to move as many people as we can out on any given day.
John F. Kirby: (14:03)
… We can, to move as many people as we can out on any given day. But I’m not able to … And I know my answer is unsatisfying and I apologize for that, but I’m not able to speak to our ability to reach out and touch every single Afghan that that wants to get out. Believe me, we’re very mindful of the plight here and we’re trying the best we can to alleviate that. Carla.
Thank you. I just want to follow up to what Jen was asking about. You said that there won’t be a military presence guarding an embassy, so post August 31st-
John F. Kirby: (14:35)
The embassy compound, she specifically asked about the embassy compound, which we are not operating out of right now.
[crosstalk 00:14:41] Post August 31st, after that date, can you just explicitly say there will be no diplomatic presence, US diplomatic presence post August 31st [crosstalk 00:14:51]
John F. Kirby: (14:51)
I can’t speak for that, that’s a State Department issue.
And then to follow up, there’s been reports that an ISIS, that somebody who was affiliated with ISIS got on one of the flights, what’s going on with that individual?
John F. Kirby: (15:04)
I mean, I’ve seen similar press reporting on this, I just don’t have anything to update you on that. I don’t have any information. And what I should’ve said to Jen was, that’s really a better question for the Department of Homeland Security, but we’ll see if we can track down something for you. I’m not trying to evade it, I just don’t know. We’re doing the best we can to manifest people on these flights and get them out as fast as possible. There is screening being done, not by DOD, but by DHS, immigration, intelligence officials are doing the screening for people as they go on for onward flights. We’re really focused on trying to get as many of these individuals out.
And then one last one, just the same question I had yesterday. Have there been any air extractions in Kabul, any additional ones since the two that you guys have told us about? And have there been any efforts outside of Kabul to extract Americans and at-risk Afghans?
Major General Hank Taylor: (16:04)
Yeah. So, last night during the period of darkness, there was an operation to be able to go out and safely evacuate evacuees back into Kabul. They were at HKAIA and they’re safely there, preparing to be evacuated.
So when you said, was it in Kabul, and then they brought them into the airport or was it-
Major General Hank Taylor: (16:25)
It was outside of the airfield. Outside of the airfield, in a way that we were able to bring them back to Kabul safely and they’re preparing for evacuation.
John F. Kirby: (16:34)
Bring back to the airport.
Major General Hank Taylor: (16:35)
Airport. To the airport, yeah.
John F. Kirby: (16:36)
It was inside Kabul. David.
Was that a helicopter operation?
John F. Kirby: (16:41)
Can you tell us how many?
John F. Kirby: (16:45)
We’re not going to provide specific details, less than 20,
Speaker 2: (16:47)
Less than 20.
John F. Kirby: (16:49)
Less than 20. I’m not going to provide additional details.
Can I ask? That wasn’t the question for me. Yesterday, it was reported that the withdrawal had already begun and several hundred troops had already come out. And you pushed back on that, saying that these were people whose functions were no longer needed. But all withdrawals, sort of begin with pulling out non essential personnel first, why shouldn’t we view that as clearing the decks for the hardcore withdrawal that is going to come now?
John F. Kirby: (17:33)
Yeah, it’s a great question. And I wasn’t pushing back on headlines that said, “Withdraw.” I was simply trying to describe what happened, without hyperbole. So, let me just back up. What happened was, the commander on the ground, Admiral Vasely, in trying to manage time and space at the airport, determined that it was the prudent thing to do to let several hundred of troops leave the airport. Some of these troops, did come in with the troops that were added for the noncombatant evacuation, the 5,800. Some of them were troops that were already there at Hamid Karzai International Airport before any additional troops float in for the noncombatant evacuation. And as you know, David, we were still in the process before there was a need to go in and do a noncombatant evacuation. We were still in the process of a draw down at the airport, under the previous plan, by the end of the month. And so, some of the troops that flew home yesterday were in that traunch. And so, they were very much a part of the original draw down plan.
John F. Kirby: (18:56)
And Admiral Vasely saw fit that there was some others that he believed that he didn’t need there at the airport anymore, even though they had flown in with the plus up for the Neo. And these are headquarter staff personnel, some maintainers, and some other enabling forces, who either had completed their mission and were already scheduled to go, as I said, even before there was a noncombatant evacuation, and others who Admiral Vasely determined that their mission was complete, he didn’t need them anymore. And again, time and space are a premium at the airport, he has the authority to make that decision.
John F. Kirby: (19:34)
So, I wasn’t pushing back on the fact that the … the withdrawal has been going on since April 14th, when the president announced it, I wasn’t pushing back. I just wanted to make it clear that we hadn’t pushed some button and said, “Go retrograde now.” We still have on the ground, about 5,400 of the 5,800 that we reached at the maximum. And Admiral Vasely has the authorities to manage in a prudent way, his force management on the ground. I haven’t gone to the phones and I want to make sure I don’t forget that. Jeff [Shogo 00:20:12].
Jeff : (20:14)
Thank you very much. From talking to military groups, it is evident that the Taliban are still blocking Afghans from gaining entrance to Hamid Karzai International airport. And even when Afghans make it onto the airport, there’ve been instances when they have been escorted off due to paperwork issues. So, I’d like to know what steps is the US government taking to make sure that Afghans do have safe passage to the airport. And under what circumstances are Afghans with valid visas, who are admitted to the airport, ultimately escorted off of the airport grounds.
John F. Kirby: (20:56)
Jeff, it’s difficult for us to answer that here at the Pentagon, when we’re not at the gates and on the ground at the airport. What I would tell you is, is a couple of things. And I recognize that no process is perfect, and that there are … I’m not disputing it all the accounts that you’re relaying here today, that there may be hiccups and problems, we certainly recognize that. But let me just take it a couple of steps back and tell you how this is working. And we’ve talked about this before. We have consular officers, now there’s more than 30 at the airport, stationed at the gates with American troops, who are helping them do their job of processing individuals as they come in. Checking credentials, making sure that they are who they say they are, and that they are in a valid group that we’re trying to move on onto the airport grounds.
John F. Kirby: (21:55)
Outside of that, the Taliban have set up checkpoints. We’ve talked about this before. And we are in daily communication with Taliban commanders about who we want to see get in, and what the credentials are, what they look like, what’s valid. And that communication happens literally every day. We have been nothing but open with the Taliban about who we expect them to let in. Again, fully recognized that not every step of this process is in our firm control and that there are going to be instances where it doesn’t work as advertised. But I can tell you that there isn’t a single day that goes by, where Admiral Vasely and General Donahue, aren’t working this in a very personal way, with Taliban authorities outside the airport. Let me go with another one on the phone. Tara.
Thank you for doing this, John. Yesterday, the president mentioned also, that he was calling upon the department to create contingency plans in case the number of Americans and Afghans that still needed to get out, have not gotten out by the 31st. Can you just explain kind of what the department is thinking about, what his options might be to continue to get Americans out after the 31st, if they haven’t made it to the airport by then? And then just to follow on Jeff’s question with Afghans that aren’t getting through. Have discussions gone on with the Taliban to maybe find some negotiation space for they’ve said, “No more Afghans can leave.” But clearly, there’s 10,000 at the airport, so something is happening behind the scenes that’s helping some people get through. Can you talk about that to some extent. I’ll turn it over to the General.
Major General Hank Taylor: (23:48)
I’ll start with that last question first, and kind of comes off of some things that Mr. Kirby just said with that constant communication. I know the most senior commanders on the ground, are out and discussing with the Taliban leaders that are manning these checkpoints. Exactly what the documentation needs to look like, times and coordination, I mean, details of that. As we know though, there are reports that some that aren’t able to get through there. And I can tell you that the Department of State, the Consular Affairs officers that are there are working with our commanders there, to ensure that documentation, names and those things, as often as required, are being communicated to the Taliban that are at those checkpoints to allow transition in there into the gates.
John F. Kirby: (24:52)
And then, on contingency plans, obviously, I’m not going to get ahead of the planning process. We are a planning organization. One of our main jobs is to make sure, that the president has options. As he made clear yesterday, he wants to see this mission complete by the end of the month. We are still working towards that goal, but we will be drafting up potential, what we call in the military, branches and sequels. If in fact, we believe a conversation needs to be had later on in the month, that the timeline might need to be extended. For what purpose? For what number? For how long? All of that is baked into the planning process, and I’m just not going to get ahead of what the planners are doing. Courtney.
To [be clear 00:25:46] John. So, I’m still unclear about at the very end of this, so the 30th/31st, who’s going to be doing security at the airport as those last US troops are leaving? Is there an agreement or is it … it sounded as if you were saying that the Taliban will be responsible for security as the last Americans are leaving.
John F. Kirby: (26:00)
No, I said the Taliban was responsible for running an airport, that’s in a city that they are now the titular heads of government there.
[inaudible 00:26:10] airport security, right?
John F. Kirby: (26:12)
Courtney when we are gone, the airport will no longer be secured by American forces. How/what that security looks like after we’re gone, I can’t speak to that.
Before the US leaves though, what will we be doing it as the US is … let’s say those last couple of aircraft leave with Americans, who’s running security, keeping those aircraft and the runway safe.
Major General Hank Taylor: (26:33)
Yeah. So, you’re asking a very good tactical question, right? So, security, which we would call, a commander’s inherent responsibility throughout every phase of the operation. We are continuing to secure ourselves to the very last requirement of that. So when you say, “Who’s securing the the last flight?” And all those things, and we will have that ability to secure ourselves through multiple means, to ensure flights are able to take off.
And then, while I have you up there, I just want to clear one thing that you just said. You said that, “The most senior commanders on the ground are out and discussing things with the Taliban.” So you mean that Admiral Vasely and General Donahue are actually going to the checkpoints?
Major General Hank Taylor: (27:18)
I don’t want to give names and things that are going, I would just tell you commanders that have authority at echelon to be able to communicate, because as we said, the most important thing is to be able to coordinate with the Taliban, to get the right people through. We’ve seen that there’s been reports of not the right folks being able to get through. So, every day we are ensuring that we can get as many people in as possible, so that we can fly them to safety.
And if I could just ask you one more, John, on the equipment that you were talking about earlier. So when you talk about transitioning towards getting military assets out, so obviously, getting the people out, American military out, but will there be a point where you will have a decision-
… the military out, but will there be a point where you will have a decision or General whomever it is, Mackenzie, Admiral Vasely, will have a decision about putting people on these aircraft or putting some of the equipment artillery, C Rams, all the equipment that’s still at the airport there? Has there been a decision made to prioritize lives over military equipment?
John F. Kirby: (28:20)
Lives are always going to be the priority, court, period, but as we get closer to the end, there will be some equipment and systems that we will probably take with us as we leave. The disposition of what we aren’t taking with us, that’ll be up to Admiral Vasely to determine how that stuff is handled, but lives will always be the chief priority throughout this entire process.
All nationalities’ lives?
John F. Kirby: (28:48)
Lives will always be the priority throughout this process. Let me go over here, [Adries 00:28:55]?
Two quick questions. I think yesterday you did put out a statement saying about 4,000 Americans have been evacuated.
John F. Kirby: (29:00)
Is there an updated number and do you have the base number? How many have to be evacuated now?
John F. Kirby: (29:06)
Right now today, north of 4,400. I don’t have a specific number of total Americans that are still in need of leaving. I don’t have that.
Just a quick follow-up, the Secretary, and I guess the department-at-large find it helpful for two lawmakers to come to Kabul unannounced, or were you guys aware of it and do you find it very helpful for them to be there?
John F. Kirby: (29:35)
We were not aware of this visit and we are obviously not encouraging VIP visits to a very tense, dangerous and dynamic situation at that airport and inside Kabul generally. The Secretary, I think, would have appreciated the opportunity to have had a conversation before the visit took place.
Just how disruptive was it having them there?
John F. Kirby: (30:06)
They got a chance to talk to commanders, as I understand, they got a chance to talk to troops, but to say that there wasn’t a need to flex and to alter the day’s flow, including the need to have protection for these members of Congress, that wouldn’t be a genuine thing for me to assert. I mean, there was certainly a pull off of the kinds of missions we were trying to do to be able to accommodate that visit.
But just to be clear, Congressman Moulton and Congressman Meyer they took seats that would have been for refugees leaving and they took time away from the mission?
John F. Kirby: (31:01)
They certainly took time away from what we had been planning to do that day. I don’t know on the aircraft, they did fly out on a military aircraft. I honestly don’t know what the seat capacity was on that, that aircraft, but they are out of the country now. Barb?
Just one more question on withdrawal in the coming days, since the President has said, setting contingency planning aside, that everyone will be out by August 31st. My question is, do you have in hand all the authorities’ approvals, signed orders, whatever is necessary to just move ahead and carry that out? Or does the President, the Secretary, General McKenzie, General Millie, does somebody still have to sign an order to have a formal withdrawal begin?
John F. Kirby: (32:07)
Barb, without making it sound like I’m trying to gloss over your question, obviously, we are tracking the end of the mission at the end of the month. So of course, General McKenzie has retro grade plans on the shelf and ready to go, but I can assure you that… But before that effort is undertaken in earnest, there will be a conversation with the Secretary of Defense and Secretary Austin will have a chance to provide his guidance and direction with respect to retro grade. I think I’ll leave it at that.
So, I’m sorry, I guess I don’t understand, because the President made the decision to stick to the deadline of August 31st for all intents and purposes.
John F. Kirby: (32:55)
You have that from the Commander-in-Chief.
John F. Kirby: (32:58)
I just don’t get it, what is it that still has to happen to have the formal, official withdrawal begin?
John F. Kirby: (33:09)
The President also said that he wanted the Pentagon to come up with contingency plans should there be a need to have a conversation about altering the timeline. So we are tracking towards the 31st. There are retro grade plans that have been drafted up and the Secretary has seen them and is aware of them. But I think you would expect that in these final days, the Secretary will want to have the opportunity to issue specific direction to General McKenzie, about going forward with those retro grade plans. We’re going to try, as I said, we are focused on that date, but we’re also focused keenly on making sure we get as many people out as fast as we can for as long as we can. If there has to be alterations to that, then obviously Secretary Austin’s going to want to be a part of that conversation and to be able to issue his guidance and direction to the commanders on the ground.
John F. Kirby: (34:00)
Can you confirm that no Americans have been killed since August 14th and if there is any American killed through August 31st, how would that be announced?
John F. Kirby: (34:14)
Are you talking about American soldiers? Troops?
John F. Kirby: (34:17)
No. There had been no US troops killed since the 14th and we only know of one minor injury. I know of no American citizens who have been killed on this. So I don’t know of any. Now, we don’t have perfect visibility into everything going on in Kabul, but we know of no American casualties.
Then just one more question, when exactly does the August 31st deadline take effect, is that August 31st midnight or is that September 1st midnight?
John F. Kirby: (34:49)
August 31st. Nancy?
I was wondering if you could clarify a couple of points that you made earlier for me, you mentioned that at some point, the US will prioritize getting military personnel out of Hamid Karzai International Airport. I’m curious given that, is there a point where Afghan nationals and US citizens will not be allowed to get into the airport compound, the sub position being that you would have to have some cutoff before you could then fly everyone, the final troops out? If so, when is that?
Major General Hank Taylor: (35:22)
So I just want to go back to something I had said earlier about airflow, and as you’ve seen the capability over the last three days, over 90 aircraft total yesterday, and a lot focused on evacuation. So the way to answer that question is, the commanders who will go forward with the plan of retroing will have options to make decisions on a daily, sometimes hourly basis of what loads are ready, what aircraft are ready. Can I put something else on that bird? I mean, that’s how fluid and quite honestly, we are able to do at that level planning. It goes back to the overall mission here is continue to be able to get as many out as possible.
So I appreciate that. I think one reason I’m a little confused is it seems part of this is contingent on the Taliban and how they secure the area around the airport, who they let in, when they let them in. So I think one thing that would help me understand it better is, who makes the final determination of security outside the airport? You mentioned that there’re communications happening, but for example, if the US wanted some national in and the Taliban did not want to let them, then who makes that determination, how is it sorted out?
Major General Hank Taylor: (36:38)
Right now, the airfield is secure to allow full operations and do not assess that is going to change right now. So that is our current planning and we’ll continue to go forward with that.
John F. Kirby: (36:53)
Nancy, I think to revisit what I said before. I mean, we’ve been very clear with Taliban leaders about what credentials we want them to accept. Remember, it’s American citizens, it’s SIV applicants and it’s vulnerable Afghans. We have shared what the proper credentials are. By and large, not saying it’s been perfect, but by and large, the people that we have made clear to the Taliban that we want to have access through the checkpoints have been able to get through, by and large. Again, with caveats. So it hasn’t been a big problem to date. As the general said earlier, I mean, we also have other means to go out and get people in if we need to. We’ve now done three rotary wing lifts, so we have that option available to us as well. Did that answer your question?
Yeah, I don’t mean to be thick about this, I’m just trying to understand how that communication happens. Let’s say they are not letting in a certain credential that you believe should be let in, how is that resolved?
John F. Kirby: (38:04)
Good question. What would happen is the commanders on the ground would, if that was brought to their attention and this has actually happened, this isn’t notional, when we have reports that somebody who is properly credentialed is not being let in, or maybe their family members, but they have proper credentials, we are making that clear to the Taliban leaders that, “No, they are appropriate. You do need to let them in.”
John F. Kirby: (38:35)
Again, there’s been a little give and take and I think it was [Nazara 00:38:40] who mentioned this earlier. I mean, not every checkpoint is manned in the same way and by the same individuals as every other one. So there’s variances at some of these checkpoints, in terms of how the word has gotten down and how much the Taliban manning the checkpoint are following the dictates of their commanders. So that’s why it’s a constant communication on the ground with them to keep that flow going as much as possible. But yes, there are stops and starts. There are hurdles that have to be overcome almost on any given day, but really it’s a credit to the commanders on the ground there, that they’re continuing to have these conversations. Now, did that get it at better?
John F. Kirby: (39:23)
Okay, all right. Jenny?
Thank you, John. Thank you very much. [inaudible 00:39:29] The South Korea government is operating a military aircraft transfer operation to receive the Afghanistan refugees in South Korea, maybe will arrive tomorrow. Okay? So you know that the North Korea support Taliban, and we know that in past the North Korea and Taliban, they conducted special training together. What kind of United States monitoring about the North Korea, which poses a security threat?
John F. Kirby: (40:07)
You want to take it?
Major General Hank Taylor: (40:07)
For sure. First of all, as we talk about the Republic of Korea support to airlift, to obviously we, as I said earlier, extremely grateful for their contribution to increase our outflow. Throughout the world, as you know, we talk about North Korea and all that, all of our combat commands, specifically PACOM, are always diligent in watching in their mission of ensuring, keeping awareness of any type of thing North Korea’s doing. So once again, we’re very grateful and thankful for Republic of Korea support and helping us.
Do you have any contingency plan for anything happening in the Korean Peninsula during this [crosstalk 00:41:04]?
INDOPACOM’s mission remains unchanged and steadfast.
John F. Kirby: (41:10)
I need to go to the phones again some more. Tony [Capatio 00:41:16]?
Tony Capatio: (41:18)
Hey, John, two quick questions. Jen Psaki yesterday said that this evacuation is on track to be the largest in US history, the largest airlift in US history, the numbers you would have applied so far, so 88,000, I think you’ve said, have been evacuated. So are you pretty confident that you will be able to best the Operation Frequent Wind 1975 Saigon evacuation where 131,000 people were evacuated by air and sea?
John F. Kirby: (41:49)
We’re not competing with history, Tony, we’re trying to get as many people out as we can, as fast as we can. When it’s all said and done, we’ll take a look at what we were able to accomplish, but this isn’t about trying to beat some historical record-
John F. Kirby: (42:03)
This isn’t about trying to beat some sort of historical record. I will only add that 88,000 in the course of just a week, a week and a half, is no small feat. And you’ve seen us, over the last three days alone, exceed what we thought was going to be a maximum capacity. We certainly would like to keep that going for as long as possible. Let me go back to the phones and then Sylvie, I’ll get you, I promise. Steven [Locy 00:42:32].
Yes, thank you. Can you tell me if all SIV holders who have made it onto the airport grounds with valid papers are going to be able to make it onto flights? I ask because a interpreter with an SIV I’ve been in contact with just made it onto the grounds, was almost put out of the gate. That appears to have been now corrected, but will this interpreter and other SIV holders who are on the grounds be able to fly out before the deadline is gone, is over?
John F. Kirby: (43:08)
Thank you. I have two small questions. First, about the numbers. You said that 88,000 departed since the 14th of August. Is it only US flight? So if it’s not only US flight, how many were evacuated by US flights? That’s the first question.
Major General Hank Taylor: (43:34)
Major General Hank Taylor: (43:35)
Yeah. Right at around 58,000 to 60,000.
Okay. Thank you. And the second question was about the President mentioned the ISIS [inaudible 00:43:48] threat, and I wanted to know if you receive new threats, if there was an immediate danger at the gates, or if it’s a threat in general that you have known for a long time.
Major General Hank Taylor: (44:07)
Yeah. So, as we talk about, we won’t go into specific intelligence collection and those [inaudible 00:44:12], but we know, as previously reported, there is a threat. This has been a dangerous place that has had the threats by ISIS, and we continue to ensure that we collect and keep the force protection to the highest levels possible to ensure that we’re able to continue evacuation operations.
So you won’t confirm new threat?
John F. Kirby: (44:36)
We’re not going to talk about the intelligence [inaudible 00:44:39], Sylvie. You know that. These are, as the general said, these are credible threats and we’re mindful of that, but we’re not going to talk about it in great detail. Megan.
Just want to clarify your remarks about the vaccine memo. Is this to say that the Secretary is not going to request a waiver from the President and DOD, we’ll just give vaccines on a mandatory basis as they become fully [crosstalk 00:45:02]-
John F. Kirby: (45:02)
No, that’s not at all. We’ll have to see where the other vaccines end up.
John F. Kirby: (45:09)
That’s not at all what I meant to say. It’s just that the only ones that will be made mandatory right now are ones that are licensed by the FDA.
So by mid-September, he may ask? Forget it.
John F. Kirby: (45:22)
I won’t rule anything in or out, but as the memo says, we’re only going to make mandatory those that have FDA licensure. But press reporting alone would indicate that the other vaccines are getting close.
One more question [crosstalk 00:45:40].
John F. Kirby: (45:40)
How is the relationship between US and Taliban? Do you think that Pakistan should play a [inaudible 00:45:49] to make a good relationship? Because as long as I heard from a Taliban spokesperson, you guys have no good relationship, right? Because they prevented civilian to leave Afghanistan. Do you think that still Pakistan has role? Which role play Pakistan to [crosstalk 00:46:09] relationship?
John F. Kirby: (46:09)
All of Afghanistan’s neighbors can play a role here, and we hope they do, a constructive role in Afghanistan’s future. And Pakistan certainly, I would think, would figure largely into that calculus, as we talked about. There’s safe havens along that border, remain a problem. We’ve been very honest and candid with Pakistani leaders about the importance of not allowing that. And you would want to believe that they also share that sense of urgency because they too are the victims of terrorist attacks that emanate from there. So they should and I suspect that they will want to play a significant role going forward. And we would just ask for them and for any country, any neighboring country, to make that as constructive as possible. In the back there.
Speaker 3: (46:58)
What percent of the forces aren’t vaccinated yet, and when will they have to be vaccinated by?
John F. Kirby: (47:07)
So on the active duty force, 68% is fully vaccinated and we estimate that just over 76% have at least one dose. I can break this down by the services. This would include Guard and Reserves in these figures. For the Army, 40% fully vaccinated with 57% with one dose. For the Marine Corps, 53% fully vaccinated, 60% with one dose. For the Navy, 73% fully vaccinated, 79% with at least one dose. And for the Air Force, which includes Space Force, that’s 57% fully vaccinated, 64% with one dose. The Secretary has made clear his expectation to the military departments that he wants them to move with some alacrity here and get the force fully vaccinated as fast as possible. If you look in his memo, you’ll also see that he tasked them to regularly update the Deputy Secretary on a very frequent basis on how they’re moving out to achieve those goals. Right now, this mandatory vaccine will just be Pfizer, and then we’ll see where it goes with the other licensures.
John, will you be mandating vaccines for any of the Afghan refugees who come into the United States and are brought here by the US military?
John F. Kirby: (48:30)
I’m going to leave that question to the State Department. But there’s COVID screening being done at each stop along the way. And again, I think that’s a better question for the State Department [crosstalk 00:48:44].
You just said that any SIV holders that come to the gate would be let onto a flight, but we’re just getting real-time reports from Abbey Gate that Marines are turning away SIV holders and turning them away. Can you clarify, are Marines supposed to be turning away those with SIV papers or with authorization to come onto the airport? Have they closed down Abbey Gate?
John F. Kirby: (49:08)
I’m going to let the general take that question. The question that was posed to me by I think it was Steven was, if you have SIV credentials and you’re at the field, if you’re on the airport, will you be able to get off? And the answer is yes, but I’ll let the general take [inaudible 00:49:28].
Major General Hank Taylor: (49:30)
So obviously I can’t speak to that absolute, real-time to the second report. The guidance still remains, is those that have the proper paperwork and are safely at the gates, is to bring them in and to process them. So I can’t speak to that specific report there. But what I do know is that whether it’s our Marines or soldiers that are at those gates, working with the consular officers that are there, is as people are there and present the proper SIV paperwork, we are to get them as quickly as possible in, process them for evacuation flights.
Can you make sure that that message gets down to the Marines at Abbey Gate? Because this is a legitimate report that just came in here.
Major General Hank Taylor: (50:16)
And I think we appreciate those reports, right? And I just know as I have talked to the commanders, they are using a lot of time and it’s good, and that we’ll report to ensure they get this information and put it out throughout the entire force.
John F. Kirby: (50:33)
The other thing, again, without speaking to this case, sometimes traffic has halted at the gates to manage flow on the airport. It’s a physics issue. But again, I appreciate that, and if you share with us after the briefing, the details of this, we will certainly pass it on. Absolutely.
Can I ask one more vaccine question?
John F. Kirby: (50:53)
My question is, now that been several weeks since the decision to make this mandatory, what is the Secretary’s policy or decision on any troops who refuse to get the vaccine?
John F. Kirby: (51:04)
Great question. What the Secretary has communicated to the military departments is to execute this mandatory vaccination program with obviously skill and professionalism, which we always do, but also with a measure of compassion. And so for a member who still objects, now obviously you can ask for an exemption on religious grounds and you certainly could be exempt if you have a preexisting condition that your doctor advises you not to get it, obviously. But if it’s an objection outside those two frameworks, the individual will be offered a chance to sit down with a physician and have that physician communicate to them the risks that they’re taking by continuing to not want to take the vaccine. They will also be offered a chance to sit down with their chain of command and their leadership to talk about the risks that their objection will impose on the unit and on the force and on their teammates.
John F. Kirby: (52:07)
And the point is, [Cort 00:52:09], that the commanders have a wide range of tools available to them to help their teammates make the right decision for themselves, for their families and for their units. And we expect, and the Secretary expects, that the commanders will use those tools short of having to use the UCMJ.
If the service member goes to the counseling, does not have a religious objection, and still objects and refuses to get the vaccine, the individual will begin to be processed in UCMJ?
John F. Kirby: (52:39)
The commanders have a wide range of tools available to them short of using the UCMJ, and I think we’re going to trust the commanders are going to make the right decision going forward.
So they’ll get an NJP, basically?
John F. Kirby: (52:49)
Cort, I can’t give you an exact answer to every hypothetical situation. Once you mandate it, as we’ve done, it’s a lawful order. It’s a lawful order. And we fully anticipate that our troops are going to follow lawful orders. And when you raise your right hand and you take that oath, that’s what you agree to do. And it hasn’t been a problem in the past with other vaccines. Now I recognize COVID has a different history to it and a different cultural ascription to it, but it’s a lawful order, and it it’s our expectation that troop will obey lawful orders. And we also expect that commanders will have plenty of other tools available to them to get the vaccination rates up and to get these individuals to make the right decisions short of having to use disciplinary action.
John F. Kirby: (53:41)
Okay. I think that’s almost a full hour, so we’re going to call it for right now. As the general mentioned in his opening statement, we will shoot for an afternoon briefing. This one will be with General Wolters from EUCOM, specifically to address issues of the evacuation and what EUCOM is doing to help us move these people on to their new lives. And so we’ll see you at three o’clock this afternoon. Thank you.
John F. Kirby: (54:09)
I beg your pardon. 3:30.
Can I get 3:15?
John F. Kirby: (54:12)
3:30. 3:30. We’ll see you this afternoon.