Aug 27, 2021
Pentagon Officials Hank Taylor & John Kirby Press Briefing Transcript August 27: Afghanistan Update
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby and General Hank Taylor held a news briefing on August 27, 2021 to provide an update on the ongoing evacuation effort in Afghanistan. They also discussed the attack at the Kabul airport that killed 13 U.S. troops. Read the full transcript of the press conference here.
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General Hank Taylor: (00:00)
… correct the record with you all here. You’ve now seen that we’ve updated our casualty list to include a 13th service member killed in action. Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the families and to the teammates that we have lost. This is a devastating time for these Gold Star families, a title, no one wants to hold, but we absolutely hold in the utmost respect.
General Hank Taylor: (00:32)
I can also report that two flights landed at Ramstein today, carrying our wounded personnel from the attack. These personnel had been transferred to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and are receiving care.
General Hank Taylor: (00:48)
In Kabul, commanders on the ground continue to assess the risk and the dynamic situation there as they have been since the beginning. Forced protection remains paramount with the continued threat. We’ve continued the evacuation mission yesterday, as you saw, as you reported last night, and I’ll give you an update of how things have gone in the last 24 hours. Yesterday 35 U.S. military aircraft, 29 C-17s and six C-130s departed with approximately 8,500 personnel. Combined with 54 coalition aircraft departures, an additional 4,000 personnel left Kabul for various intermediate staging bases. 89 flights total yesterday out of Kabul, totaling approximately 12,500 evacuees now safely out of Afghanistan in a 24 hour period.
General Hank Taylor: (01:51)
In the past 24 hours, more than 300 American citizens were evacuated from Afghanistan, bringing our updated total to approximately 5, 100. We continue to maximize our efficiency and since U.S. and coalition forces began the evacuation, approximately 111,000 evacuees have departed safely.
General Hank Taylor: (02:16)
The State Department consular officers continue to screen and process people arriving at gates around Kabul. Some gates had been closed as we reported, but American citizens, SIV applicants, and vulnerable Afghans who have the designated and proper credentials will continue to be processed for departure from the airfield. There are still approximately 5,400 individuals on the airport as of this report, awaiting for flights out of Afghanistan. We have the ability to include evacuees on U.S. military air lift out of Afghanistan until the very end.
General Hank Taylor: (02:56)
The Department of Defense has the continued responsibility to support the State Department in the ongoing movement, evacuees through our intermediate staging bases and safe havens all the way to the United States in the coming days and weeks.
General Hank Taylor: (03:13)
On that topic, here’s a quick update on the military installations and our safe havens and staging bases and CENTCOM and EUCOM that are helping transition all these flights. CENTCOM locations, including Al Udeid airbase, steadily receive, process and transfer passengers to follow on locations in Europe and the United States.
General Hank Taylor: (03:35)
Today, EUCOM will receive about 19 flights and approximately 5,000 passengers in Germany, Italy, and Spain, including the Naval station. Rota. In turn, six flights will transport about 3,300 people from Europe to the United States. I cannot say enough how important that the contribution of our allies and our partners has been in this massive global operation.
General Hank Taylor: (04:05)
Additionally, more evacuees continue to arrive stateside and are moving to designated installations throughout NORTHCOM. The NORTHCOM commanding general, General VanHerck, will provide a more focused briefing on this extensive effort in his brief later today.
General Hank Taylor: (04:22)
In conclusion, I’ll reiterate what General McKenzie said yesterday. There are more than 5,000 U.S. service members in harms way, saving as many people as they can. It’s a noble mission. We have seen firsthand how dangerous that mission is, but ISIS will not deter us from accomplishing this mission. We appreciate your thoughts and prayers for all of our service members who are carrying on this mission today. Above all, we remain focused on evacuating American citizens and other personnel designated by the Department of State, safeguarding the lives of those whom we are providing assistance and keeping American troops safe. Thank you.
John F. Kirby: (05:09)
I just have one other thing to add and it’s a good segue from what the General ended with. Today, the Department of Defense can announce that it is authorized Marine Corps base Quantico, Virginia, Fort Pickett, Virginia, and Holloman Air Force Base, new Mexico to provide additional support to the U.S. mission to evacuate Afghans, special immigrant visa applicants, their families, and other at-risk individuals.
John F. Kirby: (05:48)
These installations join Fort Lee, Fort McCoy, Fort Bliss, and Joint Base McGuire-Dix in providing this support. The Defense Department will continue to support the State Department in providing temporary housing, sustainment and support inside the United States, for a capacity of up to 50,000 Afghan special immigrant visa applicants, their families, and other at-risk individuals.
John F. Kirby: (06:11)
U.S. Northern Command will coordinate the details of all of this with the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and of course the Department of Health and Human Services as necessary. And it will be provided under presidential draw down authority to the maximum extent possible, with additional support being provided on a reimbursable basis. And as General Taylor let you know, we have General VanHerck, the commander of U.S. Northern Command, coming into the briefing room with you later this afternoon and he’ll be able to provide a lot more context on that. With that, we’ll take questions. [Lita 00:06:41] .
This is probably for the General. The president has said he wants to avow, basically get back at ISIS. How difficult will it be for the U.S. military to do that type of operation, considering the lower number of troops and the difficulty in getting intelligence on the ground? And then I don’t know if this is you or John. Can you just talk about the number of people that we’ll see getting processed over the next several days? Is that number going to gradually go down? Do you have out the number of people you think you’re going to, or what’s your ballpark estimate?
General Hank Taylor: (07:19)
On the first question on our capabilities and abilities to protect ourselves, or to also to conduct the strikes, as you said, as I’ve said all along, we have resources with the CENTCOM commander and with the commanders on the ground, and the capabilities to allow us to execute any type of those operations as those are required to do.
John F. Kirby: (07:49)
Lita, again, we’re still planning on ending this mission at the end of the month. And as I said the other day, as we get closer and we are getting closer, you’re going to see us begin to make those muscle movements to pull out our troops and some of our equipment as appropriate with any retrograde. What we want to do is preserve as much capability for as long as we can, both in terms of the security footprint, but also in terms of the ability, as the General alluded in his opening statement, to moving out evacuees. Lives are still the priority and the lives of our troops, and of course the lives of evacuees and trying to continue to get as many out as possible.
John F. Kirby: (08:40)
There will be a balance over the next few days, as we continue to process through that transition, as we continue to do, as what we call, retrograde. And I can’t give you a specific number on any given day, but I think you’ll see us adjust as necessary to make sure that we’re achieving that proper balance, but we will be able to fly out evacuees right up until the last moment. That’s going to be the goal.
John F. Kirby: (09:06)
And if I may, you didn’t ask this, but I want to take the opportunity to convey to all of you that as we did before, when we began a retrograde, a withdrawal, back in April, we were very judicious about the detail that we were putting out. And I just want to level set with all of you that you’re going to see us become more judicious now, going forward, as we get closer to the end of the month, about what information we’re giving you in terms of how many troops on the ground. I would not expect us to be giving that number out going forward, and what the capabilities are, and where they are and what they’re doing. We’re going to be very, very mindful of the operational security element of this. And I think yesterday is a stark, grim reminder of why that’s important going forward. I know that’s not what you asked, but I wanted to take an opportunity to get that out there. Jen.
John, how can you say with such certainty and how can general McKenzie say with such certainty that the Taliban were not involved in the suicide bombing? I understand that you’re reliant on them for protection around the airport, but are you ruling out them being involved because you’re so dependent on the Taliban right now?
John F. Kirby: (10:16)
Actually, I didn’t hear General McKenzie put it that way, Jen. In fact, I think in one of the questions he got, and I think it was [Idris’ 00:10:25], Idris asked was there a failure. And the General said, “Of course there was a failure somewhere obviously.” And he even alluded to the fact that it could have been at a Taliban checkpoint. We’ve not been certain about that at all. There’ll be an investigation. We’ll try to learn as much as we can about what happened. And I really don’t want to get ahead of that process.
And in terms of ISIS-K, how many ISIS-K prisoners were left at Bagram and are believed to have been released from the prison there? And why weren’t they removed before the U.S. pulled out to someplace like Gitmo?
John F. Kirby: (10:58)
Well, I don’t know the exact number. Clearly it’s in the thousands when you consider both prisons, because both of them were taken over by the Taliban and emptied. But I couldn’t give you a precise figure. And as for emptying out, remember, I mean, we were turning things over to Afghan National Security Forces. That was part of the retrograde process was to turn over these responsibilities. And so they did have responsibility for those prisons and the bases at which those prisons were located. And of course, as the Taliban advanced, we didn’t see the level of resistance by the Afghans to hold some territory, some bases, and unfortunately those were the bases that the Afghans didn’t hold. But all of those responsibilities were turned over in accordance with the retrograde plan back from April. Idris.
I think this is more for the General. Yesterday, General McKenzie talked about wanting to talk to the Taliban about pushing the perimeter back as one of the ways to avoid another incident. Has that happened, and I know you can’t say by how much, but is significantly been pushed back? And what are you seeing in terms of flow to Abbey Gate? Is it less people being allowed in? Is it still a rush of people which could lead to a similar incident? What are you seeing today at the Gate?
General Hank Taylor: (12:19)
What I can report, as my discussion with the commanders there on the ground is, that multiple activities have taken place to increase the force protection specifically in communication with the Taliban, of how they are executing their checkpoint operations and communication there. I would say there’s been multiple. I don’t want to go into the details of the exact, of what the communication, but I know that has happened. And what we have seen today is a little lessening of what we would say total capacity of people in and around gates.
John F. Kirby: (13:03)
General Hank Taylor: (13:03)
John F. Kirby: (13:03)
Thank you, John. As Jen said, ISIS since yesterday, people were worried about everything, about the Taliban. They were psychologically under a lot of situations. Some of my family they target and tortured by the Taliban. But since yesterday that ISIS created, Afghan people are more, more worried. Do you think that it’s another separate war will start in Afghanistan? That’s what most of Afghan people question and everybody now want to leave the country because now it’s double. Before it was only Taliban. Now ISIS also show up one more time, their activity. Do you think that’s another separate war that start soon?
John F. Kirby: (13:54)
Nazeera, before I try to answer that question, I do want to take the opportunity on behalf of the Department of Defense to also make sure that we express our condolences for the Afghan people who suffered in yesterday’s attack. We know that there were a number of killed and wounded Afghan civilians at the airport and that there are families that are dealing with the same devastating, terrible news that now gold star families here in the department are dealing with. Again, on behalf of the secretary, we offer our condolences and thoughts and prayers.
John F. Kirby: (14:29)
I wish I had a crystal ball. I wish we could know for sure what’s going to happen in Afghanistan. We don’t. We obviously don’t want to see the country torn asunder through civil war, but that’s why, whatever the future of Afghanistan is from a governance perspective, we’re going to stay engaged with the international community to make sure that Afghans, Afghanistan’s leaders are held to proper account for the way they are governing and that Afghanistan’s neighbors also try to play a constructive, productive role in whatever the future of Afghanistan is going to be. Though, we will not have a military presence there, the United States government will still want to see what what we can do with the international community to make sure that Afghans can have the best of all possible outcomes for their future. But I think it would be foolish for us to try to be too predictive about what’s going to happen right now.
US not change the policy again, to be involved again in Afghanistan?
John F. Kirby: (15:52)
The commander in chief has made a very clear decision that it is time to end America’s involvement on the ground and in the war in Afghanistan, and we’re going to execute that decision, as we should.
John F. Kirby: (16:11)
John, for the record, would you clear up the confusion over the service affiliation of the dead? I mean, it sounds like we have a total number of 13.
John F. Kirby: (16:26)
But the breakdown within the 13 is a little unclear. The Marine statement said, “At this time, 10.”
John F. Kirby: (16:34)
Can you tell us what it is? Then I have a question for the general.
John F. Kirby: (16:40)
Actually, I’m not able to break it down specifically right now, David. I want to defer to the services to speak to their specific number of casualties. As you can imagine, they’re having to have difficult conversations with a number of families, and we here at the department don’t want to get ahead of that process. I think on that one, I would just defer to the services.
General, you didn’t answer the question about whether the Taliban have met General McKenzie’s request to push the perimeter further out, away from the airport. He also said that he was going to ask them to close some specific roads. Have they’d done-
General Hank Taylor: (17:29)
Sorry if I didn’t add that level of specificity, but I know those, just exactly what General McKenzie had said had been passed to his commanders to have those discussions with the Taliban to take not only those specific measures as he mentioned there and you mentioned, but other activities that will increase the security and the facilitation of those getting through.
Do you know if they’ve happened?
General Hank Taylor: (17:56)
No, the [crosstalk 00:17:56].
General Hank Taylor: (17:56)
I don’t know. I cannot report at this point what actions the Taliban have taken in the last, but I know that those discussions are happening and that have happened.
John F. Kirby: (18:09)
Okay. I’ve got to get to the phones a little bit here. Laura Seligman, Politico.
John F. Kirby: (18:18)
Are you there, Laura? Okay. We’ll come back to you, Laura, if you’re not able to pipe in there.
John F. Kirby: (18:34)
Hi, John, can you hear me?
John F. Kirby: (18:37)
Okay. Yesterday, the president said, “We’re going to be in a circumstance where I believe numerous opportunities will continue to provide access for additional persons to get out of Afghanistan.” This is after the 31st. He said, “Either through means that we provide or are provided through in cooperation with the Taliban.” Can you give me a sense of the planning you’re doing to take that direction to heart? What are the military implications of the president’s desire for still removing people after the 31st? Will there be continued talks with the Taliban staging a force in the region to get more people out, et cetera?
John F. Kirby: (19:16)
Yeah. Tony, I think my colleague at the White House and at the State Department have addressed this question before. I mean, we, the inter-agency, the US government, will pursue a variety of ways to help any Americans who want to get out after our military presence at the airport has ended to be able to help them get out. While Afghanistan is a unique case, it’s not completely separated from the larger effort that the United States government pursues all over the world. When we know that Americans are at special risk, we do what we can to get them out, and that doesn’t necessarily involve the United States military. I certainly wouldn’t speculate one way or another about what’s going to happen after this particular mission ends, but I would not envision a significant military role in that effort going forward.
John F. Kirby: (20:15)
Going back to what David was asking, if the US military knew that there were improvements to be made such as closing roads and pushing the perimeter back further, why wasn’t this discussion engaged in before the attack? Why wasn’t the point pressed? Why weren’t these improvements asked for by the Taliban? Because you’re saying General McKenzie was very clear, he’s asking for this now.
John F. Kirby: (20:47)
Barb, I’ll tell you, from the very get go, even before we had a specific threat assessment, force protection was of paramount importance to General McKenzie, certainly to the secretary, and I don’t want to speak for the chairman, but I think I can, for General Millie as well in this regard. I can tell you that from the very beginning, force protection was always at the front of everybody’s mind. Force protection, as you well know, particularly in a dynamic environment, is something that changes all the time. As we got more information, we made adjustments to force protection measures to try to do the best we could at what we thought were the specific threats we were facing. You heard the general talk yesterday about even overwatch in the air. I mean, there was a lot of effort being done, which included as the general said, included daily communication with Taliban about the nature of the threat and sharing with them the appropriate, relevant information about what we knew.
John F. Kirby: (21:56)
Now, clearly all of that effort, and there was a lot of effort, clearly fell short in some way, because this attack was able to be perpetrated and we did suffer, as well as our Afghan friends, suffered casualties. We’re going to do the forensics on this, Barb, and clearly try to figure out what went wrong, because clearly something went wrong, but it would be irresponsible if we didn’t act immediately to double down and make sure that we were being as anticipatory as possible, because we still believe there are credible threats. In fact, I’d say specific credible threats, and we want to make sure we’re prepared for those.
John F. Kirby: (22:41)
I don’t think, and I’m sure you can understand, that just by virtue of the fact that we may be taking other steps doesn’t mean that they would have necessarily been the proper steps for what we saw yesterday. We have additional information, and so what I would tell you is what you’re seeing us act on, to the degree we can talk about it, is based on information that we have. I think I’d leave it at that.
When you say you have additional information, can you tell us, do you mean you have developed additional information since the attack? Do you still believe something is potentially imminent?
John F. Kirby: (23:28)
I thought General McKenzie covered it very well with you yesterday. We certainly are prepared and would expect future attempts. Absolutely. But I won’t get into the specifics of what those are and why we’re doing what we’re doing.
Do you have additional intelligence since the attack, currently?
John F. Kirby: (23:45)
Again, without talking to intelligence, we’re monitoring these threats very, very specifically, virtually in real time. I think you can understand I wouldn’t get into any more detail than that.
John F. Kirby: (23:57)
Two questions for General Taylor. In the wake of the attacks, have the US commanders on the ground had improved communications with Taliban commanders, not only in improving security but potentially in getting SIV applicants or Afghans through the gates?
Secondly, in the wake of the attack, since ISIS is also a problem for the Taliban, is there potential there to coordinate to actually target ISIS?
General Hank Taylor: (24:29)
When we say improve communication, I would answer that with, we are continuing communication. I would say every day that is improving because we have more repetitions. We’re able to continue to have open lines of communication. The specificity of what is being passed back and forth tactically to allow for a better security environment, I would say is improving because those repetitions are happening and the understanding of the Taliban of what needs to take place is being reinforced. And so I think, yes.
General Hank Taylor: (25:12)
Then your second question of passing on specifics, like what are we looking for here, what is the threat that we need you to look for? Yes, that is absolutely being passed from the commanders on the ground to those Taliban commanders to ensure, as Mr. Kirby said, things like yesterday, we understand what to look for. We understand what the threat is to try to prevent it.
Specifically to target ISIS though?
General Hank Taylor: (25:38)
Those threats. Yeah, those ISIS threats that could come in.
Okay. Then, secondly, there was a secondary explosion later yesterday where US forces were doing controlled detonations of equipment. Can you talk about the type of equipment that is being destroyed in the retrograde so you don’t have to fly it out, but it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands either?
General Hank Taylor: (25:59)
Yeah. The actual specifics of what type of equipment-
General Hank Taylor: (26:03)
So the actual specifics of what type of equipment was destroyed, I don’t have that. But what we have said is that the commander has the authority there to destroy equipment that they feel is responsible. So as we talked about controlled detonations, I think that was your specific question… That’s what we call that, a controlled detonation that could take place if the commander decided to destroy some type of equipment.
John F. Kirby: (26:30)
I’d only add that, as I mentioned earlier, lives are going to be the priority, Tara. So there will be… You can expect that there will be other equipment and material things that will not be brought back with us. We’re going to do this in a judicious way. Some stuff will obviously come back with us, but for the aircraft that are departing as we get closer to the end of the month, we want to prioritize passenger seats as much as possible.
John F. Kirby: (27:01)
So you’re going to continue to see things disposed of in a responsible way as we get closer to the end of the mission. And I think that people would expect us to do that.
John F. Kirby: (27:13)
Speaker 1: (27:13)
John, what’s the department’s assessment of the capabilities of ISIS-K? And is there a real concern that they can use Afghanistan to launch attacks against the United States post-August 31st?
John F. Kirby: (27:32)
Well, obviously they’re a serious terrorist threat. And that was brought home to us in pretty stark ways yesterday. We take the threat very, very seriously. I don’t want to… I’m not going to speculate about future threats. What I will tell you… The president has made this clear, the secretary has made this clear to the leadership at the Pentagon that we’re not going to allow attacks on the homeland to emanate from Afghanistan again like they did 20 years ago. And we do have over the horizon counter-terrorism capability available to us to make sure that that doesn’t happen. And I think I’d leave it at that.
Speaker 1: (28:13)
Do you believe the Taliban can stand to ISIS-K can defeat them?
John F. Kirby: (28:21)
I think that the threat from ISIS is real. And nobody wants to see that threat grow. I cannot speak, would not begin to speak for Taliban capabilities or Taliban intent. Obviously there’s significant animosity between these two groups. And they don’t share interests. But I’m not… It would be foolish for me to try to predict the degree to which what apparitions the Taliban might conduct against ISIS-K. All I can tell you is the direction that this department has is to not allow attacks on the homeland to emanate from Afghanistan again. And we are committed to that, as well as counter-terrorism operations around the world, because the threat has metastasized outside Afghanistan, to other places where we also have to maintain a focus and a degree of over the horizon counter-terrorism capability.
John F. Kirby: (29:19)
Let me go back over here. In the back there.
Speaker 2: (29:21)
Thanks, John. Two questions. First, can you speak to any rescue ops that have happened since the attack?
John F. Kirby: (29:27)
I don’t think there’s been any. You mean by rotary?
Speaker 2: (29:30)
John F. Kirby: (29:31)
Speaker 2: (29:32)
And then the second question, which is probably more for the General. Over the last five days, we’ve seen anywhere from 89-94 flights leave Kabul. But we’ve seen somewhere between 12-5 and 21-6. Can you explain why the number of evacuations fluctuates so much, but the number of flights has remained relatively steady.
General Hank Taylor: (29:51)
Yeah, so I think what you have seen is… I’ll just break those in two bins. First, as you look at the U.S. flights, have stayed pretty steady in those numbers. As other countries are coming in, they are evacuating certain numbers of where they are in their capability or requirement. So I think that is where you’ve seen some of the differences in the outward flow. And I think, you really have to go back to my number today. 110,000 today. So as we started just under almost, just a few weeks ago at zero all the way up to 110,000, we would see some of those numbers start to come down.
John F. Kirby: (30:38)
Let me go back to the phone. Sam Legroun.
Sam Legroun: (30:43)
Hey John. As part of the exit, is it the U.S. intention to leave a functional airport with radars at work, computers at work? What’s the obligation for what you all leave behind? Thanks.
John F. Kirby: (31:00)
Airport is functioning, Sam. And we’re going to need it to continue to function right up until the very end. So I think the general assumption is that as we depart, we’re going to need to depart from a functional, completely operational airport. That’s our assumption going forward, that it’ll be operational right up until we’re gone. And as you probably heard Secretary Blinken say the other day that we’re working with the international community. There are several nations that want to contribute to the effort to keep it operational, and that are willing to work with the Taliban to that end. Certainly had them speak to that effort.
John F. Kirby: (31:38)
In Taliban operations against ISIS aside any future things, whatever, do you have any assessment of what ISIS fighters at the prisons that they may have taken action against or killed, other than some of the ones that we know about?
John F. Kirby: (31:58)
I do not.
Is that something that’s knowable, that you guys have sought to find out and can’t find out?
John F. Kirby: (32:03)
I don’t know if that’s knowable, Gordon. I mean, I’m happy to take that question, but I don’t want to raise expectations here on our level of the granularity of intelligence we may have gotten from these prison releases. I don’t want to over-promise here. I’m happy to ask that question, but I can’t promise you a good answer.
John F. Kirby: (32:21)
Speaker 3: (32:22)
Thank you, John. The 50,000 SIV capacity that you referenced earlier. Can we expect those folks to be processed in the same four states previously reported, or will it be a capacity beyond New Jersey, Virginia, Texas, and Wisconsin?
John F. Kirby: (32:39)
No, I think I added some extra facilities here today that I… One’s in New Mexico. Holloman Air Force Base. And then two in Virginia. Quantico and Fort Pickett. And the secretary’s been clear that if we need more, because the demand’s there, that we’ll work with the states, and we’ll work with the services to identify potential future military installations. But those are the ones that we are operating from now.
Speaker 3: (33:07)
Quick follow up. Currently, it’s a 14 step process to get an SIV application validated. Given the security challenges yesterday, is there going to be a change in where those are processed? Are those entirely, are folks being processed overseas and then brought to U.S. bases for final relocation?
John F. Kirby: (33:27)
I honestly can’t answer that question. That’s really for the state department. They run the SIV process. It’s not a Department of Defense equity. Janey.
Thank you, John. May I ask the General. Sorry, next time I will bring more.
President Biden said that also… Let me take off the mask. President Biden said, also General McKenzie said yesterday that he had [inaudible 00:34:04] the international partners. Had he discussed about military options with the international partners or our allies, including South Korea? What are the primary U.S. military options?
General Hank Taylor: (34:24)
Yeah. So I can’t speak for General McKenzie and the discussions, other than what he said yesterday, is continuing to coordinate with all of our allies and partners that are helping us with this right now is extremely important. The ability to continue to synchronize all of the air lift that continues to come in, and insuring that, as timing goes forward, all of that is well planned together is extremely important. And I think I’d have to turn it over back to General McKenzie for any of those other specific questions.
And another one. What are the U.S. special wishes for our allies, and international partners? Do you have any wishes from them?
General Hank Taylor: (35:12)
I’m sorry. Wishes.
General Hank Taylor: (35:17)
From the operational side, I think our wish is, just like I said earlier, continue the support and the work together as we continue this mission forward is extremely important. Thank you.
Speaker 4: (35:29)
Can I follow up, sir, about something Gordon asked about. Which is I’ve been hearing some reports that there have been some attacks by ISIS-K against Taliban checkpoints in the city. Are you seeing any evidence of attacks that ISIS-K is attacking those Taliban checkpoints?
General Hank Taylor: (35:44)
I have not seen those reports.
Speaker 4: (35:46)
And can you give us any more clarification on the sharing of American citizen’s information, as well as SIV information with the Taliban. There were reports yesterday that the U.S. officials were sharing that information.
General Hank Taylor: (35:59)
Yeah. I don’t think they are sharing information, as you would say in that question of, like we were giving information. What information is very important right now is at the ground level to insure that as people approach checkpoints, that those Taliban checkpoint leaders have and understand who’s coming. What documentation they’re supposed to have. Because that’s really important for us to insure the time that people are not in areas and just staying there for long periods of time. The commanders on the ground continue to coordinate how do we continue to increase that through checkpoints, through gates, to get on HKIA as fast as we can. That’s very safe to get them there. Thanks.
How many U.S. troops are still on the ground at HKIA, and how is the secured posture at the gate changed? Are there more or fewer troops going in and out of the gates? Is there more over watch of the crowd for suspicious activity?
General Hank Taylor: (37:04)
So, kind of back, what Mr. Kirby said earlier, as we talk about troop numbers and capability. Capability has not changed. For us to secure all the gates, to be able to process evacuees, and our ability to rapidly turn aircraft as they arrive and get those up.
General Hank Taylor: (37:23)
And as we talk about force protection at the gate, I’m not going to get into the specific TTP’s that those junior leaders are taking down there, other than we continue to learn every day from the day before, and we work within all the capabilities that we have to insure that one, that we can continue people to come in, but also stay safe.
When you say you continue to learn does that mean that you have switched things up in order to make it more safe?
General Hank Taylor: (37:52)
I would say patterns are things that we try not to get into. So you know, I would just tell you as the most simple operational piece there, we’re always doing things that we can to keep us safe and not create patterns.
John F. Kirby: (38:09)
I’d only add to that, Megan, as I mentioned to Barb. We still have active threat streams, and we’re taking steps that we believe are appropriate to those streams. And I think I’d leave it at that. And I want to foot stomp the boots on the ground number. As the General mentioned in his opening statement today, more than 5,000 today. We are not going to get in, going forward, to a daily count of what’s on the ground. Just going forward, as we get closer now to the end of the month and the end of the mission, don’t expect daily updates on exactly how many troops are there at any given moment.
John F. Kirby: (38:42)
Speaker 5: (38:43)
Yeah, when you said that there is going to be an investigation into what happened yesterday, are you talking about a full, like a criminal inquiry with the forensics people on the ground, and interviewing possible witnesses? Who would be doing that? And how do you do that in the middle of a war zone?
John F. Kirby: (39:00)
I wouldn’t characterize it as a criminal investigation, but it’ll be as comprehensive.
John F. Kirby: (39:03)
I wouldn’t characterize it as a criminal investigation, but it will be as comprehensive as General McKenzie needs it to be to try to do the forensics here and figure out what happened and what we can learn from it going forward. It’ll be a very complete, thorough investigation and I will leave it to General McKenzie to describe for you sort of the architecture of what that’s going to be. But it’s not like we haven’t sadly had to do this before and we know how to conduct these investigations.
John F. Kirby: (39:29)
Yes, sir, you?
Speaker 6: (39:32)
Thank you very much Mr. Secretory. My name is [inaudible 00:39:36] I’m representing [inaudible 00:39:37] Communication Network, NCM, and US service members doing incredible job with sacrificing their life. With consideration of that, my question is some your strategy. Do you think the removal from Afghanistan to reduce your control within the Asia and the Pacific, the US control? So for you and the general.
John F. Kirby: (39:59)
It’s not about US control in the Indo-Pacific. It’s about protecting our country from threats and challenges that emanate from that part of the world. And it’s about revitalizing our network of alliances and partnerships to help our partners in the international community do the same. That’s why the secretary, his first trip was to the region. He just came back from the region. The vice president just returned literally this morning from the region. We are laser-focused on the Indo-Pacific and the security challenges, as well as the opportunities that are there. It’s not about US control. It’s about US partnership. Sylvie, you’ve been very patient.
I know you don’t want to speak about the details of the circumstances of the attack, but can you tell us if it was at the gate itself or in the middle of the crowd or at the checkpoint? Was the guy walking or it was in a bus? Can you give us some little details?
General Hank Taylor: (41:06)
First, I’ll start off with details are continuing to be collected as it goes back to the question about continuing to learn as much as we can, because as you know, when attack initially starts, you have to fight the fight. And then where we’re at right now, ensuring the respect and dignity of our wounded in those that were killed in action. But as we look at the details approximately as we saw yesterday at about 17:48 Kabul time, there was what we reported as a suicide born vest there that was exploded right at and around the gate. We don’t know the exact location, but it was right outside and vicinity of that gate and then followed by direct fire from an enemy position that is not exactly known, that was outside in what we’d call just north of that gate area also.
John F. Kirby: (42:07)
How many assailants were killed? Was it just the suicide bomber plus the shooter or how many people?
General Hank Taylor: (42:13)
Just goes back to what I said. Right now, what we know there was shooters. We don’t know the exact number, but one with the suicide vest.
John F. Kirby: (42:23)
Louie, go ahead. Gordon, we’ve already got you. Louie, go ahead
Speaker 7: (42:28)
How many were killed by that gunfire?
General Hank Taylor: (42:32)
Like I said, we’re asking very detailed questions about the fire. That will continue to be collected. I can’t answer numbers of… That’s just, I would say that could come out, but just knowing the facts, the incredible devastation that happened there, I think we should just leave it there.
Can I just [crosstalk 00:42:56].
John F. Kirby: (42:56)
Hang on just a second. Go ahead.
Speaker 7: (42:57)
I’m sorry. So my question, falling on leaders earlier. Yesterday, the president said that he will hunt down and basically get revenge on the ISIS attackers yesterday. Can you just explain to the American public who might be wondering, hey, we had 25 troops on the ground. What will that look like if we go into a situation where we’re going to go and hunt down these ISIS people?
General Hank Taylor: (43:20)
Yeah, I think as we look at currently, I think I’ve answered that question of we have options there right now that we can ensure the commander has the ability to take action as those opportunities present themselves. But I’m not going to go into and try to think about how a decision General McKenzie would make in future operations.
John F. Kirby: (43:48)
Just a quick follow-up on the gunman. Was there more than one gunman and was that gunman killed or whatever?
General Hank Taylor: (43:58)
Like I said, those information is still coming in. I would say what we do know absolutely fact, there was a suicide born IED right there and gunfire. That’s for sure that we know.
My other question was going to be this. You have 31 American casualties overall. That’s a significant number at one location. I mean, how can we explain why they were… Were they concentrated in one area? Was there a shift change underway? I mean, how is it or were they spread apart in one line and that’s just how the blast was?
General Hank Taylor: (44:38)
Use a line. This answer’s not going to be rewarding to you, but it goes back to the commander will figure all those out at the due time. Those are the questions that I think are very appropriate. And people want to know those, but right now, what I can tell you is the commander’s continuing to execute the mission, make sure that other forces in there can continue there and ensure that those information as I think of a couple of the questions we answered earlier will come with the proper time.
John F. Kirby: (45:11)
Yes, my question is for General Taylor. I know it’s been said numerous times that the focus of the mission is to get evacuees and Americans out as quickly as possible. But for those that were injured during the attack yesterday and taken to the local hospital, has there been any talks about setting up security for those individuals? I’m hearing reports on the ground that there are concerns that ISIS may attack that hospital. So are there any talks to possibly help keep those Afghan civilians safe from a potential attack? And then once they are well enough to travel, how will they get to the US as well?
General Hank Taylor: (45:52)
You’re talking about Afghans that were injured in the attack. First of all, what I can report is that there were some Afghans there that were part of that were treated by US and other forces immediately there. I’m not fully aware of the reports on the hospitals in Kabul because I do know that there were Afghans taken to multiple locations in Kabul.
John F. Kirby: (46:22)
We have time for just a couple more. Yes ma’am?
Speaker 8: (46:25)
Mr. Kirby, you said that lives are the priority. So my question is pretty straight forward. Should the US or should Americans expect more US casualties in the next few days?
John F. Kirby: (46:36)
I don’t want to see any more casualties. That’s why we are monitoring the threat streams very closely and taking what we believe are the best possible steps to prevent another tragedy like this from happening. I mean, that’s obviously the secretary was made that very clear to leadership last night and this morning that force protection will remain obviously a paramount concern as it always does.
Speaker 8: (47:01)
And just to add to that, apparently there’s a bottleneck at Dulles Airport with the US airlines coming in with refugees at Dulles Airport. Are you aware of this or refugees being stuck on the tarmac for hours and hours?
John F. Kirby: (47:14)
Yes, we are aware of those reports and they have proven accurate in the last couple of days. It’s really more an issue for customs and border patrol and the process. So I don’t want to speak to them or their process, but as we understand it this morning, they have worked through the difficulties and we believe that wait time now upon landing is going to get much, much shorter, but I would refer you to my colleagues at customs and border patrol to speak to that. Okay. Thanks very much. Oh, one more. Go ahead.
Speaker 9: (47:51)
How many Afghan SIVs have been flown out so far? Or other Afghans without green cards or [inaudible 00:47:58]?
John F. Kirby: (48:00)
Check me on this, but we looked at the number just before coming out. We have just under 7,000 now that are in the states and being processed. And that number will change every day, obviously, as it should. Okay. Thanks everybody. We’ll see you again at… I’m sorry. I said 3:00. It’s 3:30 this afternoon. General [inaudible 00:48:22] will be joining me. I do apologize for the delay this morning. We were getting updates literally as we were getting ready to come out to see you. We’ll do the best we can to be more punctual, but thanks. And we’ll see you later.