Aug 19, 2021

Pentagon Officials Hank Taylor & John Kirby Press Conference Transcript: Afghanistan Update

Pentagon Officials Hank Taylor & John Kirby Press Conference Transcript: Afghanistan Update
RevBlogTranscriptsPentagon Officials Hank Taylor & John Kirby Press Conference Transcript: Afghanistan Update

Defense Department press secretary John Kerry and Major General Hank Taylor held a press conference at the Pentagon on August 19 to provide an update on the situation in Afghanistan. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.

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Hank Taylor: (00:00)
This increase is reflective of both a ramp up of aircraft and airlift capability, faster processing of evacuees and greater information and fidelity in reporting. If we go back to when the Department of Defense began supporting the State Department with movement of SIVs at the end of July, the cumulative number of people moved out of Afghanistan is somewhere near 12,000. That number includes American citizens, US embassy personnel, individuals designated by the State Department as SIB applicants and other evacuees in coordination with the State Department. We’re ready to increase throughput and have scheduled aircraft departures accordingly. We intend to maximize each planes capacity. We’re prioritizing people above all else, and we’re focused on doing this as safely as possible with absolute urgency. We have not experienced any security incidents nor interference since my last update. We continue to recognize the inherent danger of operating in this environment.

Hank Taylor: (01:18)
But our service members in Kabul remain agile, professional, in our posture to continue mission and to respond if required. On this topic as we look at the last 24 hours, F-18s from the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group flew armed overwatch flights over Kabul to ensure enhance security. We maintain a watchful eye and are continuously conducting in-depth assessments to protect the safety of Americans. We will use all of the tools in our arsenal to achieve this goal. I want to reinforce that we are absolutely focused on this mission of national importance. We are committed to the safe evacuation of as many people as quickly and as safely as possible. In Haiti yesterday, eight United States Army helicopters, three CH-47 Chinooks and 5 UH-60 Black Hawks from Southcom’s JTF Bravo out of Honduras, repositioned to launch and support operations in support of Haiti earthquake operations. Those assets have already started moving disaster relief personnel and supplies and supported JTF Haiti’s assessment of airfields and roads throughout the area. A CH-47 completed a partial move of about 60% of a field hospital, which we believe the rest of the field hospital will be airlifted today.

Hank Taylor: (02:52)
The US Coast Guard continues its lifesaving missions. And again, all of the helicopters involved will be on airlift missions to ease the suffering and to get people and capabilities where they need to be. As you know, the USS Arlington is now underway and expected to arrive later this week to provide additional lift and medical capabilities and serve as another resource for the people of Haiti. Finally, Special Tactics airmen assigned to the special operations wing are currently augmenting the lifesaving and humanitarian aid efforts in Haiti and are responsible for conducting various airfield surveys to determine suitability for bringing in follow on humanitarian aid via airlift. Thank you very much.

John Kirby: (03:46)
Schedule items to go over. So here in Washington, Secretary Austin did have a phone conversation this morning with his counterpart in Bahrain, his Royal Highness Prince Selman Bin Hammad Al Khalifa, Deputy Supreme Commander and Prime Minister. And this afternoon, the Secretary will be welcoming his excellency Dr. Khalid Bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister State of Defense Affairs for the State of Qatar here in the building. We’ll issue a readout for each of those events later today. And with that, we’ll start taking questions. I think Bob, you’re on the phone, yeah?

Bob: (04:35)
Yes, thank you, John. General Taylor said that there were 12 C-17 aircraft departed with evacuees over the past 24 hours, which is a smaller number than the previous 24 hours, I believe. My question is regarding with the clock running down on toward August 31st, does Secretary Austin believe that it will be necessary to extend that deadline? I know that it’s not his call, but has he recommended that the deadline of August 31st be extended?

John Kirby: (05:12)
Bob, you heard the Secretary yesterday say that we’re very focused on making sure we get as many people out as possible and as fast as possible. And we’re working on that very diligently, as you heard the General’s update. And you also heard the President say that if he believes that there’s a need to alter the timeline, that he would revisit that at the appropriate time. What we’re focused on right now, Bob, is head down, shoulder to the wheel, trying to get as many people out as possible, as quickly as possible. And I think I’ll leave it at that. Tara?

Tara: (05:56)
Thank you, a follow up to Bob’s question. Since the President has left the door open to troops possibly staying past August 31st, has Admiral Vasely begun conversations with his Taliban counterpart to make sure that if troops do stay, they will not come under attack?

John Kirby: (06:11)
I don’t know that level of detail what conversations Admiral Vasely is having with his counterpart [inaudible 00:06:19] Again, our focus right now… There has been no decision to change the deadline and we are focused on doing everything we can inside that deadline to move as many people out as possible. And if and when there’s a decision to change that, then obviously that would require additional conversations with the Taliban as well. But I don’t believe that those conversations have happened at this point.

Tara: (06:48)
And as a follow-up on the low pass flights by the F-18s, do they have authorization to fire if US troops or allies come under attack?

John Kirby: (06:57)
These are not low pass flights, Tara, they’re at altitude. As the General briefed, they’re overwatch. And in this case, the General briefed F-18 flights, but there are other aircraft that General McKenzie and an Admiral Vasely have at their disposal to provide this kind of overwatch. So they’re not low passes. And to your second question, I would simply say, as always, we have the right to defend ourselves, our people and our operations. [inaudible 00:07:25]

Speaker 1: (07:25)
How many F-18s are there and was there a specific reason or did you see something that led you to move them or was it just, “Well, we have them so why not?”

Hank Taylor: (07:35)
Yeah, good question. Just going back, these were not low pass. So these are providing air support and this isn’t anything new. As we know, the Ronald Reagan has been there providing support. So these F-18s are flying more than just yesterday. These were continuously in support and part of the assets that I briefed early on that were always available to the Centcom Commander.

Speaker 1: (08:00)
So they’ve been providing overwatch since…

Hank Taylor: (08:02)

Speaker 1: (08:02)
And you mentioned them today because?

Hank Taylor: (08:04)
Just to give an update to specifically the type of capability that the commanders on the ground continue to have to do [inaudible 00:08:14] to ensure that we can provide that self-defense and assets to the commander.

John Kirby: (08:20)
Also, there had been some reporting out there that there were low passes and that there was some sort of shows of force, and I think we felt it was important for the General to provide some context about what is happening in the air and why. And that’s why we mentioned it today. I don’t think you’re going to get a daily update from us about every aircraft and every flight plan, but we felt that given the context of some of the erroneous reporting out there yesterday, that we wanted to clear that up. Jen?

Jen: (08:47)
John, are you receiving credible threats against US forces at the airport that if you don’t leave by a certain date, that Al-Qaeda or other groups will begin attacking the airport.

John Kirby: (08:58)
I won’t speak to intelligence assessments one way or the other, Jen. Obviously, force protection is a high priority. You heard that in the General’s opening comments as well. We’re always evaluating the threat. It’s not only a day by day thing, it’s an hour by hour thing. We know that this is still a perilous environment and all I can tell you is that we’re going to do everything that we can to make sure that we can protect our force, protect the people that we’re trying to move on to the airport and protect their movement out of Kabul, as well as protect the entire operation at the air force. You heard the Secretary talk about the need to be able to defend the airport. So it’s something we’re looking at literally hour by hour.

Jen: (09:40)
And General Taylor, British paratroopers are leaving the airport, going into Kabul to rescue and evacuate some of their citizens who are trapped, can’t get to the airport because of the Taliban. Why isn’t the US doing that?

Hank Taylor: (09:54)
At this time, our main mission continues to be to secure HKAIA to allow those American citizens and other SIBs to come in and be processed at the air field.

Jen: (10:06)
And just to follow up, how are you fueling your planes, the C-17s that are going out? Are you now in a position that you have to buy fuel from the Taliban?

Hank Taylor: (10:16)
The assets on HKAIA, on the airfield, are what we need to maintain the operations, all operations, to support the mission.

Jen: (10:28)
So that’s a no, you’re not buying fuel from the Taliban?

John Kirby: (10:31)
There’s plenty of fuel sustainment capability at Hamid Karzai Airport. And as you know, Jen, we also have the ability on our own, our logistics ability, to fuel our aircraft as needed. Courtney?

Courtney: (10:48)
I’m still a little unclear about the F-18s. Why do you have armed F-18s? Can you explain a little bit more about what overwatch means? What exactly is it they’re doing or providing?

John Kirby: (10:57)
Sure. I’ll let the General talk to that, but sure.

Hank Taylor: (11:05)
The ability to provide close air support is something that needs to be immediate if a condition on the ground ever required that. So as prudent military operations, we ensure there are always assets available so that the commander, if required, can ensure the time and space of reaction is as little as possible.

Courtney: (11:32)
[crosstalk 00:11:32] to prepare if you need to do airstrikes over Kabul?

Hank Taylor: (11:35)
We’re there to ensure that they can support the commander on the ground.

Courtney: (11:40)
And then also you mentioned that there’ve been about 12,000 total out since the end of July. How many more do you anticipate having to move?

Hank Taylor: (11:54)
So, as I said, the military capacity, it continues to be 5,000 to 9,000 a day, and we are ready to do that. And as Mr. Kirby said, our increased interactions with Department of State will allow that, as you’ve seen, the ability to increase more flights a day.

Courtney: (12:16)
And, Kirby, could I ask you just one quick one? Is there any update to any efforts or talks with the Taliban about allowing Afghans to get through some of these checkpoints and get to the airport safely?

John Kirby: (12:24)
There’s no update, [Court 00:12:26]. I think you heard the Secretary talk about this yesterday. We are in communication, obviously, with the local Taliban commander about making sure that those at-risk Afghans, special immigrant visa applicants, and additional Afghan citizens that we want to move through are able to move through. And it comes down a lot to the credentialing and making sure that they can prove and we can prove that these are appropriate people to move through. And we have indications this morning that that process is working.

John Kirby: (13:07)
Yeah, Barbara.

Barbara: (13:08)
I’m still confused about the F-18s as well. First of all, this is the first time I recall you telling us of overwatch flights since US troops arrived. So are these the first armed flights over Kabul since US troops arrived?

John Kirby: (13:27)
No. No, and Barb, I think what you have to remember is before we began a noncombatant evacuation operation, we had been in the midst of drawing down our forces.

Barbara: (13:41)
I’m sorry. I’m asking specifically since operations with US forces began at the airport /.

John Kirby: (13:49)
Since the noncombatant evacuation …

Barbara: (13:51)
Since it began at the airport.

John Kirby: (13:53)
No, they’re not.

Barbara: (13:54)
Are these the first armed overwatch over Kabul?

John Kirby: (13:57)
They are not.

Barbara: (13:58)
And you say close air support, but to be clear, what you are saying is you are prepared now to conduct air strikes over Kabul.

John Kirby: (14:07)
Barbara, I’m not going to talk about potential future operations. So I do think it’s important to level set here that even throughout the draw down, we had overwatch capabilities. Throughout the draw down, we had Overwatch capabilities. So the fact that we are flying overwatch missions now and have been since the 14th, we were actually doing it before the 14th, as you would think we would.

John Kirby: (14:33)
And to my previous answer, forced protection is a high priority. And we’re going to have at our disposal all the assets and resources necessary to make sure we can accomplish this mission safely and efficiently, just like we were accomplishing the previous mission of draw down safely and efficiently.

John Kirby: (14:54)
So this is a continuum. It’s not something new. The reason we decided to talk about it today, and I don’t think you’re going to expect to see us talk about it every day, but we felt it was important today given that there had been some reporting out there that we were flying low passes over the city or some kind of shows of force. That’s not what this is. This is just an added layer of force protection. It’s the prudent and responsible thing to do.

Barbara: (15:17)
Can I just follow up on another … On your discussions with the Taliban, now that the potential is in public for staying, does the US military, does the Defense Department feel it would at least need Taliban acquiescence if you were to stay beyond the 15th? Do you want, if not their agreement, at least their acquiescence to stay?

John Kirby: (15:44)
I think it is just a fundamental fact of the reality of where we are that communications and a certain measure of agreement with the Taliban on what we’re trying to accomplish has to continue to occur. And, again, I’m not going to speculate past August 31st.

John Kirby: (16:03)
I haven’t gotten to anybody on the phone, so if you’ll just forgive me. Carla [Babb 00:16:08].

Carla Babb: (16:09)
Hey, thanks for doing this, John. Can you just briefly update us on the policy of nationals who are trying to get into the airport for evacuations by other countries? I know they mentioned what the Brits were doing, but we also heard from [Sylvie 00:16:22] about that Dutch plane that left without any Afghan nationals. How exactly is that process being done and how are the US troops helping with that process?

Carla Babb: (16:33)
And then one other question quickly, if I may. There’s been reports of resistance outside in past year and possibly in Parwan. Is the US doing anything to support these Afghan troops that are trying to make a resistance and trying to push back?

John Kirby: (16:48)
Carla, on your first question, we obviously are, and you heard the Secretary talk about this yesterday, willing to support the safe movement of citizens of our allies and partners. In fact, we have already done that. Some of the numbers that the General briefed that got out of the country were obviously citizens of other countries, allies, and partners. So we are doing that. We’ll continue to do that.

John Kirby: (17:16)
As for the exact process, I’m afraid I’m not qualified to speak to that. That’s really a better question put to our State Department colleagues in terms of how it works from a process perspective. We are in full support of that. But, again, our main mission at the airport is security, safe operation of the airfield, and continuing to get people out.

John Kirby: (17:38)
On your second question, we’ve seen reports the same as you of potential pockets of resistance, but I would just, again, stress that our military mission in Afghanistan right now is to conduct this noncombatant evacuation in a safe and orderly way. And that’s what we’re doing.

John Kirby: (17:57)

Speaker 2: (17:57)
Thank you, John. So you mentioned the phone call between the Secretary today and his Bahraini counterpart that he’s going to meet the Qatari defense minister later today. Can you talk about the role these nations, Gulf nations in general, are playing in facilitating this operation and are they putting assets in this operation to evacuate some of the Afghanis or US citizens?

John Kirby: (18:26)
I think let those nation states speak for themselves and what they’re doing. And, as I said, we’ll have a readout of both conversations later today. So I don’t want to get ahead of that, but obviously both countries are key partners in the region. As you know, Bahrain hosts the US Fifth Fleet headquarters, and is a key partner, maritime partner particularly, in the Gulf region. And Qatar as well in many different ways. And we’re always, always interested in having good conversations with these key partners in the region, but I don’t think I’m going to speak to specifics with respect to Afghanistan. I’ll let those nation states speak for themselves.

John Kirby: (19:10)

Kelly Meyer: (19:11)
Thank you so much, Mr. Kirby. [Kelly Meyer 00:00:19:12] with Nexstar Media Group. Question, is there any behavior by the Taliban towards US citizens or Afghans trying to reach the airport that would mean US troops would have to protect them? Have any red lines been communicated to the Taliban?

John Kirby: (19:26)
We’ve made it very clear to the Taliban that any attack upon our people in our operations at the airport will be met with a forceful response. As the General noted in his opening statement, there’s been no hostile interactions between the Taliban and our forces or of American citizens getting through.

John Kirby: (19:45)
Now, we have seen reports of the Taliban harassing, and physically so, some Afghans that were trying to move to the airport. We are in constant communication with them, as my answer to Courtney indicated, to make sure that they have the same visibility on the people that we want to see get through as we do. And some of that has to do with a common sight picture on the credentialing. And so those conversations continue.

Kelly Meyer: (20:14)
What about Americans outside the airport?

John Kirby: (20:16)
No, I said we haven’t seen any hostile interactions between the Taliban and our people, and certainly we haven’t seen them impede or harass or obstruct the movement of American citizens from the environs into the airport. And obviously we want to see that continue.

John Kirby: (20:36)
Yep. Tom.

Tom: (20:39)
[inaudible 00:20:39] I have two things. General Taylor, could you discuss the non-American flights going in and out of the airport? How many? How many people have been evacuated and what countries are still seeking to take people out? And I have a follow-up on the Taliban.

John Kirby: (20:55)
Okay. I’ll let the general take the first one.

Hank Taylor: (20:58)
So what I will say is that when we talk about all flights going in and out of Kabul Airport are being synchronized and work through CENTCOM, so that coordination is being done. And so when I talk as the numbers, we are starting to include those numbers of everybody that is leaving from other countries. I don’t have the details right now of which countries left within the last 24, but all of those type of flights, anything coming in and out of Kabul Airport, is being coordinated through the controlling piece there with CENTCOM.

Tom: (21:36)
And can we get any details of who and … Later?

Tom: (21:41)
And then I have a follow up on the Taliban. So in this cooperation, is there anything they aren’t doing? Is there anything that US is not happy with in terms of how they are involved in airport operations? And have they asked or demanded access to the airport?

John Kirby: (22:03)
I don’t-

Male: (22:03)
… asked or demanded access to the airport?

John Kirby: (22:03)
I know of no requests or interest by Taliban commanders to access the airport now. It’s our understanding that they understand why we’re there and what we’re doing. And again, as the secretary said, we’ve been able to have that kind of communication with them.

John Kirby: (22:22)
I won’t detail every conversation that we’re having with the Taliban. Again, I think it’s important to let the results speak for themselves. And as you and I are talking here today, we have an understanding, and they are helping to facilitate safe passage for those that we’re trying to get into the airport. I think I’ll just leave it at that.

John Kirby: (22:45)
Let me go back to the phones again. Paul Shinkman, US News.

Paul Shinkman: (22:52)
Hi, John. Has US confidence in the ability to carry out counter-terrorism strikes in Afghanistan either now or in the future changed at all since the fall of Kabul, particularly given the apparent coordination between the Taliban and Pakistan whose airspace presumably the US needs to access?

John Kirby: (23:10)
No. The short answer to your question, Paul, is no. We still maintain robust over the horizon counter-terrorism capability in the region, and we will still have the authority and capability to use that counter-terrorism capability should we need it. Megan.

Megan: (23:28)
I just want to verify that the evacuation capacity has breached the 5,000 to 9,000 goal. And I wanted to ask whether the limiting factor is the State Department’s ability to process people or the ability of people to physically get inside the airport, as we understand they’re lined up outside?

Hank Taylor: (23:45)
So let’s talk first about the movement, the air capacity is set, as I briefed a couple of times before. So that ability to air move up to 5,000 to 9,000 a day has been set and continues.

Hank Taylor: (24:01)
As I think you’ve seen in the report today of the increased numbers, we continue to see the ability to build those ready to fly on Kabul Airport to increase to allow us to fly those out with the ability to continue, obviously, as Mr. Kirby said, we want that to continue to increase as we continue to bring more people, more American citizens, SIVs and those, onto the airfield so that they can be processed and ready to fly.

Megan: (24:32)
And have there been any requests from DOD officials to maybe expand the perimeter around the airport so that there’s more of a safe zone for people while they’re waiting in line? And if there have been, what was the Taliban’s response to that?

Hank Taylor: (24:43)
So the commander on the ground, I think you’ve seen, is the the airfield is secure. And every day in security operations, commanders are always, at what we can, improving the security environment. So as the commander on the ground at every level finds those things that need to be improved to increase the security, to allow mission success, they’re going to do those things that they have those authorities to do on a daily basis.

Hank Taylor: (25:13)
So I think, as you saw today, the ability to continue State Department’s ability to bring more people on and to continue those, that’s what we will continue to look at over the next few days.

Megan: (25:23)
Do they have the ability to expand the perimeter around the airport?

John Kirby: (25:25)
Megan, I don’t want to get ahead of where we are. The mission remains security at the airport and inside the perimeter of the airport, and that’s what we’re doing. As we speak, there’s no plans to expand beyond that, and I think we leave it at that.

John Kirby: (25:43)
The other thing, I want to just touch on your first question, what the general’s talking about is capacity. And as I said from very early on, what we want to make sure is that airlift is not a limiting factor, and it hasn’t been. That doesn’t mean that at this point in time every single seat on every single plane is going to be filled. We are working hard to get there. But we want to build out to that capacity, and we continue to do that.

John Kirby: (26:10)
There are lots of factors that go into the throughput, including the situation out in town, including the checkpoints that the Taliban have set up, including processing at the gates where we have set up. And the general mentioned, we’ve got additional gates that are available to us, so that’s helping flesh out some of this capacity. Weather is a factor. And, of course, security at the airport is a factor. And we are not taking either of those last two, actually, we’re not taking any of them, but we’re certainly not taking weather or security at the airport for granted. It changes every day. The security environment changes and, of course, the weather. So here’s lots of tick points on the way to getting to throughput.

John Kirby: (26:54)
What we want to make sure is that one limiting factor is not airlift capacity. And, as the general said, we’re confident that it is not now, and going forward, it will not be. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t going to be… That doesn’t mean that just because you have 5,000 seats that you can automatically fill 5,000 seats every day.

John Kirby: (27:16)
Now, that’s what we want to get to. We want to, as the secretary said, move as many people as fast and as safely as possible, but there’s lots of steps in the process. Not all of them do we control, and we understand that.

Female: (27:28)
Can I ask just one clarification on that? So are you saying that you’re at that capacity right now, that with these flights, these 13 C-17s that have come in, you would have the capacity to take 5,000 people out in 24 hours right now, but you’ve only taken 2,000 out?

Hank Taylor: (27:42)
So, like I said, within the CENTCOM commander’s capabilities and assets available, we have the appropriate air assets to fly the 5,000 to 9,000 a day. Depending upon the ability, meaning the queue, those ready to fly, we bring in assets to fly them out. So, yes, we have assets available throughout CENTCOM and available to reach those numbers today, and we have had those.

Female: (28:18)
But what’s physically flying in right now in these 24 hours, is that enough? I mean, I guess we could do the math and see how many people could get on 13 C-17s.

Hank Taylor: (28:25)
Realize, it’s not about the math. It’s about what’s ready to fly, who’s on the airfield ready to leave a holding area and get on the aircraft? And as those numbers increase, which you’ve seen they have in the last 24, 48, the CENTCOM command team will continue to bring in the airflow required to fly out those people.

Female: (28:50)
Just to follow up on that too-

John Kirby: (28:52)

Female: (28:52)
Is ISIS a factor in this? I know there are many other factors, and is the US now dependent upon the Taliban to keep those terrorist groups in check during this operation?

John Kirby: (29:01)
ISIS and Al Qaeda is absolutely a planning factor. You wouldn’t expect it to be otherwise. And I’m not going to talk about specific force protection measures against terrorist threats. But clearly, we’re mindful that that threat could persist.

Female: (29:21)
Is that part of the reason for the overhead flights?

John Kirby: (29:24)
The overwatch flights, again, have been in the air since before the noncombatant evacuation operation. It’s prudent force protection measures in the air to make sure that we can protect our people and our operations against any threat, any threat. [inaudible 00:29:41].

Gordon: (29:43)
So I still want to be clear, you’re nowhere near the demand for getting people out, you’re nowhere near the five to 9,000 that you have established and maintain is its capacity to do, right? One question. Two is what’s the best estimate, if American citizens are the first priority, what’s the best estimate that you guys have that you’ll work through those, and then you can turn kind of full-time, as it were, to SIVs, Afghans, or whatever. I mean, not thinking about the [crosstalk 00:30:17].

John Kirby: (30:17)
So a couple of points on this, I mean, as the general said, we have the capacity now. There’s certainly enough airframes to meet the capacity we’d like to have of five to nine. But that doesn’t mean that that number of air frames are just landing at Kabul and then we’re just taking them off empty. We’re trying to make maximum use of the ramp space, of the aircraft, and of the queue.

John Kirby: (30:46)
And we’re going to adjust that every day, the demand and the queue will drive how many sorties we fly. And I’m sorry, your second question was?

Gordon: (30:57)
What’s the best estimate at when you can be finished with the Americans-

John Kirby: (31:00)
Yeah, and you asked about American citizens. So I think, as the general briefed, I mean, just in the last 24 hours, the 2000 that got out, it was a mix of American citizens and family members, as well as special immigrant visa applicants, and other at-risk Afghans.

John Kirby: (31:20)
And I think you’re going to see that every day, Gordon. I mean, obviously, we want to take care of our fellow Americans, and the secretary and the chairman were clear about that. But we also want to take care of at-risk Afghans and special immigrant visa applicants, and so, we’re not holding up a plane just to fill it with Americans and then sending it off. We are processing people as fast as we can and getting them onto their onward stations. It’s a balance, and we’re trying to strike that balance every single day.

Jen: (31:52)
John, what proportion of the 2,000 are American citizens versus SIVs? What proportion are women as well?

John Kirby: (32:00)
I don’t have a gender breakdown, Jen. Of the 2,000 over the last 24 hours, I think nearly 300 of them were Americans, and that includes legal permanent residents. It includes, obviously, American citizens, as well as family members. And every day, it’s going to change. But I don’t have a gender breakdown of what the manifests are on a daily basis.

Jen: (32:25)
And does the US government recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan now?

John Kirby: (32:30)
That’s a question for the State Department. The Defense Department is focused on conducting this noncombatant evacuation.

Male: (32:35)
A question and clarification, are you seeing more throughput of individuals who are able to access the airport? Are you seeing more people being able to access the airport over the last 24 hours?

John Kirby: (32:49)
We have seen, by opening up another gate, by adding consular officers now, we believe that we will soon begin to see an opening up of the aperture, and we’re hopeful that that means-

John Kirby: (33:03)
… an opening up of the aperture, and we’re hopeful that that means a more consistent increase in the flow. But I can’t tell you right as we speak here, [Louie 00:33:11], that there’s been some dramatic rise. We’ve got additional consular officers now at these additional gates with additional troops helping the consular officers. And so, I think we’re poised to see an increase, but I want to be careful before I make predictions. What we’re trying to do, what we want to drive is an increase. That’s very much on everybody’s mind.

Speaker 3: (33:31)
And the clarification is you were talking about American citizens, about Afghans, and SIVs, the 7,000 number that was presented earlier, the General had said that you’re now including other countries’ evacuations in those numbers. Is that accurate? Or is the 7,000 exclusively US [crosstalk 00:33:53]?

John Kirby: (33:54)
It’s others. It has always. Every time since the 14th, when we given you numbers, they have included some measure of third country nationals.

Audience: (34:04)
[inaudible 00:34:04].

John Kirby: (34:05)
Hang on. Please, one at a time. Jen?

Jen: (34:09)
This is confusing. How many people has the US government flown out on US military planes? Because 7,000, if you’re including other countries, if you’re including civilian flights, that’s seems like you’re [crosstalk 00:34:20].

John Kirby: (34:20)
We’re giving you total number of people that we have helped evacuate since the 14th. And it’s not all just Americans. There have been some of our allies and partners that have gone out. And we’re giving you US government flights. That’s not counting people who are still getting out commercially or on charter flights. Okay? Does that clear that up?

Jen: (34:40)
[crosstalk 00:34:40] clarify.

John Kirby: (34:42)
And understandably so, here at the Pentagon, we’re fixated on the tails that we own. But it’s not the only way out of Kabul right now that, as the General briefed, the commercial side is open. There’s limited. It’s not as robust as what we can do on the military side, but people are still getting out that way.

Speaker 4: (34:59)
Is there a breakdown of those numbers, the 7,000? Saying, this is the US, this is Afghan-

John Kirby: (35:05)
I do not have a breakdown. I suspect that over time as our manifesting process gets more refined, we may be able to be there. But we don’t have that specific breakdown.

Speaker 2: (35:15)
[crosstalk 00:35:15] today, how many American citizens remain in Afghanistan?

John Kirby: (35:19)
I don’t know.

Speaker 2: (35:21)
So, you’re planning for these operations, and you should be, have some kind of a count of how many Americans are, whether in harm’s way or need to be evacuated, right?

John Kirby: (35:34)
I think as you probably know, first of all, the State Department would be a better place to go for an estimate of how many Americans or Afghanistan are in and around Kabul. That is not a figure that the United States military would know. And I think as you also know, not every American citizen in another country, there’s no obligation that they register their presence and that you can have a perfect, accurate count. But I don’t have that figure. And I’d refer you to my State Department colleagues for the best estimate on that.

Helene: (36:08)
Kirby, does the Pentagon have the authorization, at this point in time, to expand the perimeter at the airport or to go into Kabul, if necessary, from the president-

John Kirby: (36:21)
The mission, [Helene 00:36:22], is to provide safe and secure operations at the airport-

Helene: (36:27)
[crosstalk 00:36:27] I’m asking you if the Pentagon has the authorization from the president-

John Kirby: (36:30)
I’m not going to talk about the potential of any future decisions one way or another. That would be a policy decision. We are focused on security at the airport.

Helene: (36:42)
My question is, do you have the authorization now at this point? Who makes that decision? Is it Biden or is [inaudible 00:36:49]?

John Kirby: (36:49)
We are authorized to provide safe and secure operations at the airport, Helene.

Speaker 5: (36:54)
Can you talk a little bit about the logistics regarding the human needs of the people at the airport? There’s a lot of civilians, a lot of troops, there’s food, there’s sleeping arrangements, water, sanitation. Are you handling both military and civilian, and how are you doing that?

Hank Taylor: (37:12)
When whomever comes into the gated HKIA and is processed for ready, fly, all human needs, all of those things, basic needs to ensure their welfare, their care, to ensure the medical, all those things to ensure they can go forward and fly are being done. And that is a combination of state department support and military support working hand-in-hand, the commander and state department, to ensure eating, sleeping well taken care of, out of the elements are being done. Absolutely.

Speaker 6: (37:48)
You’ve got like two more weeks almost of this. Are there concerns about maintaining the input of supplies, the cleanliness over time?

Hank Taylor: (38:01)
As military planners, we always ensure that we have the proper supplies on days to conduct missions. And those are assessed on a daily basis. And those commanders are always assessing, what do we have now? What do I need to do in the short term, and so forth? And so we are always continuing to, and that’s why you see other planes continuing to arrive, as required, to continue to ensure commander has everything they need to do to execute the mission that we have right now.

John Kirby: (38:34)
I need to get to somebody on the phone too. Tom [Squitery 00:38:41]?

Tom Squitery: (38:42)
Hi, John. Thanks. Good morning. Hey, I wanted to just check on something. In regard to the Pentagon policy that existed to provide air support and other assistance to the Afghan government that was in place this summer, has that policy ended with the fall of Kabul? Or is it still alive for elements of the government that’s still functioning in places like the Panjshir Valley? Thanks.

John Kirby: (39:03)
Tom, as I think you can see by events, there aren’t operations out in the rest of the country to support. And our focus, in terms of air power, is as the general described, and that is providing appropriate overwatch for our operation. And that operation right now is at the airport. Barbara.

Barbara: (39:35)
Can I go back on the question of gates at the airport? Can you tell us this new gate that you opened, are the Taliban outside of that gate? Are they out letting people, both Afghans and people with US documentation, US citizens, through that new gate? And have you been able to keep, very specifically, all of your gates, including Camp Sullivan, on your side, have you been able to keep them open? Or have you had to close Camp Sullivan at various points? Have you had to close any of the gates?

Hank Taylor: (40:12)
The gates at the Kabul airport are secure. And as we continue to flow more forces in, that gives the commander a greater capability to provide security at those gates, and as we said, open more gates, and allow for greater input into Kabul airport.

Barbara: (40:34)
I’ll follow up with Kirby. All respect. The question is, are all of the gates continuously open? Have the Marines had to close Sullivan at various points? Do you have the Taliban letting people through this new gate that you’re talking about? Have you been able to keep them all continuously open?

John Kirby: (40:56)
Barbara, as the general said, we have additional gates now, and reporting this morning is that they are open. But I can’t tell you with perfect clarity that there haven’t been times over the last 72 hours when temporarily, because of maybe security incidents, that they’ve had to close. I suspect that that’s true. I don’t have a firm answer for you on that. Our goal is obviously to keep them as open as possible and to increase the flow as much as we can.

Barbara: (41:26)
Just for the record, have any of the US troops have been involved in any additional crowd control measures that included them having to fire?

John Kirby: (41:39)
I’m not aware of any over the last 24 hours.

Barbara: (41:42)
Thank you.

John Kirby: (41:43)
I think that’s probably good. That’s a good place to stop. So, thanks very much. My plan is to come… Jim?

Jim: (41:51)
Can I just get a Haiti question? There are reports that American military medical teams are going into the area. Do you have anything on that?

Hank Taylor: (42:03)
That’s what I said earlier. First, that we do have Air Force medical personnel there helping assist. And first thing I said where the flights of those helicopter, we’re bringing in one of our medical hospital capabilities. And more to come today to be able to help and assist in a medical hospital first aid type care.

Jim: (42:29)
So, they’re setting up a field hospital that’ll be manned by American military personnel?

Hank Taylor: (42:33)
That is correct.

Jim: (42:33)
Okay, great. Thank you.

John Kirby: (42:35)
Thanks, everybody. My plan is to update you again this afternoon. But it will be off-camera. So, we’ll see about 2:15. At least, that’s the plan right now. Thank you.

Speaker 7: (42:42)
Thank you.

Speaker 8: (42:43)
Thank you.

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