WASHINGTON – The U.S. has airlifted about 7,000 people out of Kabul, Afghanistan, by cargo aircraft in the past five days, the Pentagon said Thursday, as U.S. forces race to evacuate as many people as possible with less than two weeks before a self-imposed deadline to pull out of the country.
Since the end of July, the U.S. has evacuated approximately 12,000 people from Afghanistan, a figure that includes American citizens, U.S. Embassy staff, citizens of NATO countries, at-risk Afghan nationals as well as Afghan nationals who have qualified for special immigrant visas.
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William “Hank” Taylor said that while the U.S. military can airlift approximately 5,000 to 9,000 people a day out of Kabul, that figure is dependent on “who is on the airfield, ready to leave a holding area and get on the aircraft.”
More than 2,000 people were evacuated on C-17 aircraft in the past 24 hours, Taylor said. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby estimated that about 300 of the passengers were Americans. Kirby told reporters Thursday he does not know how many U.S. citizens are left in Afghanistan.
There are currently 6,000 people at the airport who have been fully processed by the U.S. for evacuation and are waiting to board planes, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Thursday.
The latest revelation comes on the heels of U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s admission that the Pentagon does not currently have the capability to safely escort Americans to the airport for evacuation.
“I don’t have the capability to go out and extend operations currently into Kabul,” Austin said when asked about those who cannot reach the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul because they are behind Taliban checkpoints.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued a dire warning on Wednesday to U.S. citizens there stating that it “cannot ensure safe passage ” to the airport.
The United States is relying on an agreement with the Taliban to guarantee the safe passage of Americans.
U.S. forces have opened another secure gate at the airport to facilitate entry into the perimeter for evacuation, Kirby told reporters Thursday. There are approximately 5,200 troops securing the facility and helping with flight evacuations.
In an interview with ABC News , President Joe Biden defended his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, saying that there was not a way “to have gotten out without chaos ensuing.”
“We’re going to do everything in our power to get all Americans out and our allies out,” Biden said, adding that he may consider extending the Aug. 31 deadline of a full troop withdrawal.
Despite being vastly outnumbered by the Afghan military, which has been assisted by U.S. and NATO coalition forces for the last 20 years, the Taliban seized Kabul on Sunday .
Next week, members of the House Intelligence Committee are slated to receive a classified briefing on the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, a committee official confirmed to NBC News.
The briefing, which will involve several U.S. intelligence agencies, will aim to explain how the country plunged into complete Taliban control. The classified meeting will also give lawmakers an opportunity to learn about the unfolding security situation in Afghanistan, shed light on U.S. conversations with the Taliban and provide an update on evacuation efforts.