U.S. races to evacuate thousands from Afghanistan with 6 days left until withdrawal deadline

Members of the UK Armed Forces continue to take part in the evacuation of entitled personnel from Kabul airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan August 19-22, 2021, in this handout picture obtained by Reuters on August 23, 2021.
U.K. M.O.D. | via Reuters

WASHINGTON – The U.S. military alongside coalition partners ramped up emergency evacuation flights Wednesday, as foreign forces head into the final days of an immense humanitarian airlift.

In the past 24 hours, Western forces evacuated 19,000 people out of Kabul on 90 military cargo aircraft flights, a cadence of one departure flight every 39 minutes, according to the Pentagon.

Since the mass evacuations began Aug. 14, approximately 82,300 people have been airlifted out of Afghanistan. About 87,900 people have been evacuated since the end of July, including about 4,400 U.S. citizens and their families.

The Pentagon said Wednesday that 10,000 people are currently at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul awaiting a flight. There are still several thousand Americans believed to be awaiting evacuation, according to the State Department.

The Biden administration has not provided the total number of Americans and Afghan nationals that it is aiming to evacuate before the Aug. 31 deadline set by President Joe Biden .

NATO allies and members of the president’s own party have pushed for an extension of the withdrawal deadline, expressing doubt that the coalition can evacuate all the Afghans who are eligible to leave in such a short time frame.

However, Biden on Tuesday reiterated to leaders of the G-7, NATO, United Nations and European Union that the United States will withdraw its military from Afghanistan by the end of the month.

“We are currently on pace to finish by August the 31st,” Biden said from the West Wing of the White House, in his third address on Afghanistan since the country fell to the Taliban.

“In addition, I’ve asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timetable should that become necessary,” Biden said.

At the Pentagon, spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. military was still working to complete the evacuation mission by the end of the month and would not elaborate on potential alternate plans.

When asked about reports of two lawmakers flying to Kabul to observe evacuation efforts, Kirby said the U.S. military was “not aware of this visit.”

“We are obviously not encouraging VIP visits to a very tense, dangerous and dynamic situation at that airport and inside Kabul,” Kirby said, adding that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “would have appreciated the opportunity to have had a conversation before the visit took place.”

On Tuesday, Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Peter Meijer, R-Mich., said in a statement they went to Kabul in order to gather first-hand accounts to inform their role as lawmakers. Moulton and Meijer are Iraq War veterans.

“They got a chance to talk to commanders, as I understand, they got a chance to talk to troops, but there wasn’t a need to flex and to alter the day-to-day flow,” Kirby said. “They certainly took time away from what we had been planning to do that day,” he added.

Following the trip, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned members in a letter that such trips could hamper the evacuation of U.S. citizens and at-risk Afghans.

“Member travel to Afghanistan and the surrounding countries would unnecessarily divert needed resources from the priority mission of safely and expeditiously evacuating Americans and Afghans at risk from Afghanistan,” Pelosi told reporters Tuesday.

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