With one day remaining until the deadline to withdraw all remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the Biden administration asserted that the United States would continue to evacuate Americans and fight terrorism as necessary.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby and Gen. William “Hank” Taylor, the deputy director for regional operations and force management of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed media about the situation in Afghanistan Monday.
They provided an update about the progress in evacuating Americans and Afghan allies who want to leave the country ahead of the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline that the U.S. government negotiated with the Taliban and also elaborated on the thwarting of two attempted terrorist attacks.
Taylor said that as of Monday, "more than 122,000, including 5,400 Americans, have been evacuated from Afghanistan.”
Neither Taylor nor Kirby indicated how many Americans seeking to leave Afghanistan remained in the country. The U.S. State Department estimated last week that no more than 1,500 Americans wished to be evacuated and that 4,500 Americans had been evacuated.
The State Department’s previous estimates, combined with the latest information provided by Taylor, suggest that less than 1,000 Americans remain in Afghanistan.
"We continue to have the capability to evacuate and fly out those until the very end,” Kirby emphasized, adding that the evacuation efforts will continue even after the military withdraws from Afghanistan.
“For Americans and other individuals that want to be able to leave Afghanistan after our withdrawal is complete, the State Department is going to continue to work across many different levels to facilitate that transportation. … Right now, we do not anticipate a military role in that effort.”
Kirby stressed that while the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan will end Tuesday, “what’s not going to end is our commitment, especially here at the Defense Department, to protect the American people from ... threats and particularly from any terrorist threat that could emanate from Afghanistan again.”
On Sunday, the U.S. and 97 other countries announced a joint agreement with the Taliban to continue evacuating Afghan allies even after Tuesday's deadline.
"We are all committed to ensuring that our citizens, nationals and residents, employees, Afghans who have worked with us and those who are at risk can continue to travel freely to destinations outside Afghanistan," the statement reads. "We have received assurances from the Taliban that all foreign nationals and any Afghan citizen with travel authorization from our countries will be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner to points of departure and travel outside the country."
In the press conference Monday, Kirby defended the U.S. government’s decision not to begin evacuations sooner.
He attributed the unrest that has engulfed Afghanistan in recent weeks to the collapse of the Afghanistan government and the advance of the Taliban.
“Nobody could have imagined how quickly that government would have literally just dissipated almost overnight," he said. "There was simply no way to predict that.”
On Sunday, U.S. military forces conducted an unmanned airstrike on a vehicle known to be "an imminent ISIS-K threat," Taylor told the press.
“This self-defense strike successfully hit the target near Kabul Airport," Taylor said. "Significant secondary explosions from the targeted vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material.”
Taylor reported that the attack did not come without civilian casualties. Additionally, he noted that “as many as five rockets were fired at the Kabul Airport” overnight.
“U.S. military forces successfully employed our force protection measures to thwart that attack,” he detailed.
Taylor stressed that even as the U.S. military’s presence in Afghanistan is scheduled to conclude Tuesday, “U.S. forces retain the inherent right of self-defense and are authorized to meet threats with a swift and forceful response.”
The interception of the vehicle headed for the Kabul Airport and the rockets fired at the airport came after President Joe Biden issued a warning Saturday that “the threat of terrorist attacks on the airport remains high,” with an attack “highly likely in the next 24-36 hours.”
Biden’s warning followed two explosions in and around the Kabul Airport Thursday that left more than a dozen U.S. soldiers dead.
The terrorist group ISIS Khorasan Province, an affiliate of the Islamic State terror network, was determined to be responsible for the attacks.
Kirby told the press that following the successful thwarting of two attempted terror attacks, “The threat stream is still real. It’s still active and in many cases, it’s still specific.”
Toward the end of the press conference, Fox News reporter Jennifer Griffin asked about an American held hostage by the Taliban, Mark Frerichs.
“Has the Taliban agreed to release Mark Frerichs before the U.S. leaves? Does the U.S. have any plans to leave without this American hostage?” she asked.
Kirby vowed that “regardless of what we do over the next day or so … all of us will remain focused on returning him safely to his family.”
“There has been a concerted effort over many, many months” to get him released, Kirby said.
Frerichs, a civil engineer and government contractor who spent a considerable amount of time in the war-torn Middle East, went missing in January 2020. Shortly after Frerichs’ disappearance, Newsweek reported that U.S. officials believed the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network kidnapped him. The Daily Mail reported that the U.S. government is probing whether the Haqqani Network, which is affiliated with the Taliban, played any role in the attacks.
An ABC News/Ipsos poll conducted from Aug. 27 to Aug. 28 found that 59% of Americans disapprove of President Biden’s handling of Afghanistan compared to 38% who approve.
An overwhelming majority (84%) of Americans believe that the U.S. military should remain in Afghanistan until all Americans have been evacuated, even if that means staying past the Aug. 31 deadline. Two-thirds of Americans indicated that they were worried about a major terrorist attack following the Afghanistan withdrawal.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org