Some 2,000 people have been flown out of the U.S.-held airport in Afghanistan over the past 24 hours, U.S. military officials told reporters in Washington early on Aug. 19.
That includes more than 300 Americans, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
Americans, Afghans, and a slew of others have rushed to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport to try to flee the country before America’s planned Aug. 31 withdrawal date.
The pace of evacuations stayed flat day over day—around 2,000 people were evacuated in the 24 hours leading up to early Aug. 18, including 325 Americans—despite officials expressing hope that they could soon fly 9,000 people out per day.
Most of the non-American passengers are Afghans who have been granted special immigrant visas and are en route to military bases in the United States.
The U.S. military has made space for 22,000 such special immigrants, most of whom in some way helped U.S. forces during the decades-long war in the Middle Eastern country.
“We want to take care of our fellow Americans … but we also want to take care of at-risk Afghans and special immigrant visa applicants,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon. “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 day.”
Since the start of evacuations on Aug. 14, U.S. flights have taken approximately 7,000 evacuees from Afghanistan. It isn’t clear how many were Americans. Asked how many Americans were still in Afghanistan, Kirby said he didn’t know.
“The State Department would be a better place to go for an estimate on how many Americans are in Afghanistan or in or around Kabul. That is not something the military would know,” Kirby said, two days after he estimated 5,000 to 10,000 Americans were in the country.
The State Department told The Epoch Times in an email that it believes there are 5,000 to 10,000 U.S. citizens in Afghanistan. The agency described the number as a rough estimate.
President Joe Biden said in an interview released earlier on Aug. 19 that there may be as many as 15,000 Americans still in Afghanistan.
Americans have been urged to make their way to the airport, though they’ve also been told their safety can’t be guaranteed.
The U.S. military is sticking to the airport and is in regular communication with the Taliban terrorists, who took over Afghanistan on Aug. 15 after the United States pulled out most of its remaining troops. The military has refused to go out and help Americans safely reach the airport, and top leaders have offered mixed messages on whether any Americans will be left behind.
“We’re going to get everyone that we can possibly evacuate evacuated. And I’ll do that as long as we possibly can until the clock runs out or we run out of capability,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters on Aug. 18.
Biden, however, told ABC News earlier that day that if American citizens are still in Afghanistan when Aug. 31 arrives, “we’re going to stay till we get them all out.”
Other foreigners are also rushing to the facility, as are Afghans who fear being stuck in the country when the Americans withdraw and the Taliban imposes sharia law.
The chaos has included both Taliban fighters and U.S. troops firing gunshots in the air to try to control the desperate crowds.
To try to meet the huge demand for flights, the military opened a new gate to the airport, which is surrounded by Taliban fighters who are letting some people through checkpoints.
U.S. officials hope this leads to faster processing, particularly for the special immigrant applicants.