The State Department is advising U.S. citizens still in Afghanistan to shelter in place and not attempt to travel to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport until further notice.
“The Department of Defense is working to restore a safe and secure environment, so that military and commercial flights can resume,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price told a press briefing on Monday.
“Now, of course, the situation is evolving quickly, and we will communicate information to U.S. citizens as rapidly as possible,” he said.
Price’s remarks followed the chaos that ensued at Kabul’s international airport as thousands of Afghans and others attempted to evacuate the country following the Taliban takeover on Sunday.
Hamid Karzai International Airport, which is located five kilometers from the centre of the capital, is the last safe route out of Afghanistan, as Taliban militants control every border crossing. It is currently only accessible through Taliban checkpoints, The Guardian reported.
According to early reports, at least eight Afghans were killed at the airport on Monday, officials said.
At one point, numerous Afghans and others tried to hold on to the outside of an American plane as it was departing the runway, according to video footage. At least three are believed to have died from falling off planes that had taken off, while another three were run over on the tarmac. More videos shared on Twitter show throngs of people crowding around military planes as they board and take off.
Two unidentified armed men who shot at U.S. soldiers in two separate incidents were killed by return fire. Military officials could not confirm whether the individuals were members of the Taliban terrorist group.
“We also continue to pursue all options to relocate interested and qualified Afghan [Special Immigrant Visa] applicants and their immediate families, as well as other vulnerable Afghans,“ Price said.
The spokesman told reporters that the U.S. military has so far airlifted 1,600 people out of the country in recent days, in addition to the 2,000 SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) holders evacuated in recent weeks.
“We are, of course, prioritizing American citizens,” he said.
Earlier on Monday, the White House confirmed there are a “significant number of Americans” who are still inside the country amid chaos at Hamid Karzai International Airport.
According to the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), Afghan visa holders were saying that their military evacuations were being put on hold due to security concerns.
IRAP shared to Twitter on Monday that one of its SIV clients received a flight cancelation message that said: “Please DO NOT report to the airport. Continue to shelter in place. We will maintain your information on record and seek to offer you relocation options as soon as possible.”
Echoing Price’s remarks at a separate news conference, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said that all American citizens, SIV applicants, and others should shelter in place until security can be reestablished at the airfield, and an orderly process can be established to marshal them onto the field and to get them out of the country.
Garry Reid, the Defense Department’s lead for Afghan nationals’ relocation effort, said earlier that the military anticipates ramping up evacuations in the next few days.
“Our military team in Kabul is working side by side with the ambassador and his staff to coordinate future airlift operations in the coming days,” he said.
The State Department and Department of Defense on Afghanistan said in a joint statement late on Sunday said that officials were working evacuate American and allied personnel from Afghanistan via civilian and military flights, noting that security presence will have expanded to nearly 6,000 U.S. troops over the coming days.
“Tomorrow and over the coming days, we will be transferring out of the country thousands of American citizens who have been resident in Afghanistan, as well as locally employed staff of the U.S. mission in Kabul and their families and other particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals,” it said.
Price on Monday issued a warning to the Taliban terrorist group.
“Any attempt to target, to threaten, to intimidate our personnel or our operations would be met with a swift and decisive response,” he said.
President Joe Biden, meanwhile, promised a “swift and forceful” response if the group attacks U.S. troops or disrupts evacuation efforts.
“We will defend our people with devastating force if necessary,” Biden said in a speech on Monday.