Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said during an interview Tuesday morning that within 48 hours of posting a notice online, his office was flooded with hundreds of calls from U.S. citizens who want help getting to Kabul International Airport to escape Afghanistan.
“Our office has been flooded with hundreds and hundreds of calls—not just from Arkansans but people around the country—as they learned that I’m willing to at least try to make sure that they know that someone has heard them and someone has logged their name and phone number and where they are, in case they turn up missing, and is trying to get information to them as best we can,” said Cotton on Tuesday.
“We’ve had reports, too, of State Department servers crashing or their hotline numbers being overwhelmed. Again, the scale of the incompetence here, and implementing the decision to withdraw, is really unbelievable.”
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told CNN on Tuesday said that the focus of the current military mission is to get people who are already at the airport out and that their focus is not on those U.S. nationals who are outside the area stranded in and around Kabul.
“From a military perspective, our focus is at the airport, right, its security and stability at the airport so we can keep operations going, we’re working hand-in-glove with the State Department,” Kirby told CNN, adding, “I don’t want to set the expectation that we are equipped and able to go out into the countryside and physically move people into Kabul. Our focus right now, the troops that we have there, are at the airport.”
After the CNN host asked Kirby what good it is keeping the airport secure if people can’t get to it, the Pentagon official acknowledged the security situation is “not ideal” but said the airport is open.
While it’s been estimated that about 10,000 U.S. citizens are in Afghanistan, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Monday at a press briefing that “on the question of how many U.S. citizens may be in Afghanistan, it is not a tally that we keep in the context of Afghanistan or any other country.”
Cotton, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he could not understand why the Biden administration would close Bagram Air Base and bring troops back before evacuating the thousands of citizens who have been told to shelter in place and contact the State Department.
“I think it defies common sense that we would have closed Bagram Air Base—without even an orderly handover to the Afghan army, by the way—and recalled Scotty Miller, our great general who was there until last month, without a plan to have all of the American civilians in Afghanistan—whether they worked for the United States government or not—located and a plan to withdraw them,” said Cotton. “I mean, the last thing you would think you would turn over is your secure airbase. The last person you would bring home is your four star commander and his troops, whose only remaining job there was to secure an orderly and well organized exit from the country.”
The Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary and Armed Services Subcommittee said Bagram Air Base is much easier to secure than the airport in Kabul due to its location.
The Epoch Times reached out to the Department of Defense for a request for comment.
Cotton added that the United States should help get Afghan allies out too, but only after U.S. citizens have been evacuated.
“To the extent, we can identify those Afghans and we can safely screen them to ensure that they are not a threat to the American people, we need to do what we can to help them evacuate the country, but we have to put our own people first, and every American citizen in Afghanistan needs to be an urgent priority for our government.”