The U.S. military has placed armed F-18 jets on standby amid the evacuation chaos at the Kabul airport, a U.S. general said on Aug. 19.
The jets are on standby if the need for air support arises and to ensure the safety of U.S. troops and operations, Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor said in a comment to reporters.
Several thousand American military troops were deployed to the airport, as numerous Americans, Afghans, and others try to evacuate the country after the Taliban took over Kabul over the past weekend. The deployment of F-18s is the latest development in an increasingly tense and chaotic situation, as the Taliban extremist group appears to be tightening its grip after video footage and reports show the group stopping people from getting to the airport.
“The ability to provide close air support is something that needs to be immediate if a condition on the ground ever required that,” Taylor said.
When asked about whether the planes would carry out airstrikes, neither he nor Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, who was standing nearby, provided an answer.
“We are going to have at our disposal the resources to carry out our mission safely. … It’s the prudent and responsible thing to do,” Kirby said.
Overnight, about a dozen C-17 cargo planes removed about 2,000 people, according to the officials, who said that about 7,000 people have been removed from Afghanistan so far. Kirby and other officials said that the deadline for evacuation is Aug. 31, although President Joe Biden told ABC News that the U.S. mission in Kabul will continue past that deadline.
Officials previously said they would lift between 5,000 and 9,000 people out of the country each day. It isn’t clear how many Americans remain in Afghanistan, according to Kirby and Taylor, although Biden confirmed to ABC News that between 10,000 and 15,000 remain.
“The U.S. military footprint in Kabul is we have 5,200 troops on the ground. Kabul Airport remains secure and open,” Taylor said. “There are multiple gates that are now open and have entry, which will help expedite processing.”
Although the Taliban said that its members will allow governments to let all Westerners and some Afghans through to board flights out of the country, there have been reports that they blocked journalists. ABC News reporters who were trying to get to the airport were blocked by two armed Taliban members who appeared to question their credentials and forced them into their vehicles, which was caught on camera and aired by “Good Morning America” on Aug. 19.
Video footage from Aug. 18 and 19 also shows apparent Taliban members firing shots at crowds of people, whipping them with various objects, and shouting at them to get back near the airport.
State Department Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman confirmed reports that Taliban extremists were blocking Afghans from going to the airport. Afghans who had worked alongside the U.S. military during the 20-year conflict could be at risk of reprisal attacks, torture, or execution at the hands of the Taliban, human rights groups fear.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly said the F-18 jets were operated by the U.S. Air Force. The Epoch Times regrets this error.