Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has not offered his resignation to President Biden following the complete collapse of the U.S.-trained and equipped Afghan military and has no plans to do so, Pentagon officials said Monday.
A day after victorious Taliban forces rolled into Kabul with little opposition, Pentagon officials said they are now focusing their attention on securing Hamid Karzai International Airport so the remaining Americans in the capital can be safely evacuated.
“It’s a fluid and dynamic situation,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters. “There will obviously be things that I don’t know because things are continuing to unfold.”
There have been what Pentagon officials called “security incidents” at the airport involving armed individuals shooting at U.S. forces. In two separate incidents, American military personnel engaged and killed two people there who were threatening them. There are unconfirmed reports of at least one U.S. injury there, officials said.
“While our mission is not offensive, our forces have the inherent right of self-defense. They will respond accordingly to threats and attacks,” Mr. Kirby said.
U.S. military personnel on the ground are working to reestablish security at the airport following breaches overnight from the civilian side of the airfield. They have taken control of air traffic control functions there, officials said.
“There are no flights coming or going, military or civilian. This is because of large crowds that are still on the tarmac on the southern side of the field — the civilian side,” Mr. Kirby said.
American, Turkish and other allied troops are working to clear the airstrip, but Pentagon officials said they don’t know how long the operation will take.
“We obviously don’t want anyone else to get hurt,” Mr. Kirby said. “We’re going to work methodically in the coming hours to restore a safe and secure environment so that air operations can resume.”
About 2,500 U.S. troops are at the airport, but that number is expected to increase in the coming days. All U.S. citizens in Kabul and Afghans already enrolled in the Special Immigrant Visa program should shelter in place until security is reestablished at the airport and an “orderly” process can be established to get them out of the country, officials said.
At the request of the State Department, the Department of Defense will provide two bases in addition to Fort Lee, Virginia, where Afghans can stay until their immigration process is complete. The Pentagon says they hope to be able to provide support for up to 22,000 at-risk individuals.
“We will not have that capacity immediately. It will take some time to build it out,” Mr. Kirby said.
The Defense Department will be providing transportation to an unidentified third country for other Afghans whose immigration paperwork is not as far along. A battalion-sized U.S. military unit will be on hand to provide medical support for up to 8,000 people there, officials said.
“We are laser-focused on the missions that our military men and women do best,” Mr. Kirby said. “They are increasing security, adjusting to rapidly-changing conditions, and working hard to ensure the safety and security of all those under our care at the airport.”