- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 18, 2021

There are no plans yet to aid Americans unable to make it past the tight cordon the Taliban has placed around Hamid Karzai International Airport, the base of the expanding U.S. evacuation effort in Afghanistan, the Pentagon’s spokesman acknowledged Wednesday. 

In the last 24 hours, 18 Air Force C-17 cargo jets lifted off from the airport with about 2,000 passengers, of which 325 were U.S. citizens. The remaining numbers were Afghan civilians and some NATO personnel, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday.

Amid chaotic scenes of Westerners and Afghans seeking to get into Kabul’s only international airport, Mr. Kirby said they did not know how many Americans might still be in Afghanistan and unable to access the airport.

“We’re focused on the present mission — that’s where our heads are,” Mr. Kirby said. 

About 4,500 U.S. combat troops are currently on the ground at the airport. The tally may increase by a “couple of hundred” by the end of the day, officials said.

“We’re not anticipating a big shift in personnel beyond that right now,” Mr. Kirby said.

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Navy Rear Adm. Peter G. Vasely, commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan-Forward, is on the ground in overall command of the effort at the airport, officials said. 

While U.S. troops are in charge at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Taliban fighters control all access into the airport and have imposed a curfew in the area. There have been reports of them refusing to admit people through the gates. Pentagon officials said they are aware of the incidents.

“There is constant communication with Taliban commanders,” Mr. Kirby said. “We are talking to them about the effects their curfew and the limits they’re putting on people outside the airport are having with our ability to accomplish the mission.”

The State Department has posted consular officers at the gates leading into the airport to assist with the effort to get people out of the country following the Taliban‘s lightning-fast victory following the complete collapse of the U.S.-trained and equipped Afghan army.

“We’re not unaware that there have been issues out in the town and harassment of individuals. That’s one of the reasons Adm. Vasely is in touch with his Taliban counterparts,” Mr. Kirby said. “We are working very hard to make sure they can get through safely so they can be properly processed.”

• Mike Glenn can be reached at mglenn@washingtontimes.com.

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