Pentagon defends leaving hundreds of civilians in Kabul, saying Americans are stranded ‘all the time’
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby shook off his concerns about American citizens and the billions of dollars of military technology left behind in Afghanistan on Tuesday.
He also accused the stranded Americans of waiting until the last minute after the last American jets left the country the previous afternoon.
In an MSNBC interview, Kirby said the military would no longer play a role in helping them escape, but was confident diplomatic efforts would suffice — saying the desperate situation “wasn’t quite different” from others on the planet. worldwide.
“We have Americans stranded in countries all the time,” he said bluntly.
Kirby said the Taliban is clear about what the US intends to do and if the militant group wants to rule as it says, “we will hold them by their actions and not just words.”
In a separate interview on Fox News Tuesday, Kirby said the government was not “turning a blind eye” to those Americans, but that there were “many reasons” why they didn’t leave.
In an MSNBC interview, Kirby said the military would no longer play a role in helping Americans get out, but was confident diplomatic efforts would be enough.
He accused American citizens of not leaving sooner, despite reports of runaway crowds and violent treatment by Taliban fighters who have been guarding airport gates for the past two weeks. Some people reported being turned away even with proper papers and US passports.
“There were some – lots and lots of attempts to contact them, get in touch with them and bring them in. Some people didn’t want to make decisions until the endgame,’ Kirby said.
“I don’t know about any of these 100 or so that are left, but what I can tell you is that as a government we will continue to do everything we can to help them find Safe Passage.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said as of Monday there are between 100 and 200 Americans in Afghanistan trying to flee.
After the final departure that day, US Central Command chief General McKenzie revealed that troops had left 73 aircraft and 27 tactical Humvees at Hamid Karzai International Airport. He claimed they had been demilitarized and would never be used again.
“They can take pictures and walk around and look at it, but they can’t fly it or drive it or use any of the systems we have at the airport,” Kirby said.
However, it is clear that some US planes still in the country are still operational – a video circulating last week showed Taliban fighters having fun flying a Black Hawk helicopter through the sky. Just one could cost as much as $20 million.
As for weapons that the US has handed over to Afghan government forces over the years – the US has spent $83 billion on training and arming troops – Kirby admitted that there was “quite a bit of material in that batch that the Afghans had where the Taliban now have access to. ‘
But he wasn’t concerned about the impact those gadgets would have on the Taliban’s combat capabilities, though he acknowledged they could be deadly.
About $28 billion was spent on Afghan weapons between 2002 and 2017 alone, Reuters reports.
Taliban fighters took control of Hamid Karzai International Airport after US withdrawal
The Pentagon said the abandoned US planes and vehicles have been demilitarized and no longer pose a threat if in the wrong hands.
“The kind of equipment we’re talking about, while certainly has a lethal component to it, it poses no threat to the United States. It poses no threat to neighboring countries. These are not the kinds of things that the Taliban can take advantage of strategically,” Kirby said.
He did not elaborate on what the “lethality component” was or whether it would pose a threat to the thousands of vulnerable Afghans left behind.
Before evacuating, some of the American equipment and ammunition was destroyed by the military.
But that didn’t stop the Taliban from claiming victory. On Tuesday, the Taliban held mock funerals for US troops and NATO allies as thousands stormed the streets of major cities to celebrate the end of the 20-year US military intervention in Afghanistan.
Coffins draped with the American, British and French flags, as well as NATO insignia, were paraded through the streets of Khost hours after the last American plane took off by crowds waving the Taliban flag.
The taunting ceremony followed the deaths of 13 US troops in an August 26 ISIS-K suicide bombing at Kabul airport.
In Kandahar – a traditional Taliban stronghold – thousands also waved white Taliban flags to celebrate what the group calls its “independence day,” hours after the last US troops boarded an evacuation flight out of the country.
Fake coffins draped with the British, American, French and NATO flags were paraded through the streets of Khost in Afghanistan today as the Taliban celebrated the end of Western ‘occupation’
It comes after celebratory scenes in Kabul at night, where fireworks exploded and gunshots rattled through the air shortly after the last American jet took off.
Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid this morning from the runway at Kabul airport – and surrounded by Taliban special forces, dressed head to toe in American equipment – the “victory” over Western forces.
“It is a historic day and a historic moment… we liberated our country from a great power,” he added, saying the past 20 years should serve as a “great lesson for other invaders.” [and] a lesson for the world.’
After 2,356 US military deaths, many thousands injured and an estimated $2.3 trillion spent on a 20-year effort that ended with the return of the Taliban to power, many Americans are frustrated with the way President Joe Biden has managed the withdrawal. completed.
Many have criticized Biden for promising almost two weeks ago that the US would not leave until the last Americans withdrew from Afghanistan.
“If there are any American citizens left, we’ll stay to get them all out,” he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Aug. 18.
But on Monday, Blinken stated that “a new diplomatic mission has begun” in Afghanistan to try to get the remaining Americans out.
He vowed to use diplomacy and leverage to bring out any Americans, allies or Afghans who helped the US and wanted to leave, while critics criticized Biden for allowing the withdrawal before all Americans were out, and compared those left to hostages.
“We have made extraordinary efforts to give Americans every opportunity to leave the country,” he said.
Blinken said some who stayed were dual citizens and US passports who weren’t sure if they wanted to go and were “trying to decide if they wanted to leave.”
He said the US and allies plan to detain the Taliban to keep the airport open and allow safe passage. “Any involvement with the Taliban-led government in Kabul will be driven by one thing only: our vital national interests,” he said.
He also mentioned new ways out, including “overland routes,” which mean driving through Afghanistan’s famously inhospitable terrain.
But last week, when the State Department warned Americans to leave the airport due to impending terrorist threats, Blinken also blamed Americans for not leaving fast enough, having first warned Afghanistan earlier this year as soon as possible. to leave.
From Monday to Tuesday, reports have also surfaced of Americans trapped in Kabul begging for help.
Rep. Darrell Issa told Fox News on Tuesday that he is in contact with a pregnant American detained in Kabul
A pregnant woman who tried “several times” to get to the airport with her husband and father is in touch with California representative Darrell Issa, who told Fox News this morning that she was trying to help her escape.
She was kicked in the stomach by Taliban fighters and is now forced to hide in an apartment, relying only on her friends to bring her food and to keep her whereabouts a secret.
Issa also tries to help an elderly couple in their 80s who were turned away at the airport despite having their US passports.
A US citizen who worked as an interpreter for the US military told CNN’s Chris Cuomo last night that she is still stranded in Afghanistan
Under the pseudonym “Sara,” she said she sheltered 37 women and children in her home while trying to organize safe passage out of the country for them.
But she was unaware that the last US plane took off after US forces completed their withdrawal nearly 24 hours before their August 31 deadline.
“I just found out they left, and I was quiet for a while,” Sara said. “I just can’t believe no one told me this was the last flight.”