The State Department and the Pentagon on Saturday issued conflicting reports to Americans seeking to flee Afghanistan through Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul as security conditions at the remaining gateway out of the country continued to deteriorate.
Even when the State Department warned Americans not to travel to the airport due to security threats there, including risks of terrorist attacks, Pentagon officials said several gates at the airport were open intermittently to let in Americans with proper papers. .
Major General William Taylor of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff told reporters on Saturday that military commanders at the airport are “measuring” the flow of Americans, Afghan allies and other foreigners with the appropriate credentials to ensure that anyone entering the airport is expected to meet the target. boarding flights was screened. and approved.
“Our forces at the gate have the ability to continue to process those who come to the gate,” General Taylor said.
General Taylor acknowledged that some gates to the airport had been temporarily closed and reopened in the past 24 hours to allow for the safe flow of people trying to enter.
Pentagon officials said there was a security risk from the large unruly crowds that gathered at several airport entrances, including the potential risks of Al Qaeda and Islamic State attacks.
John F. Kirby, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, declined to comment on any specific operational security threat, but said the security situation at the airport was extremely unstable, changing hourly at various locations around the airport.
Mr Kirby said there have been no additional helicopter rescues of Americans in Kabul trying to flee the Afghan capital since a mission on Thursday, but he did not rule out the possibility of similar operations if local commanders believed they were justified. .
“We continue to explore options to help Americans, if needed,” said Mr. Kirby.
While he refused to acknowledge that the window for evacuation flights from Kabul may be closing as security deteriorates outside the airport gates, Mr. Kirby: “We know we are fighting against both time and space.”
General Taylor said three Air Force C-17 transport planes and 32 chartered jets had left Kabul in the past 24 hours, carrying 3,800 passengers, about half of them Americans. That number is lower than the 6,000 evacuated two days ago, before the Pentagon had to suspend flights from Kabul until seven a.m. Friday when facilities in Qatar, the main receiving station for evacuees, became full.
Flights were later resumed to other stopovers for the evacuees in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Germany. Since the airlift operation began last Sunday, General Taylor said 17,000 people had been evacuated, including 2,500 Americans.
In the past 24 hours, General Taylor said, three more flights have landed at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, with Afghan visa applicants bound for US military bases in Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin, where they will complete their visa applications before being permanently resettled. in the United States. United States.