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After Authority Transition in Afghanistan, Airport Security Remains Top Priority

July 12, 2021 | BY C. Todd Lopez , DOD News

Following a transition of authority for the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, a four-pronged mission remains in the country for the U.S. military. Among the continuing roles, there is security at the Hamid Karzai International Airport, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said.

"On the airport ... we already have some, and have had for quite some time, some troops dedicated to security at the airport," Kirby said at a Pentagon briefing today. "There's an aviation support element there, there are some defensive capabilities."

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Kirby said that through the drawdown, which is expected to be complete by the end of August, the U.S. will continue to ensure the airport remains safe.

"We will have requisite capabilities there at the airport to assist in the security," Kirby said.

Long-term security at the airport, following the U.S. departure from Afghanistan, will be handled by Turkey. Discussions between the U.S. and Turkey about what that will look like are ongoing and have been "productive," Kirby said.

A large military aircraft is on an airfield. A service member uses hand wands to guide the aircraft.
C-17 Globemaster
Air Force Airman 1st Class Zacheri Halla marshals a C-17 Globemaster III at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, May 6, 2021. The C-17 and other mobility aircraft are assisting with the safe and orderly drawdown of operations from Afghanistan.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Kylee Gardner
VIRIN: 210506-F-DR848-1197C

"We are still in discussions with the Turks about what security at the airport is going to look like," he said. "We're grateful for their willingness to lead this effort. ... As President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan said, we're still hammering out the scope of what that is. And then when we get that all solidified we'll be able to talk in more detail."

The U.S. and other nations have diplomatic presence in Afghanistan. Ensuring that Hamid Karzai International Airport remains open and secure is critical to the successful operations of those diplomatic missions.

A combat vehicle along a gravel road with mountains in the background.  A soldier sits atop the vehicle near a gun that is mounted on the roof.
Soldier Watch
A soldier from Aztec Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, keeps watch from the gunner’s position of a ground mobility vehicle in eastern Afghanistan, July 28, 2018.
Photo By: Army Spc. Christopher Bouchard
VIRIN: 180806-A-ST516-001

"The president has made it very clear we're going to maintain a diplomatic presence in Kabul," Kirby said. "We know that in order to do that, you have to have adequate security at the airport. We are very aware of the need for adequate security at the airport, so as to protect our diplomats and the work that they need to do in Afghanistan."

This afternoon, authority for the continuing counter-terrorism mission in Afghanistan transitioned from Army Gen. Austin S. Miller, who commanded the Resolute Support mission there, to Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., who serves as commander of United States Central Command. Miller had served as commander of United States Forces-Afghanistan and the Resolute Support mission since 2018.

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Pentagon Briefing
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby holds a news briefing at the Pentagon, July 12, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders, DOD
VIRIN: 210712-D-XI929-2001Y

"Both Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Gen. McKenzie have expressed their thanks to Gen. Miller ... and his team for their diligent execution of the retrograde of millions of tons of equipment [and] thousands of personnel, all conducted with great efficiency and without a single casualty," Kirby said. "I think that's historic."

Kirby said that the transition of authority is just a milestone in the ongoing drawdown there. Until the U.S. is completely out of Afghanistan, he said, the ongoing mission there will continue to focus on protecting the U.S. diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, enabling the safe operation of the airport, continuing to provide appropriate advice and assistance to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces and supporting counterterrorism efforts.