Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

Aug. 16, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby; Garry Reid, Afghanistan Crisis Action Group; Major General Hank Taylor

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. I know we gave you an update this morning, so I brought a couple of additional briefers with me this afternoon to flush out some more detail from the kinds of things that we talked about earlier today. So with me is Major General Hank Taylor of the Joint Staff. He's the Director of Current Operations, and Garry Reid, who I think you all know, he is Director of our Afghanistan Crisis Action Group.

I'm going to ask each gentleman to come up and say just a few words, give you some updates from their perspective, operations in the general's case and on the SIV process and what DOD is trying to help along with that from Mr. Reid's perspective, and then we'll get to some Q&A for a little bit. I will moderate that Q&A, so I'll still be up here calling on you, and we'll try to get through as many of you as we can in the limited amount of time that we have.

So with that with the time being constrained I'm going to stop talking and bring up the general. General.

TAYLOR: Good afternoon. Thank you, Mr. Kirby. I want to reinforce what has already been said today and a little bit earlier. The U.S. military remains focused on the present mission: to facilitate the safe evacuation of U.S. citizens, SIVs, and Afghans at risk, to get these personnel out of Afghanistan and quickly and as safely as possible.

When this plan was put in place we prepared for a number of contingencies and recognized that events unfolding at HKIA has drawn concern and attention throughout the world. We're actively monitoring the situation of what's happening on the ground, and we will continue to support the commander and adjust forces as necessary to allow the mission to be successful.

Our troops are trained professionals. They understand the complexity, the urgency, and the importance of their mission. They remain agile. Our mission was and still is today to secure the airport so that we can evacuate, as said earlier, U.S. citizens, SIVs, Afghans at risk out of the country.

TAYLOR: We have approximately 2,500 troops that have moved into Kabul within the last 72 hours and more will arrive soon. By the end of the day we expect nearly 3,000 to 3,500 troops on the ground. First, for a real time update, as of 15:35 local Eastern Time here, the airfield at HKIA was open for operations. Shortly thereafter, the first C-17 landed with U.S. marines on board and the next C-17 is preparing to land as we speak, with members of the 82nd airborne division.

I'd also like to offer a couple of additional operational details. More than 700 SIV applicants have departed Afghanistan in the past 48 hours by a combination of contract and commercial air, bringing the total to date to nearly 2,000. And Mr. Reid here will have more details on that.

The U.S. military continues to support or support of the State Department with the closing of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, moving several hundred personnel by helicopter to HKIA. Those personnel remain safe and are preparing to depart.

Forces continue to conduct operations, security operations at HKIA. And as I said earlier, we are in charge of air traffic control and that includes with commercial contract and military air. We expect to maximize our throughput of all means of transportation over the next coming days.

Again, our focus right now is to maintain security at HKIA, to continue to expedite flight operations while safeguarding Americans and Afghan civilians. We are proud of the professionalism and the skill of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are showing under extraordinary circumstances at HKIA. And they are absolutely prepared to the respond and self-defend if necessary.

Many of us have spent time in Afghanistan over the years and feel a deep sense of connection to the current events. We are focused on the safest evacuation of Americans and Afghans. Thank you.

REID: Thank you, General. Thank you, John. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for taking time today. I'm Garry Reid, I'm the lead for the DOD Crisis Action Group for Afghanistan for matter pertaining to the relocation of refugees and transportation of our embassy staff, Americans, allies, and other partners from Kabul to their onward destinations.

The Secretary established the crisis action group in early July and we've been working very closely with the Department of State as a lead agency since that time. Partnered with Department of Homeland Security, our initial focus was to relocate the SIVs, finalize their visas and resettle them into the United States with the help of our nongovernmental organizations.

To date, nearly 2,000 Afghans have passed through this process, joining more than 70,000 that have participated in the SIV program since 2005. Our military has done an outstanding job supporting this effort.

USNORTHCOM and U.S. Army North operating predominantly from Fort Lee, Virginia have provided housing, food, medical treatment, medical screening and other services to these Afghans. Our military embrace the opportunity to recognize their contributions to combined operations in Afghanistan by welcoming them into U.S.

As we prepare for even more arrivals, USNORTHCOM and the U.S. Army are working to create additional capacity to support refugee relocation in the U.S., including temporary sites under assessment at Fort Bliss, Texas and Camp McCoy*, Wisconsin. There may be other sites identified if services are needed -- additional capacity is needed.

At this point we're looking to establish 20 -- 22,000 spaces. We can expand if we need to. As with the operation we've been supporting at Fort Lee, persons that come to these locations will have been prescreened by the Department of Homeland Security to enter on a condition of full immigration processing once they arrive.

With this operation underway but given the urgency of the situation in Kabul, our focus has shifted to supporting movement of our embassy staff, American citizens, allies and other partners out of Kabul.

Starting on the August, -- on August 14th, we began movement of these persons on Department of Defense aircraft, providing them transportation that had flown into Kabul, delivering our troops and hauling cargo.

This is an important point. The numbers to date are in the hundreds. We certainly have a much greater requirement. We are still in the processes of bringing in forces. These aircraft as space is available on the outbound have been taking passengers and of course this has been somewhat disrupted in the last 24 hours.

But none the less we have transported several hundred to countries in the region and align them again with our State Department, DHS colleagues for their onward transportation. We anticipate picking up the pace, provided we can stabilize conditions that Kabul has described by the general.

Our military team in Kabul is working side by side with the Ambassador and his staff to coordinate future airlift operations in the coming days. The Department of State and Department of Homeland Security will facilitate initial processing at overseas transit points and prepare for onward movement and for all of those transported by the Department of Defense. Thank you.

KIRBY: OK. We'll get to questions. Bob, you want to go.

Q: Thanks. A question for General Taylor, if I may.

KIRBY: OK.

Q: General, has the U.S. military conducted any airstrikes today or in the last 24 hours or so and also there have been some reports of Afghan pilots flying their aircraft to other countries, is that happening and is the U.S. taking any sort of steps to prevent aircraft or other military equipment from falling into the hands of the Taliban?

TAYLOR: Yes. First on the first question on the strikes. No -- no strikes have been conducted in the last 24 hours but the commander on the ground continues to maintain that capability if required to do so. The commander has the assets that are available. There are HKIA, and in support from other areas of the region.

I don't have information on the -- your second part of the question but we'll get back to you on that.

Q: So there's no -- no U.S. actions being taken to prevent equipment from falling into the hands of the Taliban by destroying it or anything else?

TAYLOR: I don't have the answer to that question.

Q: You don't have the answer.

KIRBY: Jen?

Q: General Taylor, was this a failure of intelligence or planning that led to the scenes we saw at the airport today?

TAYLOR: When the scenes at the airport of the -- everybody coming --

Q: That caused it to be shut down?

TAYLOR: Yes. What -- what we know what happened at the -- the airport was that there were a lot of Afghans that were trying to reportedly, get out of the country. So I don't think that was a lack of planning. As we look at the coordination with that that were responsible for securing that, we'll look at our mission though, as I talked earlier, is now that the airfields open is to make sure that it remains open so like as I said we can continue expediting flights in and outbound.

Q: But the quick fall of Kabul, was that a failure of intelligence?

TAYLOR: I can't answer that.

Q: And Mr. Reid, you're in charge of the SIVs, there are women who fought for the Special Forces. There are reports that the Taliban are now knocking on doors going into the homes of those who served in the military. What are you doing to protect them, to get them out? Are you in touch with the Taliban and do you have assurances that they'll be safe?

REID: We recognize that beyond the SIVs, there's additional Afghans at risk and they are included within the group of people that in time as we get through the Americans and the immediate priority, that we have plans in place to support lifting them, remove, transporting them out of the country on the defense side. Again, that would be the Department of State, Homeland Security, questions about immigration processing, we recognize the risk that they face and we're doing everything we can to get this operation underway at scale so we can get through as many as possible under these very difficult conditions.

Q: But are you communicating with the Taliban? Do you have a line of communication?

REID: I'm personally not communicating with the Taliban but I would imagine there are communications within the diplomatic channels.

KIRBY: As we said earlier, Jen, General McKenzie did meet in Doha with Taliban leaders. We're not going to detail that conversation as I said earlier. But the message was very clearly put to the Taliban that these operations and our people were not to be attacked or there would be a response and as you and I speak, there has been no attack on our operation or on our people at the airport.

To your other question, I would again like to just fill out that the mission that the military has right now is to secure the airport, to keep operations going and to help make sure that we can safeguard the movement of personnel, people from Kabul to onward destinations. That's the focus right now.

The State Department has methods of their own to reach out to people, to communicate with them about the process of getting into the queue and I would let the State Department speak to that but it's as I said before, the military mission is very narrowly focused around the airport making sure we can secure operations there. Barb?

Q: I'd like to follow up with you or the General but let me start with you please, at the mic, if I may. To follow up on the previous question, the U.S. military, the Department of Defense, always, for decades says we plan for everything. Clearly whatever you planned for did not get planned for at the airport. We've now seen a C-17 with more than 600 people sitting on the floor with the pilot making the decision that he would fly them out anyhow even though that's an extraordinary number of people.

We've seen, the world has seen all the scenes at the airport. So my two questions are, what failed in their planning? Because you didn't plan for this, you would not have planned to fly in such dangerous circumstances. And how do you determine where the responsibility lies for this failure?

KIRBY: Well, first of all, Barbara, I would take issue with your designation of this operation at the airport as a failure, but let's get back to that in a second.

Q: (inaudible)

KIRBY: Let's get back to that in a second. Yes, we do plan for all manner of contingencies. This is a planning organization and we do that specifically to try to mitigate risk and to try to be ready for unforeseen circumstances, but it's not a perfect process. Plans are not always perfectly predictive and you, and as is a well-known military maxim that plans don't offer survive first contact and you have to adjust in real time and I think when you look at the images out of Kabul, that would have been difficult for anybody to predict.

Yes, we did plan on noncombatant evacuation operations as far back as May. There were drills being done here at the Pentagon to walk through what different noncombatant evacuation operations might look like. There was another one recently done just two weeks ago; a tabletop exercise to again examine what a noncombatant evacuation would look like out of the Hamid Karzai International Airport, I mean specifically at the airport and we think that those exercises did prepare us in terms of having the resources forward, the Secretary forward deployed troops including Marines off of their ship and into Kuwait so that they can be more readily available, as well as other forces in the region.

So a lot of what you're seeing transpired, the reason we can be so quick with upwards of 6000 troops is because we anticipated the possible need to do this. Now could we have predicted every single scenario and every single breach around the perimeter of the airport with only a couple of thousand troops on the ground? Absolutely, you know, there are changes that happen so plans are terrific and we take them seriously, but they are not and never have been perfectly predictive.

Q: When you practiced this, was one of the scenarios a complete Taliban takeover of the capital?

KIRBY: There was certainly, as you do exercises and I don't want to go into too much detail here on these but it would certainly be wrong to conclude that the United States military did not view as a distinct possibility that the Taliban could overrun the country and including Kabul.

Now as we've talked about here many times, it happened very fast. And one of the things that we couldn't anticipate and didn't anticipate was the degree to which Afghan forces capitulated, sometimes without a fight.

Q: The president said that he did not see that happening. Did you tell the president that you thought it was a possibility the country would be overrun?

KIRBY: We won't speak to advice and counsel that our leaders here in the Pentagon give to the president. What I can tell you is that in the planning that we've done and in the exercises and drills we ran, we certainly ran them against the possibility that the Taliban would make significant gains throughout the country; yes, absolutely. Carla?

Q: Speaking of the images we've been seeing at the airport, a U.S. official has told VOA that there's an investigation currently underway about multiple civilian deaths when a C-17 took off from the airport. What more can you tell us about that investigation and can you confirm the number of deaths?

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: I can't confirm that reporting, Carla, so I mean you're getting information that I don't have, but it wouldn't surprise me in the least that commanders would be taking a look at what happened this morning with respect the C-17 and I won't get ahead of that process. There will be, you can expect that we will take a look at this and to see what happened and what we can learn from it in the future that is absolutely consistent and it wouldn't surprise me at all if there was in fact a formal investigation but I just can't confirm that right now.

Q: Looking at the images, was the U.S. too late to bring in the number of troops that it brought in? Was the -- did the decision come too late?

KIRBY: We throw these forces in as fast as we possible could and it was aided in fact by the prepositioning that was done in previous weeks. I mean you all reported yourselves about the Iwo Jima, the Navy ship from which these Marines were based, you know being extended for a couple of weeks by Secretary Austin. That was a decision he made several weeks ago because it was all part of the contingency, planning for the need to maybe do some evacuations.

To make that even faster we moved those Marines ashore and we saw the benefit now. Those Marines were the first ones on scene. So it was something that we absolutely had thought about.

Q: And one last question. This can be for you or the General. You spoke from the podium over the last several days many times saying that the Afghan Air Force was conducting more airstrikes against the Taliban than the U.S. was. My question is, why was that? Why didn't the U.S. conduct more strikes against the Taliban in these final days?

KIRBY: Yeah, Carla, I think, you know, Monday morning quarterbacking here now, I mean, isn't I don't think a helpful exercise. But the -- as we said from a while ago, that as our resources and capabilities in the region dwindled because of the drawdown. And we were ordered to drawdown by the end of August. And we were nothing but honest about the speed with which we had to do that because speed is safety. We wanted to make sure we did this quickly.

And a drawdown means a drawdown, and it's not just about boots on the ground; the drawdown is about capabilities and resources in the region as we wrapped up our advise and assist in combat missions in Afghanistan, which meant we had fewer airplanes, fewer strike capabilities in the region as we continue to drawdown. And again, we were very transparent about the fact that we would conduct airstrikes in support of the Afghans where and when feasible, fully cognizant of the fact that it wasn't always going to be feasible in every -- on every day, and in every place. But the Afghan Air Force is indigenous, and they are in the country. And they did maintain their presence. And there were days where they flew easily twice as many strikes as -- as we did.

And they were able to often get on scene quicker because they were already there. And because they had tangible connections to their troops in the field. It also is a healthy reminder, something that I think we forget, that in the last year and a half, Afghans were in the lead is almost all -- literally all but just about almost all of their operations on the ground. I mean, they -- the advise and assist mission was still there. But they were very much in the lead of their own Operations and coordinating with their air force. Sylvie?

Q: I have a question for Mr. Reid.

KIRBY: OK?

Q: You said earlier that your crisis action group for Afghanistan was set up in early July...

REID: That's right.

Q: ... the decision of President Biden to end the war was taken in mid-April. Why did it take so long to create a group to take care of your Afghan allies?

REID: The Department of Defense enters into this in support of the State Department, and the State Department has, for many years, as you know, executed the SIV program. The addition of the U.S. military support to that program was new. And it was generated by guidance to try to accelerate and help the process due to the time delays inherent within getting them through. So we were asked by the State Department to provide support to their operation. That's not a suggestion that -- that is when SIVs became a priority for the government that has been for many years, it was just that the contributions that the Defense Department could make using our installations in United States, as an example, where we could do this in a very orderly setting free of distractions without them coming individually or scattering to multiple locations.

We could centralize the resources and contribute our resources, our logistics, our medical personnel; Fort Lee, Virginia, is the center of excellence for Army logistics. So it was a good example of how we could use our resources to support a program that we all wanted to see, continue and accelerate and help as many folks out as we could because, you know, we value what they did for us, and we want to be reciprocal in that regard.

Q: So, do we have to understand that this group was created because of the slowness of the process at the State Department?

REID: No, that's not what I said. It is a long process and to the extent that the addition of DOD resources and support could make it, again, about bringing them all together. If you're familiar with the process, there are multiple stages and multiple agencies involved within our system. This gave us, because of our resources, the ability to have a base with a location. We could bring that together and speed up something that may have otherwise taken weeks into a matter of days, and it became more economical; we increase the throughput of that process and create capacity to do more. So that's really the contributions of the Defense Department.

KIRBY: I think we need to get to the phones too a little bit. I haven't done that yet. Dan Lamothe?  

Q: Thank you, John. To drill down a bit on the flights out that we've -- we've seen on video. My colleagues at defense one had reported there were in excess of 600, perhaps 640 people on a C-17 flying out. And you -- you also took a question this morning in your first briefing and said you'd try to get back to us on it. There appeared to be people that fell from that aircraft, likely to their death. Can you confirm those things? Thank you.

KIRBY: On the -- on the -- that video footage that we've all seen of -- of something falling off the wing, I don't have an update for you in terms of specific validity of that. We're obviously just as interested in you and learning more about what -- what happened there. And on the -- on the first question about the -- the -- the C-17 with, you know, fully loaded. Again, I don't have any additional information about that particular aircraft in that particular flight. But -- but, you know, we'll -- we'll continue to try to dig down and see if there's more information that could have about that. It's obviously difficult from 8000 miles away to have perfect knowledge about everything that's going on the ground over there. But again, we're working hard to secure, to keep the airport secure and keep these operations now -- sustained now that they're -- they're back on track. Nazira?

Q: Thanks so much, John. As you know, I’m from Afghanistan. I'm very upset because Afghan women didn't expect that overnight. All the Taliban killed. They took off my flag. This is my flag. And they put their flag. Everybody's upset, especially women. And I forgot my question. What do you ask? Where is my president, former President Ghani? People expected that he bide by with the people, and immediately he runs away? We don't know, where is he? And we don't have a president. President Biden said that President Ghani knows he has to fight for his people. They have to do everything, and we were able to financially help them. But we don't have any president. We don't have anything. Afghan people, they don't know what to do. A woman has a lot of achievements in Afghanistan. I had a lot of achievements. I -- I left from the Taliban like 20 years ago, now we -- we go back to the first step again. Do you have any comments regarding our President Ghani? He should answer to Afghan people.

KIRBY: Well, I obviously can't speak for Ashraf Ghani or where he is or what his views are. I wouldn't do that. But let me say with all respect that -- that I understand. And we all understand the -- the anxiety and the fear and the pain that you're feeling. It's -- it's clear, and it's evident.

And nobody here at the Pentagon is happy about the images that we've seen coming out in the last few days. And we're all mindful of -- of the kind of governance that the Taliban is capable of. So heartfelt respect to what you're going through and -- and we -- we understand that. A lot of us have spent time in Afghanistan; the general mentioned that. Everything that you're seeing in the last 48-72 hours is personal for everybody here at the Pentagon.

We -- we too have invested greatly in Afghanistan and in the progress that women and girls have made politically, economically, socially. And we certainly do understand, and we do feel the pain that -- that you're feeling, probably not to the same extent. We -- we're focused right now on making sure that -- that we do the best we can for those Afghans who helped us. And to Sylvie’s point, when she was talking to Garry, yes, the action group got stood up in July, but you can go back to the spring and -- and hear the Secretary himself, talk about interpreters and translators and the sacred obligation that we know that we have to them.

And so at this moment, on this day, now that the airport is open, again, we are going to be focused on doing what we can to honor that obligation to all those who -- who helped make all that progress possible, because -- because by helping us, they helped us help you. And -- and we take that very, very seriously. And again, I'm sorry for your pain. I truly, truly am. And I know that the general and Garry share that as well. Meghann?

Q: Mr. Reid said that you guys want to make space for 22,000 Afghans, other helpers to be able to come to the U.S. There are about two weeks until all troops are supposed to be off of the ground in Afghanistan. Who is going to protect that mission into September, assuming that 22,000 people are not going to get out in the next two weeks? And does that mean that there might be an extension of some of these security forces at the airport after that?

REID: Well, I can't speak to the last part. But I can say that our commitment and the Secretary's task to me is to continue to do everything we can in this department to support this process. And as conditions change and -- and opportunities change, we will do our very best to make whatever resources this department has to contribute to continued success in that regard. Understanding it can be very difficult; we don't know what's ahead. But we're going to stay in this as long as it takes, as long as we can contribute.

KIRBY: And I would just add, Meghann, it's up to 22. That's the capacity that we're looking at it three -- at these three installations. It doesn't mean that there are going to be 22,000 people that need that support. We're just trying to find -- fill out the capacity as best we think we need right now. If -- if we have underestimated that capacity, the Secretary is fully committed to finding additional locations and installations if we need it. And if we've overestimated then, to Barbara’s excellent point, we've planned well. We've -- you know, we've -- we want to make sure we're -- we're ready. So it's -- it's a capacity thing of up to 22. We're not being predictive that it's going to actually be 22,000.

Q: So is that to say it's as many people who can get on in the next two weeks, or is there a consideration...

KIRBY: What I can tell you is that over the next few weeks, we're going to be as aggressive as we can and moving as many people as we can. And as you've heard me say, once we get the operation up and running well here, we could get conceivably up to 5000 out a day. But it's -- that's -- that's seats on airplanes, not just military airplanes, but commercial and charter airplanes as well. That doesn't necessarily mean that there will be that demand signal on the other end. Does that -- does that answer your question?

Q: Yes.

KIRBY: Let me back to the phones here. I haven't been good about this. Tara Copp?

Q: Thank you for doing this. We just reported on the C-17, a separate C-17, that was able to airlift 640 Afghans out and learned that that was one of several C-17s that had that number or more aboard. So just wondering how is the Pentagon or State Department tracking just how many Afghans and Americans it's helping assist depart the country.

And how -- how going forward are you able to track those people to be able to help them as they repatriate elsewhere?

TAYLOR: So the number of 700 that I gave earlier was the number reported by the Department of State and the commander on the ground. So the question, as we continue to go forward, that is one of the more important tasks that we will do as Department of State continues to provide names of those that will depart. The military will continue to insure we have the aircraft whether it's military or civilian aircraft to get them out and continue to report forward.

KIRBY: David?

Q: This is a lot like Meghann’s question. What is the determining factor here? Is it August 31st or is it the completion of the mission to evacuate diplomats, U.S. citizens, vulnerable Afghans?

KIRBY: It's -- the mission is to evacuate our embassy personnel, American citizens as well as Afghans who we can help. That's the mission set. The timeframe that we're on right now is to -- is to do that, complete that mission by August 31st. And if we're at 5000 and I've seen some estimates that go north at 5000 a day, depending on how many stories you can fly.

And obviously that's dependent on a lot of factors, including weather. We believe that there -- with that capacity, should air operations be able to go uninterrupted that we can meet those -- we can meet that goal by the end of the month. Beyond August 31st it's just too difficult to speculate and we wouldn't get ahead of decisions that haven't been made yet.

Where our head is right down right now on getting the air operations going again, getting -- getting the airplanes in with troops and getting people on those same airplanes as they head out. And then once the troop flow is done, to be continued -- to continue to flow in military aircraft empty to pick up people and go out.

But again, our focus is on getting as much done as we can, as quickly as we can. And yes, the day August 31st is when the president has told us to be done in this drawn down in this movement. I won't speculate about what it's going to look like beyond that.

Q: Are there any plans for helping people get to the airport?

KIRBY: Right now, as I said before, our mission -- military mission is to secure the airport, to safe guard air traffic and people and the flow at the airport. And that's -- that's what we're focused on right now. Courtney?

Q: General Taylor, can you tell us a little bit more -- Kirby said that there hasn't been any Taliban attacks but there were a couple of security incidents earlier in the day, were those Taliban? Was these armed fighters that the U.S. had --

TAYLOR: No, we can't confirm that those were Taliban. We do know that there was some random shooting that came in during that piece but not confirmed to be Taliban.

Q: Has there been any other security instances like and have there been any Americans wounded?

TAYLOR: There haven't been any other major security incidents other than what we saw last night. There was a report of one U.S. wounded but superficial and already back to duty.

Q: Shot? Was the individual shot?

TAYLOR: I -- I don't know that detail. He was wounded.

Q: And then can you -- and then can you -- I'm not sure who this is for but I'm still unclear on the numbers but there have been 700 since -- let's take it from August 14th until right now.

TAYLOR: Yes.

Q: There have been 700 SIV candidates. How many Americans have been moved, how many aircraft have left taking people out. Like how many total people have been moved in front of this evacuation operation so far?

TAYLOR: Yes, so I can give you the answer for the SIV. So in the last 48, we know that we had 700 out on flights. That gives that total of 2,000 SIVs since we began operations.

Q: But how many Americans? I mean haven't there been Americans moved out of -- who worked at the Embassy right? And are there Afghans who are not SIV candidates as well, have there been -- I'm trying to get a sense of -- you know this has been ongoing for 48 hours and I hate to say, but have you only moved 700 total people in 48 hours? (Inaudible).

TAYLOR: Well, so first thing just to remind everyone, the SIVs that we're talking about were in the charter flights that the State Department had chartered and we have been running those since the 29th of July.

We have -- I think 10 -- flight 10 arrived overnight last, 265. None of them went to Fort Lee. They already had their electronic visas and they're being processed by state. The outflow of Americans and Embassy staff is -- it's in the hundreds. I don't have an exact number for you but just to reinforce, this is sort of available space on aircraft that are coming in configured, not ideal to just load up completely.

There's equipment backhauls and other things that are occurring on these aircrafts. So just think of it as a space available with those aircraft going out. And as Mr. Kirby said, as soon as we get all the forces in, you will have aircraft coming solely for ramping up these evacuations, getting up to the 20 or 30 a day, getting you up to 5,000 per day.

Q: So but as of now it's still in the hundreds of people who -- as part of this evacuation mission and the hundreds --

TAYLOR: That's what I’m tracking. 

KIRBY: That's right. And we talked about that earlier today. We have time for just a couple more, guys. Mike.

Q: Yes. Can you tell how we're -- the U.S. is going to keep Afghanistan from becoming another terrorist safe haven since arguably, we're in a worse position than we were pre-9/11.

KIRBY: We talked about this too, Mike. I mean we have a robust over the horizon counterterrorism capabilities already in the region. And we can fly from ships at sea. We can fly from bases in the region. I mean just in terms of the support we were able to give to the Afghans, in just the air strikes that we did in support of them. I mean there were multiple sorties per day.

And -- and sometimes several strikes, sometimes as many as 10 to a dozen per day. So we've got the capability and the capacity and we continue to talk --

Q: (Inaudible) allies anymore?

KIRBY: We continue to talk to partners in the region to see if we can explore additional options that are closer to Afghanistan. But you've heard the Secretary say this many times. There's not a scrap of the earth that we can't hit if we don't need to. Now is it more difficult to do counterterrorism strikes over the horizon, you bet.

Do you have to travel more distances, yes. Could it take more time, yes. But it's not like we haven't done this before. And if you look at -- if you look at other places around the world we -- where we execute over the horizon counterterrorism, it is possible, it is effective and we believe that our intelligence apparatus and the networks we have in the region now are far more mature than they were in 2001 and we believe that we can execute effective over the horizon counterterrorism capabilities going forward.

Doesn't mean that we aren't going to try to improve that. We absolutely will. I got just time for one more. I'll go to Tony.

Q: Yes. So General Taylor, I want to go back to the question that the -- the Afghan National Security Forces collapsed quicker than anticipated. What was anticipated? I ask you because you've been there. You had -- you said you had a deep emotional connection to the events on the ground. Roughly, $83 billion has been spent, 66,000 of these great people have been killed, according to the SIGAR.

Can you give a sense broadly why do you think they seem to have collapsed quicker than expected?

TAYLOR: I think, as Mr. Kirby said earlier and others, that the anticipation of the lack possibly of action by some of the Afghan leaders I think is one of the areas that we look -- are continuing to look at.

Q: When you say Afghan leaders, you talking military or political leaders?

TAYLOR: Military and some of the political. But really as we look at what where the actions or lack of actions that the military level throughout the country is what we're looking at right now.

Q: Because $83 billion, people are going to say that was wasted. I mean what do you think -- what do you respond to somebody who was not following this closely?

TAYLOR: Yes, I know that we will continue to look to find out and dig deep into the why we're at where we are today.

Q: Thank you.

KIRBY: Thanks everybody. We got to get going. Appreciate it.

*[Eds. Note Fort McCoy, Wisconsin]