Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds an Off-Camera Press Briefing

Aug. 18, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  Good morning, everybody.  Let me get organized here. 

Q: You’re not color coordinated today…sorry to tell you.

MR. KIRBY: Oh, the mask. I know, I -- actually I shouldn't admit this but there is a -- there is a mask that actually goes with this suit.  But it -- it is in my car and since I'm not on camera I figured I wouldn't have to go back and get it.  Otherwise, I would -- I would hear about it if I was on TV with a mask that wasn't properly coordinated.

All right, lots to walk through today.  So, let's just get -- let's just get right at it.  So, we'll give you a -- start, obviously, with an update -- operational update on our effort in Afghanistan.  And as I think you all realized just keep in mind that this is a snapshot in time.  Very dynamic, fluid situation, things keep flowing, things keep changing.

So, just please keep that in mind.  So, currently, U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan is approximately 4,500 total troops on the ground in Kabul, and when I say in Kabul I mean at the airport.  There may be a few hundred more that will flow in today but we're not anticipating a big shift in personnel beyond that right now.

The operation and actually that number I should -- I want to add that, well, I'll get to that later.  The operation's ongoing and so here's just a -- some -- some quick snapshots.  Kabul Airport remains secure and open for flight operations, military flights are arriving and departing consistently, and there is limited commercial flight operations as well as some foreign contracted flights that are coming and going.

In the past 24 hours, 18 C-17s and one C-130 arrived with around 700 additional troops and some equipment, and that brought our total as I said up to about 4,500.  There are --

Q:  (Inaudible) 24 hours you said?

MR. KIRBY:  Twenty-four hours, yes.  And -- and -- and, Courtney, by 24 hours what I'm giving you are numbers that are relevant as of 3:00 this morning our time.  So, from 0300 to 0300.  That's how we're going to try to frame this for you.  But as I said, several hundred more could come in today so, you know, it's -- we're continuing to flow.

Q:  Sorry, just -- so it doesn't overlap with the nine you said yesterday?  That's...

MR. KIRBY:  It's -- what we're trying to get to now is 03 to 03.  So, the last 24 hours.  That's the best I -- I can do.  So, you're at 4,500 right now approximately and 700 came in over the last 24 hours.   This -- there are -- I know you know there are lots of troops.  Some of the -- some of the 4,500 are -- include 1,300 Marines that are on deck and they are to continue to flow in.

They're from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Special Marine Air-Ground Task Force - Crisis Response and we've talked about prepositioning just to stress that both of those units were forward deployed in the CENTCOM AORs as part of their normal deployment operations.

And some of the secretary's decisions to make sure that they would be ready to go on short notice.  And they were, and, of course, non-combatant evacuation operation support is something that Marines are well trained in and do -- and do well.  So, we're glad to have them on the ground.

Additionally, 18 C-17s have departed in the last 24 hours.  These flights have carried around 2,000 passengers.  And I can confirm that 325 of those passengers are American citizens.  The remainder of the number will include Afghans and some NATO personnel.  In the next 24 hours, the scheduled airlift numbers will be similar to the last 24 hours.

And as I said yesterday, there are a number of factors that can influence flight operations and the circumstances can -- can change.  Obviously, we're going to do what we can to keep you updated.  But in terms of flow of aircraft in and out the next 24 hours we anticipate will look a lot like the last 24 hours.

Now, that's flow of sorties, I can't guarantee that the numbers of people on those planes will be the same because some of these planes are still coming in loaded for equipment and people that are not just all empty C-17s with 300 seats on them.  We're still flowing in some people, so there's different configurations on the plane.  Courtney, do you have a question?

Q:  Yes.  The White House put out the numbers last night, that there were 1,100 U.S. citizens.  So, the 325 AMCITS.  So, you're not giving us aggregate number at this point, right?  I'm -- because I...

MR. KIRBY:  They were -- they were right.  They got that number from us, that was at the end of our day yesterday that that was the 1,100 that we got out in -- at the end of our day.  What I'm trying to get to here just for our consistency is, you know, 03 to 03.  And so, I'm -- that -- that's what I'm giving you now.

Q:  So, do we add the 325 to the 1,100?  So that they -- so that they got 1,400, now we can't do that right because that's not right.

MR. KIRBY:  I don't think so.

Q:  Do you have an aggregate number of how many...

MR. KIRBY:  Yes we do.  And I -- if I don't have it here we'll -- we can get it for you.

Q: OK, sorry, it's just that it's like the big question that we keep getting.

MR. KIRBY:  I understand.

Q:  How many people are getting out?  And it's like the numbers...

MR. KIRBY:  I am well aware that data can be confused.

Q:  Yes.

MR. KIRBY:  I get it.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Just give you what I -- what we can here.  There is another capability that's worth mentioning, I mentioned the Marines but the -- and their expertise at non-combatant evacuation operations.

But we also want to point out that the -- the 621st Contingency Response Group out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst arrived also in the last 24 hours.  They were part of that flow-in.

This is a dynamic Air Force unit highly specialized in the rapid deployment of personnel to quickly open airfields and establish, expand, sustain, and coordinate air mobility operations.  So, this is a group that knows how to run airfields.  And can help with the -- the actual air operations on the ground.

The secretary and the chairman are over at the White House as we speak with the president updating him on these ongoing efforts in Afghanistan.  And I can announce that you'll hear from both of them later today at -- at the podium here in the briefing room.  Right now it's scheduled for 1500.

As you know things can change but -- but -- but I'd be planning for a 1500 briefing with the chairman and the -- and the secretary.  And, obviously, throughout all this, we continue to work closely with our State Department counterparts.

The success of this and any other evacuation is going to rely on -- on the full efforts of a team of organizations all of which focused on the various elements and, of course, trying to -- trying to integrate multiple parts.

And the last thing I'll say on this and then I want to get to Haiti for just a little bit is that we're focused on the present mission.  That's where our heads are.  There's -- there's lots of things in this space out there, and -- and lots of speculation, and what I can tell you is that -- and you'll hear this from them this afternoon -- the secretary and the chairman are focused on what we're doing today and tomorrow and -- and trying to help get as many people out as safely and as efficiently as possible.  That's the focus of the -- of the -- of the U.S. military right now, and that is not changed.

OK.  Still on Afghanistan, or Afghanistan-related, I want to talk a little bit about Special Immigrant Visa applicants and housing.  So as you know, the department recently approved a request for assistance from the State Department to provide additional temporary housing, sustainment and support inside the United States for a number of up to 22,000.  It's not 22,000 for sure; it's a capacity of up to 22,000 Special Immigrant Visa applicants, their families and other at-risk individuals.  Today, Secretary Austin authorized the use of Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort McCoy, Wisconsin to provide this additional support in addition to Fort Lee, which you already know is -- has been part of this process.  U.S. Northern Command will coordinate all the details with the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services as necessary, and this support will be provided under presidential drawdown authority to maximum extent possible with additional support being provided on a reimbursable basis.  The focus is on getting this done, getting this capacity in place.  And obviously, we're -- we're proud to continue to support the State Department with this fast-developing mission set, and the details of exactly how each site is going to be fitted out and -- and the capacity improved, we're still working on.  I don't have all that today, but I'll update you as -- as much as we can.

The -- the big mover that I wanted to make sure we announced was the -- the addition of these two bases, Fort McCoy and Fort Bliss, and -- and the contributions that we're trying to make to -- to -- to build out capacity for -- for people to have temporary housing while they continue their processing.

So on Haiti, yesterday, the -- the secretary had a chance to go on down to the National Military Command Center here in the -- in the -- in the Pentagon to talk to the team that's working the Haiti response and -- and to get an update from them.  He was very grateful for all the work they're doing and the coordination with U.S. Southern Command.  The people of Haiti continue to need assistance from the devastating earthquake that occurred on the 14th of August, and the Department of Defense will continue work to save lives in support of USAID's Bureau of Humanitarian Affairs. 

USAID is the lead agency, and they're working to get relief to those in need.  But in terms of our support, you know, the Coast Guard's on scene.  They've been flying lifesaving missions since Sunday.  There's been -- you -- you've probably seen some of the -- the images and the video coming out of that.  And they have, as of late last evening -- this is as of late last evening, they -- they saved 67 people, flying 72 flights.  They've transported search-and-rescue responders and 5,500 pounds of medical supplies.  Rear Admiral Keith Davids, the commander of Joint Task Force Haiti, arrived yesterday evening in Port-au-Prince, and he's currently operating from the embassy to lead DOD efforts in support, again, as I said, of USAID.

As I also mentioned yesterday, the U.S. Navy's USS Arlington is now underway and is expected to arrive Friday off of Haiti, where it will provide airlift and medical capabilities, and serve as yet another resource for the Haitian people.  Eight U.S. helicopters -- that's three CH-47 Chinooks and five UH-60 Blackhawks -- are currently prepositioned at Naval Station Guantanamo, and after a weather delay from Tropical Storm Grace yesterday, they will now be operating each day out of Port-au-Prince.  All the helicopters will be on airlift missions to ease suffering and get people and capabilities where they need to be.  Again, this is an important mission and we all take it very seriously, and we want to do what we can to help the people of Haiti.  And as, again, we have updates to that mission set, we'll certainly keep you informed.

OK, that's an awful lot.  Bob?

Q:  John, thank you.  I think you mentioned in your rundown on Afghanistan that over the past 24 hours, there've been about 2,000 people evacuated by the airlift, and that you expect it to be about the same in the next 24 hours.

MR. KIRBY:  What I said would be the same is the -- is the sorties, the -- the aircraft.

Q:  OK.

MR. KIRBY:  And I -- I tried to make that clear.  I guess I didn't, but we expect the air activity, in terms of -- so we had 18 C-17s and one C-130.  We expect about the same number of sorties over the next 24 hours, but I -- I can't tell you exactly the numbers of people that will be coming and going because the -- our force flow is beginning to get smaller as we get more troops on the field, and -- and I just can't be perfectly-predictive over the next 24 how many individuals will be evacuated.

Q:  My question is, you've -- you've mentioned 5,000 and 9,000 per day as your goal, and you're a long way from that, apparently, at the moment.  I'm wondering whether -- to what degree is the limiting factor, the inability of people, particularly Afghans, to actually get to the airport because of the Taliban checkpoints, et cetera.

MR. KIRBY:  Five- -- 5- to 9,000 is not a -- a goal; it's -- as I said, it's the capacity, the -- the -- the max capacity that we think will be able to reach when we're at full throttle.  The goal is to get as many people out as quickly as we can.  So I -- I want to make it clear, we're not -- you know, it -- it's not a certain number per day.  We're -- we're simply trying to get as many people out as we can.  And there are -- there -- there's lots of factors that affect the numbers, Bob, and -- to include the ability to process people through the gate and to do it safely, and that's what we're doing -- we're working in lockstep with the State Department on -- on that processing angle.  I would refer you to them to speak to that with more detail.  And then our job is, again, really, to help -- help with the security. 

We're going to -- when -- we talked about sending this crisis response group.  We're also deploying some evacuation -- evacuation control teams from the Marines that do this really, really well in terms of helping the consular officers manifest and review the paperwork for incoming people.  So they're -- we're still working on the processing here.  That -- I think that's really -- and at -- that -- that's really what we're focused on over the next 24 hours, is -- is how we are reviewing and helping the State Department process individuals, qualified individuals to -- to get manifested.

Q:  But in the safe passage agreement that General McKenzie worked out with the Taliban, I mean, does it -- is it going to work if they can't get to the airport?  Isn't that the problem?

MR. KIRBY:  It is working.  The -- it -- it is working.  As I said, we had another 300-plus Americans and -- and -- and -- American citizens go out over the last 24 hours.  So in that respect, it -- it's working, and we are continuing to have communication with the Taliban about making sure we can, A, continue that flow and that -- and that our special immigrant visa applicants are included in it.  Carla?

Q:  On the situation on the ground, are you running out of space?  Can you kind of update us with the number of international folks that you're working with?  We've been seeing posts.  The Turks are there.  We heard the Australians are wanting to come to help or may already be there.  The Albanians are still there you can see on social media.  Can you give us an update on how many foreign forces are helping?

MR. KIRBY:  I do not have a breakdown of foreign forces at the airport.  I mean, obviously the Turks are still there.  They have been very helpful in terms of helping us establish security at the airport, but I don't have a breakdown of other nations and exactly, you know, who they have there.

Q:  Who would we go to find out exactly how many number of foreign forces are there?

MR. KIRBY:  We can try to pull the number.  I mean, it's -- we can take that for you.  I just -- I just don't have it handy right now.

Q:  OK, and then also on the deaths, I know we're talking about what's happening today and tomorrow, but do we have any more details on the numbers of Afghans who were killed during the initial chaos of the evacuation?

MR. KIRBY:  So as you saw the Air Force Office of Special Investigations is reviewing the incident with that one C-17 that taxied in and took off with Afghans clinging to the airframe.  Clearly we know just by visual evidence and by the Air Force's statement that there were at least several fatalities involved in that, but I don't want to get ahead of the Air Force's review in terms of hard numbers of what the total toll was.  That we just pass on, again, our -- the deepest condolences for the loved ones and families of those who were killed, but we obviously know that there were several fatalities.

Q:  When should we expect that review to be wrapping up?

MR. KIRBY:  You'd have to talk to the Air Force, Carla.  They would be the ones to speak to that.  I don't know how long their process is going to be.  Idrees?

Q:  On the SIVs, the White house put out the number yesterday that there were like 2,000 SIV applicants who have been flown out so far, which I think is the same number as it was the day before and the day before that.  Am I understanding that wrong or...

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, I'm not sure if that's accurate, Idrees.

Q:  OK, because that White House official or whoever it was did say 2,000 SIV applicants had been flown out.  Do you have an updated number?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't.  I don't other than what I've given you today.  Sylvie?

Q:  I have two different questions.  First, there was a Dutch plane that left Kabul empty because the U.S. military at the guard -- the entrance of the airport didn't allow the Dutch citizen to get into the airport to take the plane, so are you taking measures to help, you know, other countries to get their citizens?

MR. KIRBY:  I can't speak to that incident, but we're all mindful.  To Bob's question, we're all mindful that the processing of individuals is a very important step in this process, and that's why, again, we're flowing in Marines that -- actually teams that specialize in evacuation control point coordination as well as this crisis response group to bolster and to assist our State Department colleagues on the review work that they have to do at that level to help process individuals. 

As I said, Sylvie, our goal is to help as many people as possible in as short a period of time as possible, and we're going to continue to look for ways to do that.

Q:  OK, and another question.  The Taliban have seized a lot of weapons that because of the collapse of the Afghan Army.  So what are you going to do about that?

MR. KIRBY:  So what -- look.  I mean, we've had this question before on the equipment.  Let me remind that we have actually been retrograding out of Afghanistan for many, many months before this administration took office because the previous administration ordered numbers down to 2,500.  And through the retrograde process this summer, as we have talked about, there were constant decisions made on vehicles and weapons and other systems.  Some were brought back to the United States.  Some were redeployed into the Central Command AOR.  Some were destroyed, and some were transferred over to the Afghan National Security Forces. 

A very responsible process.  Very deliberate.  Done in the same way we would do it in any other environment.  When it comes to U.S.-provided equipment that is still in Afghanistan and may not be in, you know, be in the hands of ANSF, there are several options that we have at our disposal to try to deal with that problem set.  We don't obviously want to see our equipment in the hands of those who would act against our interest or the interest of the Afghan people, and increase violence and insecurity inside Afghanistan.

There are numerous policy choices that can be made, to including -- you know, up to and including destruction, and what I would tell you at this point is those decisions about disposition of that level of equipment in Afghanistan haven't been made yet.

Q:  And finally, if I can, can you confirm that there were some incidents with shots, weapon fired very close to the airport these last hours?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.  So we’ve obviously seen reports of shots being fired on the perimeter of the airport, particularly at locations of the gates.  What I can tell you is that it's our understanding, and again, I want to be -- I want to caveat this.  This is a dynamic and fluid situation, and it's difficult for me sitting here to give you perfect information about every single shot that was fired.  I can't do that.

What I can tell you is that we are aware that shots -- some shots were fired largely around the gate areas, and it's our understanding that at least some of these -- I can't account for every bullet, but at least some of these were fired by U.S. personnel on the airport side of the perimeter as crowd control measures, as non-lethal warnings if you will.  No shots were fired by American troops at Afghans or anybody else. 

None of these shots that we're aware of have anything to do with hostile intent or hostile activity.  Simply used as crowd control.  Now that is my understanding, Sylvie.  Again, I am not going to say that I'm accounting for every single round that was fired overnight in Kabul at the airport, but based on our reporting that's what this appears to be.  It's our troops doing what they're trained to do, which is try to -- again, hold security at the airport and a semblance of order and we have no indications that there were any casualties or injuries as a result of these shots being fired.

Q:  (Inaudible)

MR. KIRBY:  It was just overnight.  I don't have the exact timeframe.  Barb?

Q:  A number of follow-ups.  When you say a non-lethal crowd control are you saying the U.S. troops are using the equivalent of rubber bullets?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't know what rounds they had in their – Barbara, I'm not going to get into every shot that was fired.

Q:  OK.  I'm just asking because you said non-lethal, so.

MR. KIRBY:  Non-lethal as in not shooting at people.

Q:  OK.  Well, bullets go in the air, bullets come down. 

MR. KIRBY:  I know they have -- they have rubber bullets at their disposal, Barb, but if you're asking me to tell you what's in the magazine of every soldier over there, I just can't do that.

Q:  I want to ask a couple of additional follow-ups.  Has the U.S. military, since you control the airport and the flights, have you now promised the 500 Afghan forces assisting you inside the airport that you will take them out to safety?

MR. KIRBY:  I know of no -- I don't know.  I -- I couldn't know that, Barbara.  As I said yesterday, I mean, we, and the secretary has made clear, we want to assist all the brave Afghans who have helped us.  And if these ANSF soldiers want to be a part of that process they will absolutely find us open and willing to do what we can to help them.

Q:  OK.  My last question, to follow-up on Bob, you did say just a minute ago that five to -- 5,000 to 9,000 was indeed a goal.  That was your word describing it.  And you're pretty far from that goal right now.  Do you still you think you can get there? 

And my -- part of that, is there anything that you are doing, that the U.S. government is doing to assist Americans in Afghanistan, in Kabul, around the country to get to the airport and pass through the checkpoints?  Are you doing anything to assist them to get to the checkpoints? 

MR. KIRBY:  So let me try level-setting again on the 5- to 9,000, it's a capacity goal.  We want to be able to have the capacity to flow that many out per day.  That doesn't mean that every day we're going to reach that range.  But it's the capacity goal that we're trying to reach.

And as the force flow in dwindles, which it is now starting to get smaller.  So we have 4,500 on the ground, it will allow more aircraft to come in that are more specifically configured for passengers and not passengers and equipment. 

And so, we believe that the capacity goals will get higher.  I am not going to be, as I told Bob, I'm not going to be predictive on -- you know -- for what we -- how many people we're going to be able to get out tomorrow or the next day as there's still a processing effort that has to be done and frankly we're working hard to bolster that processing of individuals.

The mission and I understand where the question's coming from, and it's -- the mission is exactly the same as it was yesterday.  It is focused on security at the airport, number one.  Air operations, number two.  And as I said, commercial flights can fly, civilian aviation can fly but there are some limits to it.  Military aviation can -- is and will continue to fly conditions permitting. 

And then number three, to assist our State Department colleagues in the processing of individuals at the airport gates.  You know, the marshalling centers and the getting them manifested and onto planes going out.  That's the focus.  The focus is at the airport.

Q:  If the focus -- I mean, would be wrong to walk away thinking, concluding that there is no U.S. government effort at the moment to assist American citizens to get to the airport in Kabul?  Because I haven't heard anybody say definitively that there is.  And how many Americans do you now think are in Afghanistan?

MR. KIRBY:  I -- our focus is on the airport and those three mission sets.  That's what we're focused on, Barb.  And I'm -- that -- that's what we're doing.  That's what our troops are trained to do.  That is what they are assisting our State Department colleagues doing is the focus is at the airport.  And I don't know how many Americans are in Afghanistan.  That's a question put to the State Department, not the Department of Defense.  We don't have that kind of granularity.

Tara?

Q:  So we're seeing reports that U.S. military aircraft fighter jets are doing low passes over Kabul Airport.  Can you confirm that that's taking place?  And are they from Strike Group?  Or are they Air Force assets and what is their role?

MR. KIRBY:  I hadn't seen those reports, Tara, so let me -- let me get back to you on that.

Q:  OK.  And then secondly on the capacity issue what I had heard that it's not the capacity problem with the airlift, it's the fact that none of the Afghans that are trying to get through the airport have the appropriate paperwork. 

Heard reports that there's a tacit agreement basically with the Taliban if somebody has the paperwork to show that they were in the process they'll be allowed through.  But it's a paperwork problem.  And so I was wondering if the Defense Department is working with State to try and help people get that paperwork as quickly as possible. 

And then secondly, just the logistics of the --

MR. KIRBY:  This is thirdly...

Q:  -- it is a third -- that there's an 8:00 p.m. curfew in place that also makes it much more difficult for numbers of people to flow through.  So how will the U.S. work through these things to actually help people get out?

MR. KIRBY:  We war working with the State Department on both those issues.  And so I'll have to get back to you on the other question.  And I haven't --

Q:  Can you talk about what you guys are doing for the paperwork and for just the flow -- is -- are there discussions that are going on with Taliban, for instance, to maybe lift the curfew so that more people can get through?

MR. KIRBY:  What I would tell you there is, there is constant communication with the Taliban commanders outside the field with respect to helping us with the flow.  And we are -- we are talking to them about the effect that their curfew and their -- and the limits that they're putting on flow outside the airport is having on our ability to accomplish the mission.  And on the paperwork obviously that is not -- that -- I don't mean to keep deflecting, but that really is a State Department function.

What I can tell you is that we are working with the State Department to see if we can solve the paperwork problem that we know exists.  OK? 

Q:  (Inaudible).

MR. KIRBY:  Give me just -- I haven't gotten to anyone on the phone.  And if I don't get anybody on the phone I run the risk of getting fired.  Let's see Eric Schmidt, I think you're on?  OK.  Karoun, from The Post?

Q:  Hi, how are you?  So I have a question that’s also related to the airport perimeter.  At this point given that there clearly are problems that are -- with people getting in, why is the U.S. military not expanding its perimeter to be on the outside of the airport too to try enable some of that passage? 

And also just kind of relatedly, you said that there were 4,500 -- the footprint was 4,500 right now and not really expected to grow significantly.  We were hearing numbers like 6,000 before, is that a strategic decision that is related to this airport issue or why is that number stopping short of what we were hearing just a few days ago?

MR. KIRBY:  Nobody's talking about it stopping short, Karoun, I mean 4,500 is where we are now, every day we've been updating all of you on the flow as best we can.  I said in my opening statement that we think several hundred more U.S. troops will arrive most likely over the next 24 hours.  And tomorrow we'll come back and give you the fresh numbers.

Commanders on the ground obviously have the authority to adjust the force posture as they see fit.  What the Secretary wanted to make sure was that they -- we had the capacity to get up to 6,000 and that was the plan a few days ago.  I'm saying it's not going to reach 6,000.  But it's really going to be something we evaluate day-to-day and the commanders on the ground certainly have authority to adjust those numbers.

On the --

Q:  Expanding outside --

MR. KIRBY:  -- on your first question about expanding the perimeter.  I'm just not going to talk about potential future operations one way or the other.  The focus right now is on security at the airport on the airport premises itself and on assisting the State Department with the flow of people through the various gates at which they can enter the airport.  That's our focus right now and I think I'd just leave it at that.

Yes, Lucas.

Q:  Does the Pentagon feel any obligation to help rescue some of these Americans outside the airport right now?

MR. KIRBY:  We have a -- we believe an important obligation to help get as many people out of Afghanistan as we can.  I understand the question and where it's coming from.  Again, our focus right now, Lucas, is on the airport and making sure that the airport stays a safe and secure place where people can flow into and flow out of.

Q:  Do you have enough troops to accomplish that mission?  Do you need a national mission force?

MR. KIRBY:  Lucas, I think the Secretary's comfortable that he's been given the authorities from the President to flow in the forces that we believe are necessary.  As I said, we're at 4,500 today, that number's going to go up.  We've been talking about the authorization of up to 6,000 to go in there.  And again, we'll make this adjustment day by day.

Q:  Are all American citizens accounted for in Kabul outside the airport?

MR. KIRBY:  I can't speak to that.  That's not something the Defense Department would be able to speak to.

Let me go back to the phones.  Travis Tritten from Bloomberg.

Q:  Hey, thanks, John.  The question about the airport and security there.  Is the entire airport military and civilian sides under U.S. control or has the Taliban moved into the civilian side?  And on a separate issue, lawmakers have called on the Pentagon to extend the August 31 evacuation deadline.  Is that an option at this point?  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: Yes, the airport is secure and it's being secured by U.S., Turkish and allied troops.  There are no Taliban in control of any part of the airport.  They do have positions outside the airport which is one of the reasons why we continue to communicate with them.  But the airport is secure and is being secured by American and other foreign troops.

On your second question about the date.  Again, the mandate by the president is to complete this mission by the -- the 31st of August, and that's the target we're shooting for.  I won't speculate about any -- any possible different decisions going forward.  That would be at -- that would have to be a decision made by the commander-in-chief.  Our focus is on getting this accomplished by the 31st of August.  That's where our headspace is.

Yeah, Court?

Q:  On the -- the conversations with the Taliban, how are those happening?  Are they calling you on the phone?  Are they going out -- outside and -- and talking to them face to face?

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I don't know.  I -- I -- I -- it's probably a mixture of both, Courtney, but I have no idea.  Rear Admiral Vasely is the one on the ground as commander of U.S. Forces Forward, and he's the one having these conversations.  I -- I -- I couldn't tell you how -- how they're transpiring.

Q:  How do we characterize the Taliban person who's -- is it, like, is it his counterpart, essentially?  Like, somebody who's a military -- a senior military commander in the Taliban who he's discussing this with?  Or do you know?

MR. KIRBY:  My understanding is that the -- the individual that Admiral Vasely is communicating with is designated by the Taliban as -- as their appropriate commander for what -- what they're doing at -- at the airport.  I --- I don't -- I don't -- I -- I confess to not knowing the Taliban order of battle or their -- their organizational structure, but -- but Admiral Vasely is coordinating with this individual, and it appears to be the appropriate level and the appropriate person with the appropriate authorities to -- to command the Taliban elements that are outside the airport.

Q:  And there still haven't been any -- any engagements between the U.S. and the military in the Taliban, right?  No shots fired between the two sides?

MR. KIRBY:  No, there have not. 

Jeff Schogol?

Q:  Thank you.  Just doing a little math, I think you said about 2,000 people evacuated in the past 24 hours, about 300-some are American citizens.  Does that mean, oh, about another 1,700 or so Afghan SIV applicants and their families have been evacuated in the past 24 hours?

MR. KIRBY:  No, not all of the Afghans on the -- and we can get you a better number on -- on the SIVs, Jeff, but I -- not all of the Afghans that are on the plane are technically SIVs, so that wouldn't be an accurate assumption.  But I don't -- we'll see if we can get you a better number on exactly how many SIVs.

Q:  Thank you.  And I'm -- I'm hearing various reports about Afghans with appropriate paperwork, even including green cards, being turned away at the airport by U.S. troops.  Is the U.S. taking any steps to make sure that Afghans who do have green cards and who have been told by the State Department that they can travel, that they can actually get into the airport?  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  So what I would tell you, Jeff -- I'm not aware of all these individual cases, but I -- and I -- I don't want to speak for my colleagues at the State Department.  But they have consular officers at two of the gates, as well as in the terminal, and -- and our troops are working with those consular officers.  The consular officers are the ones making -- as appropriate, they are making decisions as to -- as to the -- the processing of individuals, and we're trying to assist them in that effort.  But I -- I can't speak to individual cases.  But -- but there are consular officers from the State Department trained to do this kind of work, and they're -- and they're -- they are at the -- they are at the, at least two of the gates that I know of, and are helping with the -- the decision-making process of -- of flow in.

Yeah, David?

Q:  Is it a fact that the evacuation depends on the goodwill of the Taliban?  And you also said that the U.S. does not want its equipment to fall into the hands of those who would wish it -- or -- or use it to harm us and our allies, but you didn't say into the hands of the Taliban.  What is the policy on weapons into the hands of the Taliban, as opposed to other groups in Afghanistan?

MR. KIRBY:  There's other -- as you said, there's other groups in Afghanistan, as well.  I -- I -- I'm not going to speculate, David, about the future disposition of equipment and aircraft.  As I told Sylvie, there are multiple options that we can explore here, and we -- we are working through those options right now, so I'm just not going to get ahead of that.

And then your other question about the -- the goodwill, I mean, we -- as Jake Sullivan said yesterday, we have agreed to some safe passage arrangements with the Taliban.  I'm not going to walk you away from the idea that -- that that's not important.  Of course, it's important.  But to say that the evacuation all hinges on goodwill of the Taliban, I think, is to overstate all the efforts that have to go into this, including working with the State Department on -- on the manifest list and their work to -- to -- to notify individuals when to get to the airport, as well as the military efforts to provide the airlift and to provide the security at the airport, and to make sure that the airport is -- is up and running.  There's a lot of pieces to this.  But -- but the safe passage -- but the safe passage agreement is important.  There's no question about that, since we aren't outside the airport and they are. 

Pierre?

Q:  Can you confirm that the U.S. military provided a military airplane for one leader of Taliban to come to Afghanistan?

MR. KIRBY:  I can't confirm that.

Q:  I see video?

MR. KIRBY:  I cannot confirm that.

Q:  Because you don't know, or because it's not...

MR. KIRBY:  I cannot confirm that.

Q:  Hi, John.  You mentioned the commanders on the ground talking to the Taliban about a flow of people to the airport.  Did Taliban activity on the south side of the airport on Monday help stop the flow of people onto the runway?  And was that done by the Taliban's own accord, or were U.S. commanders requesting assistance with that?

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I know of no requests for the Taliban to assist on Monday.  I couldn't tell you what they were doing.  What I can tell you is what we were doing.  Obviously, faced with that very daunting challenge and literally thousands of people on the tarmac and on the flight line and imperiling operations, not to mention themselves, as we -- we briefed you on Monday afternoon, the U.S. military led an effort to basically sweep those people off of the flight line and -- and move them outside the airport.  So...

Q:   Were they involved in that sweeping effort that...

MR. KIRBY:  No.

Q:  That they were not on...

MR. KIRBY:  No.  They were not...

Q:  They were not on the grounds?

MR. KIRBY:  No.

Q:  All right.

MR. KIRBY:  Never, no.

Q:  Were you in communication with the Taliban at that time?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't know.

Q:  OK.  And just a last question: Is any part of the deal with the Taliban that U.S. forces don't leave the airport?

MR. KIRBY:  Is there any part of the deal that says we can't leave the airport?

Q:  That we remain inside the perimeter?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not aware of any such agreement.

Yeah?

Q:  Three points: To Pierre's question, I think he's referring to a video that shows Mullah Baradar walking, and there's a C-17 in the background.

MR. KIRBY:  I've seen the video.

Q:  I'm looking...

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I'm -- I'm not going to answer it any differently, Luis.

Q:  I know, but I'm looking -- I'm looking at -- I'm looking at the plane that belongs to the Qatari air force and has the same markings as the plane that was on the tarmac.  Your -- your answer makes it sound like that was an American plane, but I'm looking at...

MR. KIRBY:  I...

Q:  ... MAC, which is on the side of an American aircraft -- of the Qatari aircraft.

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah.

Q:  OK.

(LAUGHTER)

Q:  The -- there's a report out that there may be 45 aircraft, helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft that departed Afghanistan flown by their own personnel to neighboring countries.  Can you confirm that?

MR. KIRBY:  I can't confirm the numbers, Luis, but we do know some Afghan Air Force aircraft piloted by Afghan and -- Afghan Air Force pilots did leave the country and went to -- went to third country locations that they flew them out.  We do know that.

Q:  You can't categorize -- you can't quantify it?

MR. KIRBY:  I can't.

Q:  The theme of the day seems to be you guys are on your mission.  You're building up.  You're providing security.  You're on the perimeter, but nobody can get in, and if they can get in they have to go through this terrible gauntlet, which I mean, our reporter just sent me an email.  He was physically there at the north gate a half hour ago, and he saw total chaos.  People couldn't get passed the Taliban fighters who were there.  I mean, is there a disconnect between the Taliban leadership and these guys on the ground, and how do you reconcile this in terms of -- well in terms of like, you know, the contacts?  I don't know what the contacts are, but if we're talking about the safe passage of individuals how can they even get through because once they do get through apparently it's a very orderly process, which is what you're talking about in the processing of these individuals, but how do they even get there to begin with?

MR. KIRBY:  We're certainly aware of the same reports, Luis, and this is one of the reasons why communication with the Taliban is so important.  And what I can tell you is we're not unaware that there has been issues out in town and harassment of individuals, and we are -- that is one of the reasons why Admiral Vasely is in touch with his counterpart -- his Taliban counterpart to try to make sure that doesn't happen and that those that we are trying to evacuate, the special immigrant visa applicants, the special Afghans at risk, that we're able to -- we're working very hard to make sure that they can get through safely so that they can be properly processed.

Q:  Is there another step that needs to be taken in order to make that safe passage even more viable?

MR. KIRBY:  We are working very hard on this issue, Luis.  I don't have a specific next step for you.  We are -- we are in communication with the Taliban.  We want to see this process go more smoothly.  We certainly want it to go faster and with more capacity.  And we're working on this very, very hard with our colleagues at the State Department.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, yes.

Q:  As you build this capacity, can you talk to the extent at which additional air lifters, tankers, ISR, even combat aircraft have surged down range from CONUS in the past two days, maybe longer?  And recent photos appears to show a Blackhawk being loaded onto a C-17.  Is additional -- our U.S. assets like helicopters being flown out of Kabul?

MR. KIRBY:  As part of the flow in of additional troops, yes.  Some aircraft were included.  I don't have the exact numbers.  CENTCOM can get you that.  Some additional aircraft were flown in as far as I know to assist with the buildup of forces that we were putting onto the -- onto the airfield.

And as for the -- you know, again, the airlift itself, I mean, I just briefed you.  18 C-17s and one C-130 in the last 24 hours.  About the same going out in the next 24 hours.  And that will increase as necessary to continue to get as many people out as we can.

Q:  Is it only people, though?  Are you carrying out helicopters or any other equipment?

MR. KIRBY:  Well I mean, right now the focus has been on getting the proper footprint on the ground in Kabul.  That process is not complete.  I don't anticipate that there are going to be in coming days additional large pieces of equipment or additional rotor-wing assets to assist our efforts.  So I think that -- I think that's over.

And I'm not going to talk about how we're going to be moving things out.  That will be done in the appropriate timeline when this mission is complete. 

I haven't gone to the phones much.  Jack Detsch, Foreign Policy.

Q:  Hey, John.  I know you're focused on the airlift, but the Pentagon budget did allocate over $3 billion to the Afghan military.  I'm just wondering since, of course, that force seems to be in the wind, you know, what the deliberations are on that?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.  Good question.  I mean, we're certainly working our way through that.  I don't have any announcements or decisions to make with respect to that right now.  Lara Seligman?

Q:  Hey, John. Thanks for taking our questions.  I had a question just sort of in retrospect.  Was the decision to close Bagram Air Base a month ago misguided now that we've seen what's happening?  Is it -- it seems like it may be have been more easily defendable than Kabul Airport.  And with Bagram we may have been able to get more people out and we wouldn't be in this situation.  So can you -- can you say what led to that decision and whether in retrospect that might now have been the best one?

MR. KIRBY:  The decision to close Bagram was always part of the drawdown, and it was, as you saw, the last facility, last major base that we closed and turned over to the Afghans.  It was always baked into the retrograde plans.  In fact, it was part of U.S. forces Afghanistan's retrograde plans before President Biden announced his final decision with respect to drawdown because, as you know, the previous administration had already announced an exit by May 1st. 

So Bagram was always part of that planning process, and as for, you know, looking back and Monday morning quarterbacking, I think there’ll time to do that.  There'll certainly be a time to look back and gather lessons learned and review what could have been done and what could have been done better.  We're very good about that.  The Pentagon is nothing if not able to be self aware, so I'm just not going to speculate about what that -- what that's going to look like going forward.

So there'll be a time to take a look at decisions and timelines.  Now is not that time, Lara.  Now is the time to continue to try to get people out of Afghanistan in a safe and orderly way.  OK, that’s all, almost a full hour.  We'll have the chairman -- the secretary and the chairman up here later this afternoon and you can get to do it all over again with them.  All right?  Thanks.