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Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

MAJOR GENERAL HANK TAYLOR: Good morning. Good to see everybody and thanks for joining us on this great Saturday. 

Now, I'll give you a quick operational update and as well as answer your questions and, obviously, Mr. Kirby's here also so we look forward to that. 

Now, before I describe the situation in Kabul for the past 24 hours, I want to do a little bit -- take the ability to recap the past week and kind of present a holistic view of what's been accomplished. 

As you know, August 14th, we began this evacuation operation, which really is exactly one week ago today. Since then, we have rapidly deployed thousands of troops into Afghanistan. Our footprint continues today to stand at approximately 5,800 troops on the ground continuing to provide and secure the Kabul airport to allow for evacuation operations. 

As you know, these troops were both prepositioned in the CENTCOM AOR as well as deployed from the United States. Then as the forces steadily flowed in, we successfully secured the Kabul airport. If you recall, the situation just a week ago was a little bit different than it is today. 

The airport remains secure. And U.S. Military personnel currently oversee flight operations, both U.S. Military contracted aircraft as well as foreign aircraft continue to operate within Kabul airport. 

Additionally, the U.S. Military has maintained the gate security at major gates and supported our State Department colleagues in the processing of individuals into HKIA to prepare for evacuation flights out of Afghanistan. 

Critical to getting Americans, SIV applicants and Afghans at risk out of the dire situation in Afghanistan requires additional space at intermediate staging bases and safe havens in other locations. This impacts our throughput as I discussed yesterday. For example, two days ago, if you recall, the U.S. military airlifted nearly 6,000 evacuees in a single day. 

In the last 24 hours, six U.S. Military C-17s and 32 charters departed Kabul. Through this combined effort, the total passenger count for those flights was approximately 3,800. Also in the past 24 hours, a number of C-17s are moving between Qatar and Germany providing critical relief that will increase our input to those intermediate staging bases. 

And finally, in the past 24 hours, three flights landed at Dulles International Airport. There are now Afghans in just one week since beginning this operation have left Afghanistan and will be transitioned to Fort Bliss today for further processing in this process.

As you can see, this is a very complex and multi-step operation. We are committed to this highly important mission to bring American citizens, SIV applicants and at risk Afghans who have worked alongside of us throughout our time in Afghanistan and vulnerable Afghans including women and children safely out of Afghanistan. 

Since the end of July, we have relocated approximately 22,000 people. Since the beginning of this evacuation operation on August 14th, we evacuated approximately 17,000. 

I would add that intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals are conducting screening and security vetting for all SIV and others, vulnerable Afghans, before they are allowed to enter into the United States. These agencies are surging resources to evaluate all of these evacuees to ensure protection of the homeland. 

This massive effort is the result of teamwork across the interagency and the cooperation of our partners around the world who share in this incredible effort. Thank you. 

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: OK. Looks like, Lita, you're on the phone. 

Q: Hi, yes. Thanks, John. For either you or the general, obviously, there's fewer people getting out of Afghanistan over the last 24 hours and the embassy has issued a warning telling people not to go to the airport. Can you talk about the security outside the perimeter? Is it getting worse? And what are the key threats there? Is it Afghans trying to get in? Is it ISIS? Is it the Taliban? Can you just give us a clearer picture of the violence going on outside the airport? 

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: The first part of the question is, I think you talked about guidance going out to not come to HKIA. I'm not familiar with that directly. We are continuing to process people throughout the last 24 hours. The commanders are metering how many people come in and out of the gate to ensure the safe and ability to screen applicants as they come onto HKIA. 

There has been no reported change to the current enemy situation in and around the airport at this time. 

MR. KIRBY: Yes, Court? 

Q: Next, I wanted to -- this -- I'll just read you this part of it. It was a security alert that came out of the embassy this morning. It says because of the potential security threats outside the gates at Kabul airport we're advising you as citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and avoid airport gates at this time unless you receive a specific call to come there. 

So can you explain what is this threat? Is it - is it Taliban? Is it -- is there an ISIS or an Al-Qaeda angle to this?

MR. KIRBY: Yes, look, I think you can understand, Courtney, why we're not going to get into specific details about the threat environment or what -- or what our intelligence is giving us. We have said from the very beginning of this that we're going to try to do this in a safe and orderly way, and that means making sure that nobody gets hurt to the maximum extent possible, so what you're seeing out of State Department colleagues, I think, is prudent notification to make sure that whatever movement there is to the gates from outside the airport is done as safely as possible. And that people have the information they need to make the best decisions for themselves going forward. 

So I do understand the question and the interest, but I hope you will understand that we're going to be very careful about what kind of -- what kind of extra context we're going to put out there in the information environment. 

Q: There was -- there was a crowd threat that led to the evacuation via helicopter on Thursday of some Americans from right near the airport. So I guess what we're trying to figure out is, is this just a -- there's large crowds and it's difficult for Americans to get there or not -- or is there actually a threat against the airports?

MR. KIRBY: Again, I'm not going to get into specific threat assessments. The situation in Kabul -- or, no, in the whole city is fluid and dynamic and you've seen the images over the last 24 to 48 hours yourself of the situation outside the perimeter of the airport. And it changes. It changes almost by the hour and it changes in locations around the airport. It's very, very fluid and dynamic. 

And so -- and I don't want to speak for the State Department, obviously, but like our military commanders, they are going to make decisions in real-time about what's in the best interest of innocent civilians that have -- need to get to the airport and we want to get inside the security gates. We're just going to -- this will -- this will change every day, there'll be -- there'll be modifications to our assessments of the security environment and what we think is in the best interest of --


Q: Can I ask you one other that's not related to this? Because there's some reports of the -- of Afghan military and maybe some others who are rising up against the Taliban, particularly some in the North. And I'm wondering if there's been any requests for U.S. military airstrikes to support them? And if so, is that the kind of thing that the U.S. military would engage in? 

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: I don't want to anticipate or talk about the future. As you know, no current requests for that have come in. But we continue to maintain the current capability that we've had on the ground and in the air since we began operations. 

MR. KIRBY: Another thing I'd add, Court, is the mission hasn't changed. The mission of the United States Military in Kabul is to secure that airport, keep it secure, conduct and manage and lead air operations so that we can continue to move people out. That's the focus of the military mission. 

Q: So -- but a week ago there was a mission to support the AN -- it's still to support the Afghan military with airstrikes. So I mean -- and that was supposed to continue until August 31st. So it stands to reason -- I know the situation has changed a lot in the last week, but it stands to reason that the U.S. military would still have the authority if not the --


Q: -- carry out the strikes if requested by the Afghan military. But I guess at this point they have not been requested is what we're told, right? 

MR. KIRBY: I -- well -- the general said there's been no requests. 

I just want to stress that the military mission that we are executing now is a noncombat and evacuation operation. That is what we're focused on. 

Q: Thanks. 

MR. KIRBY: (Inaudible)? 

Q: In the last 24 hours to -- Taliban leadership has named the Haqqanis in charge of securing the streets of Kabul and the city of Kabul. Has that been part of the changing situation on the ground in making it less safe for Americans to try and travel to the airport?

MR. KIRBY: Again, I'm not going to detail the threat assessments and what the intelligence is saying. And there is -- very fluid and very dynamic. What I would tell you is that we continue to have regular communication with Taliban leaders there in Kabul, particularly those that are manning or in charge of the checkpoints around the airport. That communication, indeed, conflicts in -- occurs. That has not changed. 

Q: Is the concern that while there's ongoing communication with Taliban near the airports that there's a lot less visibility further you go out into the city and that's possibly where there might be threats of kidnapping or there might -- is that what we're really trying to avoid here? 

MR. KIRBY: There's a lot -- there's a whole panoply of security concerns that we have. And, again, to my answer to Courtney, this is a noncombatant evacuation. That's what we're focused on. And so the idea, as the general very clearly indicated in his opening statement, is to get as many people out as we can, as fast as we can. And so that's what the focus is. And clearly, in being able -- or, in trying to accomplish that mission, we're taking in a whole wealth of information about what the security environment looks like. We -- but our presence is there at the airport, the mission is there at the airport, and that's -- and that's the key focus. 

Q: Is there a sense though that the window of opportunity here is closing? And closing maybe, possibly quickly as the security situation on the ground…. 

MR. KIRBY: I think we've been very honest about the fact that we know we're -- that we're fighting against both time and space. That's really what we're -- that's what we're -- what we're -- that's the race that we're in right now. And we're trying to do this as quickly and as safely as possible. I'm not going to speculate about whether windows are closing or opening. We're focused on accomplishing this mission as fast as we can. 

Yes, Lucas? 

Q: John, two days before Kabul fell, you said from that podium, quote, the city is not right now in any imminent threat environment. How could you get that so wrong? 

MR. KIRBY: In the moment that I said it, Lucas, it was true. And I understand. I've seen the reactions out there on social media to what I said. 

Q: The city was surrounded Taliban? 

MR. KIRBY: In the moment that I said it, based on what we knew at the time, it was a true statement. And yes, two days later things dramatically changed. I readily admit that. Things moved very, very quickly, Lucas. And as you heard the chairman up here just a few days ago say that -- you know, that there was -- there wasn't any indication that, you know, that -- that they had received that things could evolve as quickly as they did. But --

Q: No indication? Cities have been falling all week, every day…. 

MR. KIRBY: Yes, I understand, Lucas. I understand. I understand. All I can tell you is in the moment that I made those remarks they were accurate. I am committed 100 percent to being as truthful and as honest up here and as transparent as I can be. And I'm comfortable that while others made ridicule what I say and take issue with it, I'm comfortable that what I'm giving you is the best information I have the moment that I have it. And I would hope and understand that people would see that events have continued -- did and have continued to evolve very, very quickly there. 

To Courtney's excellent line of questioning, the assessment -- the threat is going to change and it could change literally by the hour. So we're trying to give you the best we can as -- and lean as far forward as we can in the moment. But that moment's going to change. 

Q: …but it could be changing by the hour. You said there was no imminent threat of Kabul falling. 

MR. KIRBY: That's -- again, I think I've answered the question.

Q: So 10 years ago then-General Lloyd Austin as head of the U.S. Forces in Iraq recommended to the president not to pull troops out of Iraq months ago. Now Defense Secretary Austin recommended the same the same thing in Afghanistan. Is he frustrated that presidents are ignoring him? 

MR. KIRBY: The secretary is 100 percent focused on the mission at hand right now, which is a noncombatant evacuation operation. And he's comfortable that throughout this deliberation, his voice was heard. That he had an opportunity to provide his best advice and counsel to the Commander-in-Chief and to the national security team as did other leaders here at the Pentagon. It was a very inclusive, very deliberate process and the Secretary believes that the President was given the benefit of a lot of different views. Not just his but a lot of different views.

And then the Commander-in-Chief made a decision. That's how it works. That's exactly how the process should work. A very calm and deliberate decision making process. And once that decision is made, you execute. That's the way this building operates. You execute and that's what we're doing.

Q: Is the Secretary frustrated that now not once but twice his advice has been ignored by the --

MR. KIRBY: The Secretary is focused on the mission at-hand and not revisiting past decisions one way or another. You give your advice and a decision is made and you follow that decision. An order is given, you follow that order and that's what we're doing. And as you heard the Secretary say, just after the President announced his decision in mid-April that he fully supports that decision. He's been very clear about that.

Q: Has the Secretary thought about resigning?


Q: One factual question - how many of those 17,000 are American citizens? And have there been any further outside-the-wire operations by our U.S. military?

MR. KIRBY: I do not have a breakdown of how many of the 17,000 are Americans. And there -- to my knowledge, since you and I last talked yesterday, there have been no additional operations, as you put it, outside the wire. Outside the security perimeter of the airport. 

But, look, without getting predictive here, we have troops in a very, as I said, dynamic environment, very perilous mission and they understand that. And they also understand why they're there which is to -- which is to help people. And if -- I'm not going to rule out the possibility that if they see a moment, if they see an opportunity to do it that they won't do it. 

Q: What is the sensitivity going outside the perimeter? The Brits don't seem to have any problem with acknowledging it. They seem to be doing pretty openly. I saw a British soldier quoted as saying, they were conducting joint patrols with the Taliban. Is there something restraining U.S. forces from going out and getting people?

MR. KIRBY: Do you want to take it?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Yes. (Inaudible). Just going back to I think your first question, you talked -- just can you give me the question again. You asked --

Q: (Inaudible) the question, how many of the 17,000...


Q: -- are American citizens?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: I think I can help with that, John, on the numbers of the American citizens, is that what you were asking?

Q: Yes.


Q: Total number of American citizens evacuated...

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: That's approximately 2,500....

Q: Twenty-five hundred.

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: -- (inaudible) looking forward, yes. 

When you talk about the operations, I'm not familiar with the -- remember as we look at the joint and coalition of what's operation on HKIA, those British forces at the gate are part of the entire HKIA to Kabul security zones. So those patrols you're talking about, I don't have knowledge of people going outside the wire as you speak of patrols. 

What we do see both the British Marines that are on those gates are conducting what we'd call those local security operations to continue the best they can to make sure they're safe. That all of those -- the large crowds that are there are trying to continue to ensure there's control. To allow the people that are allowed to and have the right documents to come into the gates.

Q: Local security operations in or outside the wire?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: No, I'm talking in at the gates.

Q: In at the gates.

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: At the gates. 

Q: And are British and other forces there under the operational command of the U.S. commanders at the airfield?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: So those British forces that are there at the gates are part of the U.S. for a -- forward operational control of the commander that has Kabul airport. 

Q: He has operational control over the British forces?


Q: Admiral (inaudible) right?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Yes, he's the -- he's the commander. 

Q: General Taylor, can you -- you talked about how the local commanders are now metering people coming in at these gates. Does that suggest that the flow is continuing -

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Absolutely. 

Q: -- into that -


Q: -- into that. And thus if you are an American citizen in Kabul or somewhere else in Afghanistan can get to the airport you should try and get to one of these entrances?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: What I would say is, that as American citizens come into the gates we are continuing to process them and get them to safety. I mean that's our mission.

Q: Right. And are -- have any of these gates been actually completely closed in the last 24 hours? 

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Yes, let's make sure -- when you look at the gates and those -- we're ensuring the gates are always the ability to be open and process the right people that come to the gates. So that's I think very important to understand is, the gates are always manned by forces there that can process the right people that come to those gates all the time. 

Q: So I'm still -- I'm still confused here. You've got a U.S. Embassy that's sending out an alert telling American citizens in Kabul do not come to the gate if you want to get out of here because the security situation, as John has described, is too -- is too threatening. And yet you're saying you should come to the gate.

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: I didn't -- I did not say you should come. What I said was that there are military forces at the gate have the ability to continue to process those that come to the gate. 

Q: How many gates are there? 

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: There's multiple gates right now as we -- as we look at -- there's, you know, three or four main gates that we're processing evacuees through. 

Q: It was reported overnight that two were open, is that correct? Two additional gates?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: When you say two additional gates, I don't have that report of two additional gates.

Q: OK.

MR. KIRBY: Let me get to the phone a little bit more. Idrees?

Q: Hey, John, thanks. Just wanted to confirm, over the past 12 -- I guess 24-hours, how many gates have been closed? And have they been for long periods of time or short?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Just to go back, those gates are opened and closed as required. There's been short durations through out the last 24 where gates have been closed to allow the proper people to come in and out of those gates.

MR. KIRBY: OK. Let's see, I need to figure out -- Kellie from Nexstar. 

OK. Anymore in the room? Luis?

Q: Can I go back to the 2,500 Americans estimate. That's a very small portion of the 15,000 that the President has said maybe the top number of Americans inside. Are you making effort to try to bring more Americans in? I know you're telling -- you're cautioning them to be aware of the threat environment at the gates. But at the same time, how do you get all of them and that many Americans into the airport if there really are that many Americans in country?

MR. KIRBY:  Well I think you -- you've heard us say before we don't have a perfect figure of how many are in Afghanistan let alone Kabul. And as the General said, if you're an American and you're at a gate you will be let in that gate. The State Department's doing the best job they can to advise Americans who still haven't made it to the airport. What the situation looks like around the airport and that would be the prudent thing to do.

And, as you also heard, the President made clear yesterday that we're going to continue to explore options to assist Americans as needed. And we will do that. We will do that here at the Pentagon. If there's -- if there's a need -- if there's a need to do something different then what we are already doing to facilitate them getting into the airport then we'll certainly consider those options.

Q: Is there a separate advisory that goes out to Afghan nationals who have the visas in-hand? I mean are they too being told -- is the threat dynamic -- I mean the threat situation is dynamic right now be aware? I mean are they getting similar messages?

MR. KIRBY: I would have to refer you to the State Department. My understanding is that there is a -- that there's ways to communicate to that population. But how's that done, that's not a DoD equity. I wouldn't be able to speak to that with any great clarity. Tara.

Q: Since the mission with the three Chinooks that rescued the 169 Americans have there been any other airlift rescue operations? And is that maybe a way that other Americans who are still stranded might be able to get to the airport?

MR. KIRBY: No. And I won't speculate about potential future operations going forward.

Q: General Taylor, a question for you. You talked about the throughput and increasing the throughput of Afghans. Can you talk about the different bases that are opening up? And how is that sorting done? How did three aircraft go straight Dulles and then go straight to Bliss, and then some go to Germany? How are those decisions being made?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Yes, so as flights are manifested, meaning a -- meaning the roster that's put together at HKIA of who's on those aircraft, then that decision's made of where that, you know, could go to. Let's say, you know, some flights were going into Qatar to take (inaudible) so that Afghans could then be held there, you know, temporarily and then waiting for other flights to go. So what we're trying to do is keep the air flow that's in the theater, right, from having to go far, that continue to drop people off to allow other flights to take from Qatar forward to, for instance, into Dulles. 

So it depends on how many folks we have. What is it a full flight of SIV? Is it other Afghans? Is it Americans? So that is just extremely dynamic and with TRANSCOM and the commanders as those manifest are done they make those decisions on the spot. 

Q: So the idea that only SIVs have been fully processed are going to be coming into the U.S. for now or will there be a situation where any of the Afghans that are evacuated will be brought onto bases and then worked through the system once they're here?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: So what's very important that we will continue to do is the full screening and vetting process that takes place from the beginning all the way to making a final decision of where somebody goes. I know we will continue that.

And then going back to, right now, the guidance is and will continue is to continue to increase our outflows to make that happen. 

Q: General?


Q: Is the American flag flying at the airport in Kabul right now?


Q: There's some talk from veterans, people who have served in Afghanistan that U.S. Embassy which cost over -- nearly $800 million to build, why was that closed and the flag taken to the airport. Shouldn't the flag come down last from an embassy when conducting an evacuation?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: I can't speak for the decisions the embassy makes and what they've done. I know that embassy operations or consular operations continue on Kabul Airport. And, as you know, at the military headquarters where U.S. personnel are continuing to execute the mission, the flag flies.

Q: But when evacuating a country doesn't the American flag come down from the embassy last? That's what a lot of veterans are saying.

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: I just -- I would say --

MR. KIRBY: Go ahead.

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: I was just going to say is the fact that the flag continues to fly and the mission continues right now. 

MR. KIRBY: OK, just a couple more. Courtney?

Q: One for each of you. John, the -- Congressman McCarthy put out a statement last night saying that within moments of President Biden saying that we have (inaudible) in Afghanistan that Secretary Austin and General Milley provided a bleak assessment of the situation on the ground. And that he's saying that Secretary Austin specifically acknowledged that Americans were being beaten on their way to the airport. Can you give us anymore detail about what -- who these Americans are that Secretary Austin was talking about?

MR. KIRBY: Courtney, we've actually been talking about this for several days here. Here at this particular podium. We know of cases. A small number that we know of. And we don't have perfect visibility but we know of a small number of cases where some Americans and certainly as the Secretary also said in that statement, Afghans that we want to evacuate, it wasn't just Americans that he talked about, have been harassed and in some cases beaten. We don't believe it is a very large number. 

And a matter of fact, the numbers would indicate, and I've said this before, that most -- by in large most Americans who have their credentials with them are being allowed through the Taliban checkpoints and on to -- and on to the gate and on to -- into the gate and onto the airfield. So by in large most Americans are having no problems that we're aware of. Now I have to caveat it and I'll do it again and I've done it everyday. We are aware of sporadic cases that -- where they aren't being allowed, where there is some harassment going on and, yes, some physical violence has occurred.

And as the Secretary has made clear, and he made clear in that phone call, that's unacceptable. And Admiral Vasely has made that clear to the Taliban commanders that he's talking to, that it's unacceptable.

Q: But what I'm wondering is the cases that the Secretary was talking to the members about, were those occurring yesterday? I mean are these recent or are we talking about cases that were --

MR. KIRBY: Over the course of the last week we have become -- we have been made aware of this. I mean -

Q: More cases since the U.S. started talking to the Taliban and telling them not to do it?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have an exact breakdown day-by-day, Courtney. I mean we've been in-touch with the Taliban for quite some time. And I think -- or over the course of the last week -- and we've certainly made our concerns known. And I think equally frustrating is the fact that not -- it -- what appears to be happening is that not every Taliban fighter either got the word or decided to obey the word. And I can't speak to Taliban command and control. But by and large, and for the most part, Americans with their credentials are being given the passage they need through the checkpoints and are getting onto the field, again, security conditions permitting. 

Q: And then just one for you -- more for you, General Taylor. There's -- there were some reports overnight on social media, including some pictures showing MD C-17s flying out, some passengers saying that they were virtually empty when they were leaving. Is that the case? I mean, do you have any sense of are some aircrafts leaving Kabul airport relatively empty without evacuees and if so, why? 

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Yes. First, you know, that flight cycle continues. And what the commanders on the ground know is to continue to evacuate and ensure everybody gets out as fast as possible. What we don't know is maybe on that situation, which I'm not aware of that exact flight, might have had a different mission to do something else. 

So I can't answer that. But what I do know, as you've seen in our throughput, is we are getting those that are ready to fly, that have been fully screened, ready to fly on aircraft and moving to onward destinations. 

Q: But the 3,800 that you mentioned in your opening statement, that is -- those are including the 32 charters that went out in other --

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: That's correct. 

Q: Do we know how many of the 6 -- U.S. military C-17s, do we know how many people were on those, by any chance? 

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Approximately 1,600. 

Q: Thank you. 

MR. KIRBY: OK. Last one. Eric? Lucas, let's let Eric have a follow up.


Q: General, the 17,000 that have been evacuated, do you know roughly how many have gone to that initial way stop, whether it's Qatar or now, as we learned yesterday, the UAE and Bahrain also took some of those initial flights? And is the Qatar facility essentially full up at this point, you're going to have to permanently transition to some of these other intermediate way stations? 

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: No. So, as you remember, we’ve talked about the number that continue to move. I just want to talk about Qatar, you know, specifically. There was a time period yesterday where we delayed flights going in there to allow other flights to leave to ensure that the current capacity, at Qatar, which was really well done there to continue to build that capacity so fast to allow those flights to depart before we bring flights in. 

And now that we have Ramstein open also, like I mentioned earlier, that will allow us to -- today and the next 24 is the plan to assess, to get back into numbers that we saw that day before and moving them out. 

MR. KIRBY: OK. Thanks, everybody. 

Q: Quick one. 


MR. KIRBY: We have to get going, Lucas.


Q: -- Has the terrorist threat against the United States increased as the Taliban took over the country?