Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby and Major General Hank Taylor, Deputy Director of the Joint Staff For Regional Operations Press Briefing

Aug. 23, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby; Major General Hank Taylor, Deputy Director of the Joint Staff For Regional Operations, J-35

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: OK, good morning, everybody. I am going to introduce General Taylor back up here to walk you through an operational update, and then when he's done, I -- I have a couple of other things that I'm going to kick off the -- the briefing with and then we'll get to questions, if that's OK. All right?

With that -- General?

MAJOR GENERAL HANK TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Kirby. Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us this morning. Once again, I want to provide an operational update, and then as Mr. Kirby said, we'll follow up with questions. As we know, this continues to evolve, the situation, and we continue to strive on the ground and what we really want to do is continue to provide you details in a timely manner.

As you know, recently, the Secretary of Defense activated the stage one of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet. Right now, that activation includes 18 aircraft from six commercial airlines. This will increase passenger movement from the intermediate staging bases, temporary safe havens to the United States. While we continue to prioritize military aircraft for the transportation of individuals out of Kabul and out of harm's way, please note -- as I said, note these craft flights will not be flying into Kabul.

As of this morning, within the last 24 hours, 25 U.S. military C-17s, three U.S. military C-130s, and then a combination of 61 charter, commercial and other military flights departed Kabul. The total passenger count for those flights was approximately 16,000. Of that number, the U.S. military transported just under 11,000 personnel.

Our mission remains focused on ensuring a steady flow of evacuees out of Kabul to the intermediate staging bases and safe havens at our installations, continue to rapidly build out capacity as needed to ensure reception and providing humanitarian assistance.

The use of temporary safe haven locations across Europe and the Middle East to -- in areas that include U.S. installations in Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Italy, Spain and Germany. We deeply appreciate the support from these countries. This is truly a testament to the importance of our alliances and our partnerships.

In the past 24 hours, five flights landed at Dulles International Airport with approximately 1,300 passengers. At this time, four military installations, as well as Dulles International, are receiving Afghans as they come into the United States. 

These installations include Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, Fort Lee, Virginia, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, and Fort Bliss, Texas. The total number currently at these installations is approximately 1,200 and NORTHCOM continues to build out capacity to ensure they are prepared to receive more flights that will come in the next few days. This is absolutely a worldwide effort, which hits several countries, multiple commands and thousands of service members across the Joint Force. 

Over the weekend, the airport in Kabul remains secure. However, as many of you have seen already, CENTCOM released a statement regarding a -- an incident. To report, as a -- no U.S. casualties, the partner force or coalition forces were involved but regrettably an Afghan Security Force member lost his life.

As the President referenced last night in his remarks, we are in communication with the Taliban for the establishment and sustainment of several checkpoints to increase throughput and facilitate safe passage for individuals working to gain access to the airport.

Today, the number of troops at the airport continues to stand at 5,800. Commanders on the ground continue to actively monitor threats. They are empowered to make the appropriate force protection decisions. As always, U.S. forces retain the inherent right to use force in self-defense.

We are using all of our available tools to maintain the highest threat awareness, both in Afghanistan and throughout the globe. While this mission is not without risk, the safety of our personnel, American citizens and Afghan evacuees at risk is of paramount importance.

To wrap up, we continue to make progress in the completion of this mission. Since the end of July, we have relocated approximately 42,000 people. Since the beginning of evacuation operations on August 14th, we have evacuated approximately 37,000.

All of this progress stems from the teamwork, professionalism and dedication of our military, our interagency colleagues, and our allies and partners. We know more hard work remains in the coming days and we're absolutely prepared to meet that challenge. Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: And just a couple of other points I'd like to make. As you all are aware, the FDA approved full licensure of the Pfizer vaccine this morning. As also I'm sure you're aware, back in August, on the 9th, the Secretary articulated that it was his intent to mandate the COVID-19 vaccines upon FDA licensure, or by mid-September, to seek a waiver from the President.

So now that the Pfizer vaccine has been approved, the department is prepared to issue updated guidance requiring all service members to be vaccinated. A timeline for vaccination completion will be provided in the coming days. The health of the force is, as always -- of our military and our civilian employees, families and communities is a top priority. As -- it was important to remind everyone that these efforts ensure the safety of our service members and promote the readiness of our force, not to mention the health and safety of the communities around the country in which we live.

A schedule item -- the Secretary and General Milley will be attending this afternoon the funeral for former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at Arlington National Cemetery. Mr. Rumsfeld served as the 13th Secretary of Defense, as well as the 21st. He also served in the United States Navy in 1950 -- in the mid-1950s as a pilot, a flight instructor, and he continued his service as a Reservist until 1975, when he became the Secretary of Defense for the first time. On behalf of the Department of Defense, we send our deep condolences to his family, to the loved ones, and indeed, to the country.

With that, let's start taking questions. Bob?

Q: Hey, John, thank you. On the -- on the Pfizer vaccine ... 

MR. KIRBY: Yeah?

Q: ... and the Secretary's intention to require it, he has not yet made that direction. And will the -- did you say there's not yet a deadline for -- for doing that?

MR. KIRBY: What I'm saying -- we're preparing -- we're -- we're preparing now actionable guidance to the force. We're -- we're going to move forward, making that vaccine mandatory. We're preparing the guidance to the force right now and the -- the actual completion date of it -- in other words, how fast we want to see it get done -- we're working through that guidance right now.

Q: OK. Can I ask you a question on Afghanistan also? The -- couple of things. One is you've said, I think General Taylor said a number of times, as well, that the military's airlift capacity at the airport was in the neighborhood of 5,000 to 9,000. Obviously, you've now gone beyond that, at least yesterday. 

MR. KIRBY: Yes.

Q: Can you say what the capacity has grown to? And also, can you explain a little more about the perimeter issue that the general alluded to very briefly when the president yesterday said something to the effect that the perimeter has been moved back significantly --

MR. KIRBY: Right.

Q: -- to facilitate entering --

MR. KIRBY: So a couple things Bob, on the capacity thing, you're right. We had set a goal of 5,000 to 9,000 a day. Yesterday we exceeded that. We're not taking anything for granted, Bob. We're taking this day-by-day. We'd love to see those numbers continue to rise. But we're going to just take it day-by-day.

There's a lot of factors that go into be able to reach that output capacity to include temporary safe havens that you can bring these individuals to as they complete their screening. And the screening is a big part of that. 

We have intelligence and law enforcement personnel at these sites making sure that a robust screening is done of these individuals so that nobody comes into the United States that hasn't been screened in a robust manner.

And so there's lot of factors that affect throughput. We were very glad to see that we were able to get that number out yesterday. But we're going to take it day-by-day. 

Dave (inaudible)?

Q: So the number of aircraft that are available --

MR. KIRBY: You -- it was -- I think we -- we've reached the number of aircraft. It was like 20 --

OFF-MIKE)

MR. KIRBY: Yes. No, no, no. But I mean the same number of aircraft are about available on any given day. I mean, we can get up to -- on a given day, can get up to about 30 C-17s. That doesn't mean that 30 are going to fly every day. And we were under that yesterday and still was able to get out -- were still able to get out more than 10,000.

Q: And the perimeter question?

MR. KIRBY: The perimeter question. And I think the general addressed this a little bit in his opening statement. Without getting into tactical details here, Bob, and I think you can understand why we wouldn't do that, we are -- we are very interested in making sure that access to the airport remains as fluid as possible, particularly for American citizens trying to get in as well as our special immigrant visa applicants.

And there's a lot of factors that go into making sure that access remains secure and that we can facilitate it. And what the -- what the president was referring to was efforts to improve that access in -- from a geographical space out beyond just the perimeter of the airfield. 

And I won't speak to the details of how we're -- how we're managing that, but you can imagine thus far and going forward it does require a constant coordination and deconfliction with the Taliban.  

Q: In Afghan ? --

MR. KIRBY: Yes, it absolutely is going -- it's absolutely requiring of us to keep these lines of communication with the Taliban open, who do have checkpoints out beyond the airport. And what we have seen is that this coordination has worked -- well this deconfliction has worked well in terms of allowing access inflow to continue as well as reducing the overall size of the crowds just outside the airport. 

And those crowds have been a factor Bob. You've heard me talk about this other night, that when -- you know -- several days ago a little -- one of our commanders that used a helicopter to bring people in and it was largely because of the crowd size outside the Abby gate. So crowd size matters here too. And that's what this president was referring to.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Sylvie.

Q: Hello. I would like to -- I have two questions. I would like to go back to the incident, can you be a little bit more specific and tell if you can rule out that the attackers were Taliban, first?

And I would like also to go back to the deadline. The French are for ending, sir, said today that they're -- it's, quote, "Necessary to continue the Afghanistan evacuation beyond August 31. 

MR. KIRBY: Cannot rule out who the hostile actor was in this shooting incident last night. I think as you saw the Central Command statement referred to it as a hostile actor. We don't know more than that. And this just happened Sylvie. So I don't know when we'll have more forensics on this. 

Again, your focus was on making sure that we could maintain security at the airport. It was maintained. Sadly we -- it resulted in loss of a life of one Afghan soldier and wounded several others. So, I mean obviously that's our focus right no. 

On the deadline I can't speak for other nation states, I can only speak for the Department of Defense and you heard the secretary address this over weekend. The goal is to get as many people out as fast as possible. And while we're glad to see the numbers that we got yesterday we're not going to rest on any lures. The focus is on trying to do this as best we can by the end of the month.

And as the secretary said, if there need -- if we need, if he needs to have n additional conversations with the Commander-in-Chief about that timeline, he'll do that but we're just not at that point right now.

Jen? 

Q: Has the Taliban told you that Aug 31 is the deadline and that you must leave then. Are those communications happening? Is that something you've agreed to with the Taliban?

MR. KIRBY: We've seen the public statements by the Taliban spokesman about their views on the 31 of August. I think we all understand that view. 

Q: And can you explain, is it only Americans and SIV holders that are allowed through the gate now? Has that changed, what is the policy about Afghans in need now coming. 

MR. KIRBY: Afghans in need are still -- are still being processed and facilitated.

Q: Given the number of people who are in hiding who were either SIV recipients some Americans of Afghan allies, why not reopen Bagram Air Base? Why not go get in agreement to -- from the Kataries to come and landing in Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif elsewhere. 

We saw the Kataris bring the Mullah Baradar back with a C-17. Why not use the Pakistanis and the -- and the Kataris to help people bring out from, because right now you're just bringing people out from Kabul and it's a choke point.

MR. KIRBY: Well first of all the flow -- the throughput has improved and increased and I'm not going to -- I don't think it would be a useful expenditure of our time to Monday morning quarterback the whole issue with Bagram. It was closed down as part of the retrograde, Jen --

Q: I'm not talking about Monday morning quarterbacking. I'm talking about why not look at the situation now you need airfields that you can land on to get people out. 

MR. KIRBY: Jen, we are -- we are 

Q: (Inaudible) Major General Taylor about this. 

MR. KIRBY: Let me -- let me try it first and then I'll give it to the general clearly. We are -- we are improving out throughput at Hamid Karzai International Airport and we think that we will be able to continue to try to improve that. That's the -- that's the goal. 

But what you're talking about is -- would be an expenditure of resources and personnel as well an increase most likely to the threat that they're under to try to go back, and as you put it, retake Bagram Air Base which is the size of a small city. 

And I understand a lot of people have a -- have views and opinions about this. It was closed down as part of the retrograde. It was always supposed to be closed down as part of the retrograde. It was the last base to be turned over to the Afghans and even as recently as three weeks ago, before we actually had to conduct a non combatant evacuation operation, the leaders in this building ran a table top exercise on what it would be like to run an effective neo operation at of Hamid Karzai International Airport and we're actually running that play now.

Now it's not without its challenges for sure but we're doing that now. And that's the focus is on making sure that we can get as many people out as possible using Hamid Karzai International Airport. 

And Jen, the numbers are showing that it's working. No bodies taking it for granted, don't want to be predictive about tomorrow but it's working. Do you have anything to add to that? OK. Tara?

Q: Thank you. Back to the August 31st question. Is August 31st, extending that deadline; is it really an option for the U.S. anymore? Is this wholly – dependent upon whether the Taliban would agree to let a U.S. presence remain in Afghanistan past that date.

MR. KIRBY: Our focus is on getting this done by the end of the month, Tara. And what we do here at the building, at the Pentagon is options. We -- our job is to provide the president the commander and chief options.

And as you heard the secretary say, if he gets to a point -- he and Chairman Milley, they believe they get to a point where they need to provide that advice and counsel to the president about an extension, then he'll do that. We just aren't there right now.

And you heard the secretary say himself, if he had more time on the clock he would absolutely use more time on the clock but we're focused on getting this done by the end of the month.

Q: And secondly for Major General Taylor, you've mentioned that 42,000 have been evacuated since July. Is that 42,000 just on military and airlift or does that include the commercial and charter plains?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Yes, so that -- that total number is U.S. military plus U.S. civilian State Department. Some of that was State Department contract there that went out also early on.

Q: Do you have any breakdown of the number of U.S. citizens in that 42,000 that have gotten out?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: I do but I don't have that right now.

MR. KIRBY: Idrees.

Q: So just to cover quick questions, firstly on the vaccine. This is -- would be specifically the Pfizer, right, that would be mandatory or did the other vaccine --

MR. KIRBY: Right now we're focused on the Pfizer vaccine because of the FDA approval that came in this morning. 

Q: And just another couple of quick ones. How many, I guess, Afghan soldiers remain in the perimeter, I think you had said 5 to 600 a week ago, is that still the number?

MR. KIRBY: I believe that's the operative number. 

Q: And then how many Americans have been -- and I think you gave 2,500 Americans, has that number changed?

MR. KIRBY: We think that -- that overall we -- we've been able to evacuate several thousand Americans and I'd be reticent to get too more -- more specific than that. But since the 14th we believe we have been able to evacuate several thousand Americans.

Q: Very quickly lastly, so the last table top exercise for a new operation for HKIA was about three weeks ago. 

MR. KIRBY: It was about three weeks ago. It was certainly before Kabul fell. This was something as -- and I've talked about this before and this was something that the Pentagon had been thinking about for a long time. I mean as far back as late April when -- when we held over a cursel of concept exercise here at the Pentagon looking at the retrograde and how that was going to parse out over and through the summer.

A part of that conversation was the potential for non combatant evacuation operations and what that would look like and how we would execute that. 

MR. KIRBY: Nancy?

Q: All right, thank you. I have one -- if you could clarify a couple points as you made earlier. You said that any extent from beyond August 31st would be the secretary talking with that president. Would that decision include inputs from NATO allies, particularly those who say that they need more time? Is that a factor in the U.S. consideration about staying?

MR. KIRBY: I think we would absolutely consider the views and opinions of our allies and partners who also have people there and -- and -- and are -- as the general briefed, very much a part of moving people out.

Q: And how many of those NATO allies communicated to the United States that they need more time beyond August 31?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not aware of specific conversations that we've had with respect to the deadline.

Q: OK. And then perimeter, I'm having a hard time understanding when the president talked yesterday he said about expanding that perimeter. Can you help me understand who's part of that? Is that U.S. forces? Have they moved where they're -- where they're positioned from where they were a few days ago?

MR. KIRBY: Yes. Without -- and I want to be very careful here to talk about specific movements at a tactical level on any given day. And so, I'm just not going to do that, and I know that will be largely unsatisfying.

Q: Well I...

MR. KIRBY: But let me finish. So that has caveat. We continue to look at security on the airport itself as well as the immediate environment of the airport. Because in those immediate environments outside the airport that's where you have Taliban checkpoints. That's where you have crowds assembling. That's where access to the gates is critical in that space just outside the airport where we don't have a military presence of a sustained nature.

And what we're doing is that we're in constant communication with the Taliban about that space and what that space looks like. And the only thing I would say is that as you heard the secretary say this, you've heard General Milley say this. We're going to do what is required on any given day at every possible opportunity to make sure that those who need to get out can get out, and that includes -- that includes the monitoring and accessibility of that space outside the airport, but what it looks like on any given day, Nancy, is going to change.

Q: I appreciate that, but I'm not looking for tactical details. I just think once that movement happens it's a different threat to U.S. forces and something that the public has a right to know. So I just want to get an understanding how often they cross it, how we should be thinking about where the U.S. military is in that -- in that environment.

MR. KIRBY: I will tell you that we already consider our troops in harm's way at the airport. It's a dangerous situation. There's no question about that, and we're not taking any of these threats for granted.

And the commanders on the ground have the wherewithal to move their forces as they see fit to, again, do essentially three things: make sure the airport is secure and can be defended, make sure that air operations can continue to carry on at the clip we need them to carry on, and C -- and this is an important one -- to make sure that American citizens, at-risk Afghans, our SIV applicants can get access to the gate to get entry -- process and entry to the field.

Those are the three primary tasks, and our commanders on the ground know that they are -- that's what their tasks are and can move forces, can employ forces and assets as they see fit to do that.

And again, on any given day that can change, Nancy, and I just don't think it would be helpful particularly because the threat environment is so high for us to talk with any great specificity about what that's going to look like. 

MR. KIRBY: David?

Q: General, were you being deliberately vague when you said a number of Americans was several thousand or was it because kind of you're not sure of the number? If you need to check the number, I mean, that's the most important number here, the number of Americans. So if it's just a matter of checking the number, can you do that and give it to us, or if you're being deliberately vague tell me why you're being deliberately vague?

MR. KIRBY: I think I'm just going to leave it at several thousand right now, Dave. 

Q: Well then tell us why.

MR. KIRBY: Because I think the number is very fluid, and it literally changes nearly by the hour.

Q: If it's not more fluid then these 11,000, 37,000...

MR. KIRBY: I'm going to leave it several thousand right now. (Inaudible).

Q: You said that you heard the public statements from Taliban about the red-line ...

MR. KIRBY: Yes.

Q: ... the August 31. Does this mean that you didn't hear it directly from them since you're communicating with them on daily basis? Are you communicating with that on this issue? Did you tell them to stop with them the needs for maybe extending the August 31 deadline?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to speak to specificity with the communications that we're having with the Taliban on any given day. It happens several times a day. We are well aware of the stated desire to by the Taliban to have this mission completed by the 31 of August. 

I would tell you that we, too, are still planning on completing it by the 31 of August. That is the mission that would have been signed by the Commander in Chief assigned to us and that's what we're trying to execute. Let me -- go ahead.

Q: Are the forces remaining now in Kabul focusing on that evacuation mission, the U.S. forces of course, are they maintaining that capability to maybe deal with a threat from Taliban beyond the August 31 deadline or maybe attacks?

MR. KIRBY: Yes. Again, I appreciate the -- you know, the question. In terms of hypothesizing past the 31, we are just aren't there yet. Our troops are focused on the mission, the three missions that I just articulated, and that includes, as I said, being able to defend the airport, which means being able to defend themselves and their operations, and we have assets in places -- assets in place to allow them to do that as well.

I am not going to speculate about post August 31. We are head down focused on keeping these numbers up as best we can, getting as many people out as we can by the end of the month.

And if there needs to be a discussion about extending that timeline, then we absolutely will have that discussion at the appropriate time with the Commander in Chief. Let me go to the phones, which I have not done yet. Jeff Schogol, you get the first one.

Q: Thank you very much. Regarding the incident, was the gunman killed, and was it U.S. troops who shot this person?

MR. KIRBY: I do not know on either, Jeff. You could certainly reach out to Central Command for more detail at that level of the incident, but again this just happened, Jeff. And so, I just don't think we have that level of forensic detail to offer you today.

Q: Thank you, and from what we're hearing on the ground only...

MR. KIRBY: Did you have one more, Jeff?

Q: Oh, yes. I'm sorry. From what we're hearing on the ground only American citizens and green card holders are being allowed into the airport. Do you know when that will change and Afghans at risk will be able to enter?

MR. KIRBY: As I had mentioned to Jen it's for American citizens. It's for SIV applicants can still be processed through the gates. At-risk Afghans are absolutely being considered for entry. 

MR. KIRBY Carla ?

Q: Two questions. First of all, how many people have been killed at the airport? We've been hearing reports of seven, nine. A NATO official told ABC there were 20 killed in and around the airport. What's that number?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: You're talking about the Afghans at the gate?

Q: You're adding to people who were killed on Monday during the incident where the C-17 took off, the two that were killed during skirmishes inside the airport, the guy killed today. What's that total number of people who have died?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Less than -- what the number -- I don't have exact numbers of that, so I can't' answer the exact number right now.

Q: Can you take that question and get back to us on that?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Yes. Absolutely.

Q: And then also you had mentioned, sir, that the capacity was 5,800 troops at the airport right now, and then the Secretary of Defense had told us last week that he did not have the capability to go out and do extractions because there's just not enough troops. They're defending the airport. Have you asked for authorization of additional troops to go into the airport to help with potential extractions should it come to that?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: (inaudible), I -- I think you used the word "capability" -- and the actual troop number, I think, are two different things. So we have 5,000 -- approximately 5,800 forces. And as I have briefed over the week, as forces flew in, you know, flowed in, capability continued to increase. Initial security was the most important ability to establish because without that security, the ability to do other things is just not possible.

So as our capability increased, and at that 5,800 number, as you've seen, we have the capability and have executed other operations to ensure that American citizens are being brought in safely and prepared for evacuation.

Q: So just so I can understand what you're saying, just to recap, you think that at 5,800 troops, the U.S. has the capability now to expand the perimeter at the airport and continue all of this to -- or -- or to do whatever the President has mentioned with the -- opening up the perimeter, and also to do extractions, if needed, or are you going to ask for authorization of more troops?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: No, what I said is 5,800. We're able to continue to secure the airfield, continue to increase safety there, and continue to do the operations that we already have.

MR. KIRBY: And Carla, what -- what the Secretary said was that where he was on last Wednesday, that we didn't have the capability to do large scale, you know, massive movements of people, but he did say if there's an incident where somebody's in extremis and we need to get them in small numbers, we can do that and we have been doing that.

And as the General said, that was last Wednesday. Over the course of the ensuing days, more capability has flown in, more troops have flown in, and so we do have the ability to help when we can and where we can, to help Americans move towards the gates.

And we're not going to talk about the details of each and every one of those but we do have those capabilities.

Q: One last thing I just want to ask you is do you foresee the need to authorize additional troops to go in, should the situation -- you have a hard stop at August 31st and you have to ramp up capacity again, do you foresee authorizing additional ... 

MR. KIRBY: I don't -- I don't think it will be helpful to get ahead of where we are right now. There are no plans at this time to request or to authorize additional U.S. forces to this mission.

MR. KIRBY: Courtney?

Q: I -- are U.S. troops leaving the airport on a regular basis? I -- I still don't understand what's going on. 

MR. KIRBY: Courtney, on occasion, as needed, our commanders have the authority that they need to use their assets and their forces to help assist Americans who need to get to the airport, get to the airport on a case-by-case basis.

Your -- your question was ... 

(CROSSTALK)

... it -- it's not -- it's not regular. I don't want to -- I don't want to leave you with the idea that we're somehow patrolling the streets of Kabul, but on occasion, where there's a need and there's a capability to meet that need, our commanders on the ground are doing what they feel they need to do to help Americans reach the airport.

And there's a variety of methods that that can be affected and I -- without going into detail, we're -- we're using the variety of methods at our disposal.

Q: So we know about the chinooks last Thursday at the (inaudible) hotel, have there have been additional cases since then. Can you tell us any details about that?

MR. KIRBY: There has been at least one additional incident -- instance where rotary airlift was used to help Americans get from outside the airport into the airport, and I think I'm just going to leave it at that today.

Q: ... (inaudible) I have more. What -- this -- you know, you -- your planning organization -- what is your -- when do you expect that you will have to -- assume that you're sticking to this August 31st deadline, when will you have to stop taking in additional people at the airport to evacuate? Cause you're going to have to get the 5,800 American -- U.S. troops out, right?

MR. KIRBY: You mean the -- you mean stop taking in evacuees?

Q: Correct, yes, one -- and -- and -- and additional Americans who ever is left out there. Like, what is the -- the -- the deadline so that you will be able to get the American military, who are there at the airport supporting, and any last embassy people who are there out? When will you stop accepting the evacuees there?

MR. KIRBY: I mean, remember -- it's -- it's important to remember that we are not the only people flying evacuees out. So it's certainly conceivable that -- that even without a U.S. military footprint there that people could still be able to get out of Kabul.

And I -- I -- I don't have a specific retrograde timeline to speak to today. We'll work through that as appropriate as we get closer to the end of the mission. And as you well know, we very methodically and deliberately plan in the -- the movement out of -- of assets and equipment and -- and resources so that we can preserve the capability we need for as long as we need it, and I think I'd just leave it at that.

Q: ... I only ask that because it took several days to flow these 5,800 in. So I know that there were logistical hurdles to get them in, so it may not take as long out to get them out, but it could theoretically take a day or two to get everyone -- the military back out. So that may bump the timeline back from August 31st to the 28th ... 

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: ... I -- I -- I -- look, clearly ... 

Q: ... (inaudible) speaking about 28th.

MR. KIRBY: Clearly, there is -- you -- you know, you have to do some backward planning for retrograde, obviously. I -- I am not prepared today to speak to the specific dates or process by which that would occur but, I mean, obviously we're -- we're thinking through that right now, and a lot of that's going to depend on -- on how far we get, as fast as we can get, you know, by the end of the month.

I -- I -- I just don't want to speculate now about what that's going to look like but let me just back up. I mean, the focus is on getting as many people out as we can, as fast as we can. That means being able to secure and defend the airport, which we are doing now, and we will factor all of those things in, to whatever the departure timeline looks like, to make sure we can continue to maximize throughput as best we can and without getting anybody hurt.

And -- and -- and thus far, with obviously some exceptions -- some small exceptions, I mean, we've been -- we've been fortunate that -- that -- that nobody has, OK? 

MR. KIRBY: Mike?

Q: Yeah, is there any effort to tally up the number of U.S. weapons and equipment that are now under Taliban control? And is there any program to mitigate this problem through destruction or confiscating them back, taking them back?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, Mike, we -- I mean, we talked about this before. I -- I don't have an exact inventory of what equipment the -- that the Afghans had at their disposal that -- that now might be at risk. Obviously we don't want to see any -- any weapons or systems that -- that -- to fall into hands of people that -- that -- that would use them in such a way to -- that -- that -- to -- to harm our interests or those of our -- our partners and allies.

I mean, we have a vested interest, obviously, in -- in -- in not wanting that to happen but I don't have any policy solutions for you today about how we would or could address that going forward. I would remind you, though, Mike, that an awful lot of equipment, weapons, resources were drawn down even in the last years and months of the previous administration, as President Trump decided to move down to a -- a force of 2,500. So there was a lot of retrograde of things up to that point.

And then after the president's decision in mid-April to complete this drown down, albeit on an extended timeline, a very -- and we've talked about this too, the very big part of the retrograde was the disposition of weapons and equipment and systems and vehicles. Some of them were destroyed, some of them were brought back home, some of them were deployed -- redeployed into the region.

And yes, some were turned over to the Afghans. And we're working through right now to try to get a better sense of what that would look like but I don't have any specific solutions for you in terms of what we're -- what we're -- what we can or will do going forward on this. 

And to the degree -- well, I'll leave it at that. I'll leave it at that. Janne?

Q: Thank you. Let me ask the General Taylor please. General Taylor, the United States has requested South Korea to help accept Afghan refugees. Do you have any more detail on this?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: I don't other than that communication is happening and that, like I said earlier, we are very grateful for all of our partners, allies that continue to offer any assistance to allow the safe evacuation of Afghans and American citizens.

Q: Has any military support to the United States request from South Korea something like military aircraft?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: I don't -- I don't know how many Republic of Korea aircraft have been used. We've had, you know as we've said today, a lot of countries have been supporting and we've -- we appreciate that. I don't have the number offhand.

Q: Can you take that question?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Yes?

Q: Thank you very much.

MR. KIRBY: All right, back to the phones here. 

MR. KIRBY: Kim Dozier. 

Q: Thanks, John. I wanted to ask if you were -- given the short amount of time left, just seven days, are you going to allow private charters to start landing in greater number at HKIA daily to pick-up Afghan's at risk. Because even by conservative math, you can't possibly move all the American citizens out in just seven days, much less the green card holders, the Afghan special operators, et cetera.

Right? Also private charter companies tell me they've been told when they can land that they only have an hour to land, pick everybody up and take off. And some of them are leery of even going because they don't think they can get it done that fast.

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: So the ability to continue throughput is very important. And so as we look at airfield operations and the ability to get aircraft to land it safely, immediately in and loaded and it -- that drives a lot of the -- what we would call time on ground to maximize the amount of evacuees that we can get out.

As you saw in the last day, the numbers, that required, as you just said, you know aircraft on average to be on the ground less than an hour, which is very quick. I do know that TRANSCOM and the commanders on the ground who are facilitating that synchronization are using and want to continue to use every capability possible to get people out of -- out of Kabul. So that's all I have.

MR. KIRBY: One more on the phone here. Sam Lagrone. 

Q: Hey, John. Can we get an update on U.S. support for the Haiti earthquake and the disaster relief?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I think we can facilitate that a little bit later, Sam, but yes, we can get you an update on that.

Q: All right, thanks.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah?

Q: I had a question for the General just real quick. Sir, it -- it sounds like from what we're hearing from the podium that -- that the U.S. is essentially relying on the Taliban for crowd control outside the gates. Obviously that was not part of the original plan.

What forces were originally assigned to conduct security outside the perimeter and -- and how did that fall apart? Where are they now? And then I have a follow up.

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Yeah, so the -- the 5,800 forces were part of that force package to provide security for the airfield. As, you know -- within the last seven days, we've seen the ability to continue to coordinate and synchronize with Taliban checkpoints.

And I would say as you look at the last two days, that ability with the commanders on the ground to work with the Taliban tactical commanders has allowed -- and I would say the ability to control better the access into that.

Q: So you're saying that U.S. troops were originally planned to be on the perimeter outside the airport but that did not work out? Is that what I understood?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: No, that -- that's what I said -- the -- the original 5,800 forces were planned to secure HKAIA and those gates.

Q: The interior of the airport? There was no one planned to be on the outside?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: That's not what I said. I said that, you know, as the -- the plan that went in -- and the -- what has changed is the coordination and using the use of -- or the Taliban being there .

Q: Understood, OK. One last question, if I might -- given this arrangement, I mean, does this mean that the Taliban is, for better or worse, in -- now in a better position to potentially dictate when we leave?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: I -- I can't answer that. What I do know is that our continued mission, which we were given, was to secure the airfield and to ensure the -- to facilitate the evacuation by August 31st, and I'd just refer back to the comments that Mr. Kirby has already made about the August 31st date.

Sir -- yes?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I mean, we've covered this pretty well about August 31st.

Megan?

Q: With the vaccine rollout plan, is the idea now that Pfizer will become mandatory and the Secretary will wait until mid-September to ask for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson? Will he ask earlier or will the vaccines become mandatory as they become fully licensed?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, Megan, what I can tell you is the focus right now today with this FDA approval is on the Pfizer vaccine and moving forward to implement a mandatory vaccination regimen for Pfizer. I don't want to get ahead of decisions that haven't been made yet.

Yeah, Dan? I'm sorry ... 

Q: Mike.

MR. KIRBY: Mike, sorry.

Q: Thank you, John.

MR. KIRBY: You guys have the masks on, I'm getting everybody confused. Go ahead.

Q: Can you speak a little to any COVID prevention that's going on at the airport? Are evacuees being tested before they get on aircrafts? Are any being tested in intermediary countries?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, good question. As I understand it, medical personnel at the -- at -- at the Hamid Karzai International Airport are conducting COVID screening for those who are feeble or symptomatic, and then, as appropriate, depending on what the -- the temporary safe haven -- what the -- what the -- the guidelines are at the temporary safe havens, additional screenings at -- at some of those safe havens occur, and then upon arrival at the United States, all passengers are being tested upon arrival and then -- you know, and then medical professionals make the proper decisions after that.

Q: Are there any concerns about positive tests in -- for soldiers on the ground?

MR. KIRBY: Of course there's ... 

Q: ... any examples of -- of soldiers testing positive?

MR. KIRBY: I have not -- I -- I don't have that level of detail. I don't know what -- what positive results may have come in for soldiers working at the air fold, but obviously -- at the airfield. Obviously their health and safety remains a top concern for -- for all of us.

Yeah, Louie?

Q: A clarification -- at -- at the top, I think you announced that Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is now ... 

MR. KIRBY: That's correct.

Q: ... is that a new -- in addition? Is that something new?

MR. KIRBY: That is now -- that is one additional base. We have been talking about three prior to that -- Fort Lee, Fort McCoy, Fort Bliss. Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is now -- is now available to receive some of these SIV applicants.

And with the four bases, we're -- what our goal would be is to reach the ability -- not necessarily the actual count -- but the ability to build out to about 25,000 capacity. We aren't there yet, Louie. It's going to take days and weeks, I think, for all four to be able to combine to get to that level, but that's the goal as -- as we are right now.

And the other thing I would say is if the Secretary, in communication with the Chairman and with General VanHerck at NORTHCOM, feels like we need to add to that capacity and add to the list additional U.S. military installations, then we'll do that, but right now, we're at four.

Q: And what is the current number of individuals who are at those four bases?

MR. KIRBY: I do not have that. We can take the question and I'm sure Northern Command would have you a better number than I do right now.

Q: OK. And my last question is this -- I -- I apologize for asking three -- with such an effort to get into the airport, and some people are lucky to get in, but now we're hearing that the -- the food supplies, the water supplies, sanitation, hygiene are really bad inside the airport, and so bad that some people are actually returning to go outside the perimeter.

So my question is this -- how can you prevent a humanitarian crisis inside the airport as this goes on and on?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, fair questions, Louie. I'm going to let the General take it, and I think you had the number, too, for the installations.

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: So that was in -- right now, in the (inaudible), right at approximately 1,200 have entered into the United States.

As we talk about the conditions and the ability to continue to provide a humane and safe place on the airfield, as you see, some of those flights -- the -- that continue to come in to -- to Kabul, those are bringing those supplies in. So as those supplies are used, we are continually replenishing those to ensure that we have food and all of those things that are needed -- water -- to -- for those that are preparing for evacuation flights.

So, you know, the last 48 hours, we had a lot of folks on there, which is a good thing, right? That means we have gotten people through the gate, we've processed them. That means we have people safe, then we can fly out. 

The commanders there are always assessing what the requirements are to ensure that safe and humanitarian environment.

MR. KIRBY: And I -- I -- I would just add, Louie, I mean, we're mindful of these reports too. It's not lost on us. There is a lot of people and they are desperate. And we are trying to do the best we can to get them out of harm's way as fast as possible.

And when you have a throughput problem, it means that some people are going to be stuck in a given location, whether it's at Hamid Karzai International Airport or Qatar or other temporary safe havens. Nobody wants to see this go on for any longer than it has to be.

And believe me, nobody more than the U.S. military and our troops want to see anybody suffer any more than they have to. We are -- we are very aware that there are and have been some sanitation issues as well as, you know, issues of sustainment. And as the general said, we're making that a priority.

As we float, some of these planes are coming in with that material on it, that kind of support, and then they're leaving with people. We're doing the best we can under extraordinary circumstances. 

And believe me, the pain and the suffering, the fear, the anxiety, all off that, none of it is lost on us or our troops. Jen.

Q: (inaudible) that the British evacuation commander in Kabul, Vice Admiral Ben Key, has been locked out of all negotiations between U.S. CENTCOM staff, 82nd Airborne, and Taliban commanders and that there is a great deal of tension right now between the Brits who want -- who are sending people outside the airport and members of the 82nd Airborne who want to join them.

What is happening with our British allies? Is this report accurate? And supposedly there was supposed to be an 82nd Airborne jump into Bagram Air Base to open that field and that that was shut down by the White House. Is that accurate?

MR. KIRBY: Jen, first that I'm hearing of these reports. You're going to have to let me go back and look at this. I don't know. The only thing I would -- you mentioned that, you know, the Brits who want to go out, we are doing it as well. We are -- we are going out as needed and helping Americans get into the field.

Q: You only described one of those instances to Courtney with...

MR. KIRBY: I just -- she asked me specifically about airlift, and I mentioned one using rotary wing aircraft. That doesn't mean it's the sum total of what we're doing to go out and try to bring and assist Americans coming in. We're just not going to detail all of them because the threat environment is so high. 

As to these reports, first I've heard. You'll have to give us a little time to dissect this and come back to you. Yes, Matt?

Q: Yes. There are reports that some of the equipment that you left have landed in the hands of Taliban are going to Pakistan. Do you have that report as well? If it -- if it lands in the hands of Pakistan, those equipment, are you asking Pakistan to get them back to you?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have anything on that reporting that you've got there. I think we'll just have to take a look. We can take the questions and see if we can get back to you. I don't have anything on that. Nancy.

Q: Thank you.

Q: I'm sorry. Could you clarify something that you said to Jen and Courtney about on occasion going out to do missions outside of it. What kind of coordination then happens with the Taliban forces on the ground? Are there joint patrols happening now between Taliban and U.S. forces that happen...

MR. KIRBY: No, there's no joint patrols.

Q: Who gives joint -- what kind of communication happens? Can you give us any sense (inaudible).

MR. KIRBY: There's no joint patrols. There's no joint coordination, but obviously we are in communication with the Taliban about their presence and where it is around the field. And I think, Nancy, for reasons I hope you understand we're just not going to get into the tactical level details of what we're doing to help facilitate the passage and assist the passage of Americans getting onto the field. And we want to preserve as money -- as many options as we can going forward because the threat environment outside the airport is so dynamic, and quite frankly dangerous.

So for I think very good reasons of operational security we're just not going to detail everything we're doing and every opportunity we're taking advantage of. 

Q: I do appreciate that. I just -- I just want to understand if the U.S. forces are side by side with Taliban. I'm trying to get a visual what it looks like. That's all.

MR. KIRBY: No. We are not out there side-by-side with them. It's not about joint control, so you can erase that visual. That is not what's happening. 

OK, I'm going to have to get going, guys. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. Our goal is to come back here again at around 1500 for an afternoon update, and we'll keep you appraised if and when that changes. Thank you very much.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Yes.

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