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

MAJOR GENERAL HANK TAYLOR: Good morning, everyone. I'll get right into our operational update for today. Yesterday U.S. military forces conducted an Over-the-Horizon counterterrorism operation against an ISIS-K planner and facilitator. The air strike occurred in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan. I can confirm that as more information has come in that two high profile ISIS targets were killed and one was wounded and we know of zero civilian casualties.

Without specifying any future plans, I will say that we will continue to have the ability to defend ourselves and to leverage Over-the-Horizon capability to conduct counterterrorism operations as needed. 

We continue to evacuate American citizens and vulnerable Afghans out of Kabul. In fact, there are approximately 1,400 individuals at the Kabul airport who have been screened and manifested for flights today.

As I said yesterday, we have the ability to include evacuees on military airlift out of Afghanistan until the very end. This is a massive military, diplomatic, security and humanitarian undertaking for the United States and our allies. And so I'll give you a specific update of the last 24. 

Yesterday 32 U.S. military aircraft, 27 C-17s and five C-130s departed with approximately 4,000 personnel. Combined with 34 coalition aircraft and departures, an additional 2,800 personnel left Kabul for various intermediate staging bases. Sixty-six flights left out of Kabul yesterday in that 24-hour period with 6,800 evacuees. Today I can report an updated total evacuation that is more than 117,000. The vast majority of which are Afghans. Of this total number, approximately 5,400 are American citizens. 

This is an incredible number of people who are now safer thanks to the heroism of the young men and women who are putting their lives on the line each day to evacuate American and vulnerable Afghans out of Kabul. Threats to our forces and to this operation remain real and significant. I'm sure you can appreciate that. 

And now as the military mission begins to end in Kabul thousands of service members are working across the globe and within the United States to complete this incredibly important mission. Out of the EUCOM AOR, six flights will transport about 2,000 Afghans to the United States. Since August 20 the EUCOM AOR has received nearly 30,000 vulnerable Afghans and evacuees. 

A good example of how we're building out capacity as we execute this incredibly important mission, a flight from Italy will fly to Philadelphia International Airport the second U.S. onward location to receive flights. 

As NORTHCOM Commander, General VanHerck, said in his brief yesterday, our total capacity across multiple U.S. installations is approximately 21,000 and growing. We're steadily working to increase the capacity to 50,000 by September 15. Right now we are hosting approximately 8,000 Afghan applicants at Fort McCoy, Fort Bliss, Fort Lee and Joint Base McGuire, Dix, Lakehurst. 

A dedicated team of military, civilian and contract personnel are working closely with numerous agencies both government and non-government to ensure further requirements and additional capabilities are available. We will keep you updated on this - on this effort. 

SOUTHCOM continues to conduct humanitarian relief operations in Haiti and NORTHCOM while simultaneously executing evacuation flights is postured to support FEMA as the lead federal agency in preparing for Tropical Storm Ida. 

Lastly, I want to share that the Department of Defense will shortly announce the names of the 13 service members who were killed in service to their country. We grieve with the Gold Star families, friends and loved ones of our fallen. They will be remembered and revered among Americans who have served in Afghanistan in Operation Freedom Sentinel and Enduring Freedom.

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: OK, I don't have anything to add so we'll go right to questions. Bob?

Q: Thank you, John. A couple questions on the strike last night in Afghanistan. General Taylor just said that two high profile targets were killed and one wounded. The initial announcements I think said one. This was all the same strike, was it a single strike? And can you explain anymore about whether these individuals were directly involved in the Thursday bombing at Kabul Airport?

MR. KIRBY: So it was - without getting into too much tactical detail in terms of munitions used. I would tell you it was a single mission to get these targets and as the assessments and information flowed over time we were able to recognize that another was killed as well and one wounded. So, I mean, battle damage assessment, as you know, sometimes takes time, information comes in. As we had more clarity we wanted to be transparent about that.

Q: But the planner, facilitator description does that mean they were involved directly in the Kabul Airport attack?

MR. KIRBY: They were ISIS-K planners and facilitators. And that's enough reason there alone. I won't speak to the details of this - of these individuals or what their specific roles might be. But as the General said, we had the ability and the means to carry out Over-the-Horizon counterterrorism capabilities and we're going to - we're going to defend ourselves. And I think I'll just leave it at that.

Q: Thank you. I'd like to ask you another question about - just about the airport situation at the moment.


Q: Is it true that only U.S. passport holders are being allowed onto the airport now through the gates?

MR. KIRBY: Any U.S. passport holder that wants to get in can get in. And we are still, if I'm wrong here, I don't think I'm wrong, we are still processing and getting on planes SIV applicant as well vulnerable Afghans. 

Q: So they're being allowed onto the airport? 

MR. KIRBY: Yes, as far as I know, yes.

Q: OK. Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: I don't think that's changed. Idrees?

Q: Can you give us the names of the two individuals killed in this raid?

MR. KIRBY: No, we're not going to release the names. 

Q: Because?

MR. KIRBY: We're just not going to release them. 

Q: And if I can just go back to Thursday's suicide bombing. There appear to be images and reports from the ground that some of the Afghan civilians killed may have been shot by the Marines at the gate. At this point in time, since we're 48 hours, do you have any evidence that the Marines or any of the U.S. troops may have shot injured or wounded -

MR. KIRBY: We don't -- we can't confirm that and certain we're not in a position to deny it either. We are investigating this and as we get more information that we can reliably communicate to you about this incident we will. Yes, Tara.

Q: (inaudible) State Department issued another dire warning saying don't approach the gates. Did this airstrike have anything to do with that potential for future attacks? Can you talk about what capabilities ISIS might have lost in this drone strike?

MR. KIRBY: Well a couple of things. I'll let the State Department speak for the advisory they sent out. That is not uncommon for them to that particularly in a country like Afghanistan. And they're constantly watching the threat environment as are we. And they're doing the prudent responsible thing to inform Americans there in Kabul about what's best for their own safety. But, again, I think I'll let the State Department speak to the rationale there. 

Obviously, again, they're doing what they believe they need to do to keep people safe. I am not going to talk about specific capabilities ISIS may have lost in this strike. They lost a planner and they lost a facilitator and they got one wounded. And the fact that two of these individuals are no longer walking on the face of the earth that's a good thing. It's a good thing for the people of Afghanistan and it's a good thing for our troops and our forces at that airfield. And I think I'm just going to leave it there.

Q: And to follow up. Can you discuss the level of threat right now at the airport? We've seen a number of allies bring their evacuation operations to a close early. Will the US still stay there through the 31st?

MR. KIRBY: We are going to complete this mission by the end of the month. We've said that nothing has changed about the timeline for us. And we will do this in as safe and an orderly way as possible. And that includes being able to continue to evacuate right up until the end. 

Q: But what about the threats at the airport? Can you describe what are they still there?

MR. KIRBY: Threats are still very real, they're very dynamic. And we are monitoring them literally in real time. And as I said, yesterday, we're taking all the means necessary to make sure we remain focused on that threat stream. And doing what we can for force protection.

Q: A couple of questions first for you, John. Have U.S. troops begun retrograde withdrawal from the airport?

MR. KIRBY: We have begun retrograde. 

Q: Can you say anything about the number who have left? 

MR. KIRBY: No, I cannot. 

Q: And then General Taylor for you, please. Does the numbers of military aircraft who have left are relatively consistent with where they've been for several days? But the number of passengers on them is down from where it was. Does that mean that the U.S. is now starting to move some equipment, military equipment on those? Or are there planes that are going out does not full?

GEN. TAYLOR: As we said, you know, our mission to continuing evacuating those as required and to meet the mission requirement by August 31 is what the commanders are executing. 

Q: So, does that mean that you're starting to take some equipment out on these aircraft? Or does it or do you not have enough passengers?

GEN. TAYLOR: Yes, there is equipment leaving on those flights too. That was originally planned.

Q: And if I can ask one more, since -- have there been any attacks? General McKenzie talked about how the Taliban had thwarted some attacks before Thursday's attack. Has there been any other cases that you're aware of that the Taliban have actually stopped attackers from getting in towards the airport?

GEN. TAYLOR: I don't have specific reports of that. Other than as you can see, as we just talked, the security of the base is the most important thing that we're doing. To allow us to continue our mission.

Q: Thank you.


MR. KIRBY: David.

Q: John, you said the threat of the airport remains active and dynamic. Is it fair to say that whether or not those people killed last night deserve to be on the face of the earth or not? That the threat at the airport remains unchanged?

MR. KIRBY: I wouldn't say that it remains unchanged. I didn't say that. I said it remains active and dynamic. And it does.

Q: Is it as serious as it was yesterday?

MR. KIRBY: It is a serious threat. I'm not sure what -- how any potential terrorist threat can be anything other than serious. Or that we shouldn't take it seriously. It's serious.

Q: Yesterday you denied the Taliban claimed that they had assumed responsibility for security in some parts of the airport. Is that still the case that Taliban do not provide security at the airport itself? 

MR. KIRBY: That is still the case.

Q: And is that going to remain the case until the end? Or at some point, do they have to move into the airport to keep the crowds at bay while those last planes take off?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to talk about the specifics. As we get closer to the end. We let me just say this as clearly as I can. We will maintain the ability to defend ourselves in our operations all the way through. Yes, Lucas.

Q: John, did the Taliban in any way provide any intelligence or any support with this drone strike that killed those two ISIS terrorists?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to talk about intelligence matters one way or the other.

Q: Can you rule it out?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to talk about intelligence matters one way or the other.

Q: Are the Taliban supporting this drone strike, in any way?

 MR. KIRBY: We had useful intelligence on our own to conduct this strike.

Q: Do you consider the Taliban and Haqqani Network separate entities? 

MR. KIRBY: They -- Lucas I'm not going to give you a breakdown here -- characterization of the Taliban or Haqqani Lucas. We are -- you got to remember what we're focused on here. And that's on getting more people out and getting our troops out completing this mission. And I'm not sure what benefit it does for me to try to characterize one group or another. We know that the... 

Q: (Inaudible) the American people that the deputy leader of the Taliban is (inaudible) Haqqani who has a $10 million bounty on his head. People should know is that are these separate entities or one entity?

MR. KIRBY: We know that there are there is a certain amount of matter of commingling here. I mean, there's a marbling, if you will, of Taliban and Haqqani. What I'm pushing back a little bit on you Lucas is the relevance of that discussion to what we're trying to do today. Which is complete an evacuation safely and to get our troops and our forces at the airport out safely. That's what we're focused on.

Q: Every major, one more question. Every major newspaper and television news outlet has said that the U.S. military brass recommended to the President to leave 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. Not pull out. Have you asked any of those outlets for a correction? 

MR. KIRBY: I'm sorry, say that one again. 

Q: Every major newspaper and television news outlet has reported that top Pentagon brass and the Defense Secretary, to the head of U.S. forces in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the Chairman of Joint Chiefs, recommended to the President that 2,500 U.S. troops should have stayed in Afghanistan. Not been pulled out. Have you asked any news outlet for a correction to those stories?

MR. KIRBY: Thanks for repeating it. We don't make it a habit to talk publicly one way or the other. Right, wrong. Up down. More or less. About the advice and counsel that Pentagon leaders give the Commander in Chief.

Q: What about...

MR. KIRBY: Luis.

Q: ...correcting the record?

MR. KIRBY: Luis.

Q: Has there been another helicopter evacuation recently? 

MR. KIRBY: No, I don't think there has been. 

Q: OK. Can I follow up in on the discussion about the drone strike yesterday. It's been characterized as being retaliation. As being reprisal for the bombing at the airport. Is that accurate? Or was this something that as part of your over the horizon counterterrorism planning, you were already targeting?

MR. KIRBY: This was a little bit of both. I mean, we have the ability to conduct over the horizon counterterrorism capabilities. We've talked about that. This certainly fits in that mold. But it's not coincidence that it happened just a couple of days after we lost 13 brave service members.

Q: And can I ask again, you're calling one planner and another facilitator? I believe that you're saying that one. That's correct, right, because the characterization is two individuals. What is the difference? I mean, and what makes them targeted?

GEN. TAYLOR: Obviously, thanks for your question. But that is the clarification. Planner facilitator. That are those that would have the ability to facilitate or help plan in attacks. And that as we said, it gives us the ability and the authority, we had to conduct those missions.

Q: And were they involved in planning an imminent attack?

GEN. TAYLOR: We're not going to go into, you know, detailed intelligence information that led to the that attack or that strike or future operations.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Yes, Barb.

Q: Couple of things on the on the strike. You -- first thing, you call them high profile? Could you explain to us, but not senior? So, and then I have a follow up on the strike? 

GEN. TAYLOR: Go ahead.

Q: What makes you say they're high profile?

GEN. TAYLOR: Based on the intelligence collected in activities in the past. That was the classification used for those.

Q: General Taylor. Can you just clarify. Were you actually targeting both of these individuals? Or were you targeting one and the other one happened to be there and got struck?

GEN. TAYLOR: We had the intelligence that led us to the target area. That allowed for that strike to happen with the BDA as briefed.

Q: Were you targeting two individuals in this strike?

GEN. TAYLOR: We had intelligence that allowed us to conduct that strike on those multiple individuals.

Q: And John, if I could ask you also. So now you have done this strike. What is the assessment or feeling about the impact of this strike on ISIS-K in Afghanistan? Do you have you to degraded them in any fashion? Can you explain that if they're high profile? Have you deterred? Have you degraded? What is your conclusion about what the impact of this strike actually has been?

MR. KIRBY: They have two high profile planners or facilitators. One planner, one facilitator that are no longer on their muster roll. So, they have lost some capability to plan and to conduct missions. The -- but Barbara, make no mistake. Nobody's writing this off and saying, well, we got them. So, we don't have to worry about ISIS-K anymore. Not the case. 

As I said earlier, the threat stream is still active, still dynamic. We're still laser focused on that, and force protection. And we are thinking for a minute that what happened yesterday, gets us in the clear. Not a minute. But do we believe that we hit valid targets? Bad guys who can do bad things and can plan bad missions? Absolutely. 

And will do we think that that will have some impact on their ability going forward? Absolutely. What and how much? We're just going to have to, we're just going to have to keep watching the intelligence going forward.

Q: I don't know if you can answer. But does the United States have a sense? Even if you can't say names. Do you have any sense of who is in command of ISIS-K right now?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to get into specific org charts and intelligence about what we know about the organization. Obviously, we put a lot of time and effort into learning as much as we can. And I think I just for security purposes, I'm just going to leave it at that. Lara.

Q: Thanks, John. So, a couple of questions on the attack itself. First of all, where did the unmanned aircraft come from? Was it a Reaper drone? Predator drone? Can you give us any information on the aircraft? 

MR. KIRBY: Over the horizon.

Q: OK. So, no specific information you can give us?

MR. KIRBY: It came from over the horizon.

Q: OK. And then was there what there were reports that the targets were in a vehicle? Was -- is that accurate? And or was there any other damage to ISIS infrastructure?

MR. KIRBY: As I think the General said right at the top. We're going to be loath to release a lot of tactical level BDA detail here. We want to preserve as much flexibility as we can. So, I think you can understand at least I hope, you can understand. That we're just not going to be able to answer a lot of that detailed stuff right now.

Q: And then just the follow up, how -- what are you doing about the ISIS-K cells in Kabul itself? Because clearly these attacks are coming from Kabul. It's possible that terrorists have gone underground. Obviously, you can't target the city itself with airstrikes right now. 

MR. KIRBY: Yes. What I would tell you is we're watching the threat stream very carefully. Lara, clearly, they have the ability to operate inside Kabul. We're mindful of that. And we're watching it as closely as we can. And we're obviously trying to make sure that we have available to us as much information and context as possible. So as to prepare for any future attacks. And that certainly we have to assume could come from or be planned out of or sourced out of places that they might have established themselves in Kabul. I think that's really as far as we're going to be able to go right now. OK.

Q: And if I could ask the General a couple questions about the airport. When are we officially handing the airport over to the Taliban? Is the Taliban going to be running the airport? Are they're going to be running it with the Qataris and the Turks? As I believe has been reported? 

GEN. TAYLOR: We're going to continue to run the airport up until the end. And those details, as they continue to be worked out, will come forward. But right now, we will continue to run that airfield to make sure that we can execute our operations.

Q: And are some of the gates to the airport welded shut, as it has been reported?

GEN. TAYLOR: There are gates that are closed. Absolutely, right now. But as we said earlier, we do have gates that are continued to be open. As we coordinate and still work with the Department of State to get people in for evacuation. 

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: I'll have to go to the phones here.

GEN. TAYLOR: Yes, Sir.

MR. KIRBY: Howard Altman?

Q: Hey, first of all, I want to express my condolences to the families that have lost loved ones in Kabul. There, despite this mass of effort to evacuate folks, there are a number of organizations, including, you know, current and former military, that it feels a level of frustration and not be able to get people out. 

And they're working, in many ways, in many reports about that. My question is, is DOD cooperating with any of these organizations? Can you talk about that? And then what is your message to these organizations? Are they helping or hindering? And given what you know about how this is unfolding. Should they continue their operations?

MR. KIRBY: That's certainly not, not for us to tell them to stop caring about individuals that they know that are in Afghanistan, Howard. We are, as you might imagine, I mean, we are working off many different streams of information, about various vulnerable Afghan groups, not to mention applicants in the Special Immigrant Visa Program, and of course, American citizens. 

And I don't want to speak for the State Department. But the State Department has really been liaising with a lot of outside groups. To help identify those who need to be evacuated. We are primarily responsible for helping provide that secure area at the airport for them to be able to get through the process. And to get through to properly manifest them and to get them on flights out of there.

But look, I mean. I think a lot of us are getting emails and calls and texts from friends and colleagues. Many of them are veterans, who are passing information to us to try to help get additional people out. And we're doing the best we can when we are contacted. 

To get that information in the right stream to the right people on the ground there at the airport to continue to facilitate movement. And as the General said, we're going to try to facilitate movement of the evacuees, right up until the very end.

Q: Have these efforts helped? And or are they adding to the confusion? And is DOD cooperating or helping them in any way, can you specify?

MR. KIRBY: I think, certainly, Howard. To the degree that they have brought to light information that we can act upon to get additional people out. Of course, that's been helpful. And we certainly share the concerns that these groups have for these individuals. We feel the same obligation that they do to it. So, to the degree they've been able to help us latch on and identify then yes, that's been helpful. Gordon?

Q: Got a few different things on one question. With the Taliban. It's not an intelligence question. But was there any kind of coordination? Did you share any information prior to the strike on the ISIS targets with the Taliban? One question, I got a few more.


Q: And turning to the preparations for folks coming back. Is there a number? A total number of people you have evacuees you have on domestic bases here. Plus, those kind of in -- on the step to come back to all the different hubs plus the bases you have a total number there?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have it with me, Gordon. I think you heard General Vanherck, yesterday we've got just under 7,000 SIV applicants at U.S. military installations across the country. He's opened up additional installations to try to get us to a capacity of maybe as much as 50,000. If we need it, I think. 

But he gave that number yesterday and I think I would -- I don't think that number has changed appreciably over the last 24 hours. Before I jump off let me just check and see if I've got an updated number in Europe. I got it here somewhere, I think. I don't, I don't think I've got it across Europe. So, we'll have to come back to you on that.

Q: And then two other quick ones. Do you expect the troops to come into Dover as soon as today? 

MR. KIRBY: What I can tell you is that the remains of the 13 individuals who were killed are on their way back to the United States. But I am not at liberty to give you a precise arrival. 

Q: OK. And final clarification. Struck in the target from last night was a planner and a facilitator? Or they're both considered kind of both. I didn't quite understand.

GEN. TAYLOR: The capabilities of those struck and killed last night were a facilitator and planners. 

Q: So?

GEN. TAYLOR: Yes, we're not going to get into this one was this this one with this. They were...

Q: So, they were both kind of planners? 

GEN. TAYLOR: ...facilitators and planners. Yes. 

Q: Were you aware of them before the airstrike?

GEN. TAYLOR: Like I said, we're not going to discuss the intelligence that led up to -- did with the intelligence that we had allowed us to conduct that strike.

Q: You can't say if they were even individuals who are already on the U.S. radar as high-profile people?

GEN. TAYLOR: We had intelligence on the target set. That led us as we continued to work up that to conduct that strike.

Q: Can I ask one more on Over the Horizon Efforts. This, if I'm not mistaken, we looked back into the last time that we saw that the U.S. announced a counter terrorist strike in Afghanistan was February of 2020. Are you aware of any others, particularly specific, not against Taliban, but specific CT strikes since February 2020 in Afghanistan?

GEN. TAYLOR: I don't have that information readily available.

Q: General, with all due respect. The reason you're getting questions about the intelligence is two days before Kabul fell, intelligence did not show that the countries about the fall to the Taliban. That's where you're receiving questions about the intelligence of this target. Just how serious these ISIS fighters were.

GEN. TAYLOR: No, I understand that. And well, and I understand that people are not going to go into the details of the intelligence that goes into it.

Q: Were they planning an attack on U.S. troops at the Kabul airport in the next few days?

GEN. TAYLOR: The intelligence that we had, was good enough allowed us to conduct that strike. And as Mr. Kirby said, we now have two members of ISIS-K, that are no longer able to facilitate or plan attacks.

Q: Were they planning attacks on U.S. troops in the Kabul airport?

GEN. TAYLOR: I'm not going to go into that.

Q: John do you...

MR. KIRBY: Yes, Tara

Q: (Inaudible) the Secretary and the President to greet the caskets at Dover?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have any schedule announcements to make with respect to that.

Q: I'm a little unclear on what I think each of you said. When you were talking about the presence of the Taliban at the airport. Are you saying that there are no Taliban on the airfield beginning to transition to control on either the civilian or military?

MR. KIRBY: Yes. So, Bob, this was some reporting yesterday that the Taliban were in control of the gates. And then there was reporting that we were shutting down all evacuation operations in the course of the day. And my point yesterday was, those are not true. 

We're not shutting down evacuation operations. We're going to continue going to the end. We are still in charge of the airport. And we are still in charge of security at the airport. 

Q: OK.

MR. KIRBY: And what has -- what was true a few days ago is still true today. The Taliban have checkpoints around the airport in -- in a loose perimeter, if you will. But they are not manning gates. They're not at the airport, doing security roles or anything like that. 

Q: They're not at the airport?

MR. KIRBY: They are not at the airport. 

Q: OK.

MR. KIRBY: Yes, Idrees?

Q: Just going back to the drone strike. You obviously can't give specific names of countries. But did you notify any countries through which the drone may have had to fly through before the strike? And which committees on the Hill did you notify prior to the strike, if at all?

MR. KIRBY: I don't, as far as I know, there was no notifications that did or needed to happen beforehand.

Q: To countries or the committees?

MR. KIRBY: No notifications that that were needed to be done beforehand. Yes.

Q: You're not revealing the names of these individuals, but you know them, right? And do you know the nationality of these individuals who had killed in the drone strike yesterday? 

MR. KIRBY: We know who they are. 

Q: You know them?

MR. KIRBY: Yes. And there... 

Q: And the ones who are wounded was planner or the facilitator?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have that information. 

Q: And one more question. During your conversation with the Taliban had -- have they given you any assurance or indicated that they'll not let Afghanistan to be used as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against U.S., its friends and allies? 

MR. KIRBY: Can you say that one again? 

Q: During your conversations with Taliban leadership, have they indicated or given any assurance to you that they'll not let Afghanistan to be used as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against U.S., its friends and allies? 

MR. KIRBY: They made assurances as part of the Doha Agreement about affiliation with al Qaeda and about terrorism, terrorist groups operating from Afghanistan. They've said that publicly. They've said that as part of the Doha Agreement. 


Q: Do you have any indication of the level or types of foreign fighters that may have flowed into Afghanistan in recent days and weeks? 

MR. KIRBY: I do not. 

Q: Thank you. 

MR. KIRBY: OK, I think we're going to call it a day. No, we're going to call it a day, Lucas. 


MR. KIRBY: Lucas, Lucas, I appreciate it very much. I appreciate it very much, Lucas. 

Q: ... prisoners were released in jail by the Taliban...

MR. KIRBY: Thank you all for coming today, I appreciate it.