Securing the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, and evacuating Americans and Afghans with special immigration visas remains the goal of U.S. troops in that nation, an official of the Joint Staff said Monday.
Army Maj. Gen. Henry “Hank” Taylor, Joint Staff director of current operations, and Gary Reed, director of DOD’s Afghanistan crisis action group, updated reporters at the Pentagon in the wake of the Afghanistan crisis.
“We’re actively monitoring the situation, what’s happening on the ground, and we will continue to support the commander and adjust forces, as necessary, to allow the mission to be successful,” Taylor said. “Our troops are trained professionals; they understand the complexity, the urgency and the importance of their mission. They remain agile.”
About 2,500 U.S. troops have moved into Kabul within the last 72 hours, and more will arrive soon, the general said, adding that at the end of the day, nearly 3,000 to 3,500 troops are expected on the ground.
Hamid Karzai International Airport opened for operations shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on August 16; shortly afterward, the first C-17 aircraft landed with Marines on board. The next C-17 was preparing to land with members of the 82nd Airborne Division.
More than 700 Afghans applying for special immigrant visas (SIV) have departed Afghanistan in the past 48 hours by a combination of contract and commercial aircraft, Taylor said.
“[We’re] in charge of air traffic control, and that includes commercial [and] contracted military [aircraft],” he noted. “We expect to maximize our throughput of all means of transportation over the next coming days.”
Since DOD’s Afghanistan Crisis Action Group was formed in July, its initial focus has been to relocate the SIV applicants, finalize their visas and resettle the immigrants into the United States with the help of nongovernmental organizations, Reed said.
“Today, nearly 2,000 Afghans have passed through this process, joining more than 70,000 that have participated in the SIV program since 2005,” he told reporters. “U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Army North are mostly operating from Fort Lee, Virginia, and have provided arriving SIV applicants with housing, food, medical treatment, medical screening and other services.”
Reed said U.S. Northcom and the U.S. Army are working to create additional capacity to support refugee relocation in the [United States], including at temporary sites, noting that Fort Bliss, Texas, and Camp McCoy in Wisconsin are under assessment. There may be other sites identified, he added, for 20,000 to 22,000 SIV spaces.
“With this operation underway [and] given the urgency of the situation in Kabul, our focus has shifted to supporting movement of our embassy staff, American citizens, allies and other partners out of Kabul,” Reed said. “August 14, DOD began movement of these people on DOD aircraft, providing them transportation that had flown into Kabul delivering our troops and hauling cargo.”
That is an important point, Reed said. “The numbers today are in the hundreds; we certainly have a much greater requirement, [and] we are still in the process of bringing in forces. These aircraft, as space [is] available on the outbound, have been taking passengers and of course, this has been somewhat disrupted in the last 24 hours.”
Reed said DOD has transported several hundred Afghan SIV applicants to countries in the region and has aligned them with the State Department and Department of Homeland Security colleagues for their onward transportation.
“We anticipate picking up the pace, provided we can stabilize conditions … as described by the general,” Reed said. “Our military team in Kabul is working side-by-side with the ambassador and his staff to coordinate future airlift operations in the coming days.”
The Departments of State and Homeland Security will facilitate initial processing and overseas transit points and prepare for onward movement for all of those transported by DOD, he said.