US troops have been using helicopters to rescue Americans stranded in Kabul in the middle of the night to try and get citizens and allies out before the August 31 deadline.
‘So last night, during the period of darkness, there was an operation to be able to go out and safely evacuate evacuees back into Kabul. They’re at HKAIA, and they’re safely there preparing to be evacuated,’ Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor said at a Pentagon briefing, referencing the crowded airport in Kabul.
Taylor was vague on the precise details of the operation, saying it was ‘outside of the airfield, and we were able to bring them back to Kabul safely. ‘It was inside Kabul,’ Pentagon spokesman John Kirby clarified.
He said it involved ‘less than 20’ people, but said he was not going to provide additional details, amid a tense security situation around the airport.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the US currently has about 5,400 troops in Afghanistan, and confirmed a night-time helicopter operation to bring fewer than 20 Americans into the airport in Kabul
The operation comes amid continued concerns about getting Americans and Afghan nationals who have applied for special visas beyond Taliban checkpoints before a looming August 31 evacuation deadline.
It comes in addition to two additional operations outside the airport walls confirmed by the Pentagon: one that Kirby mentioned Tuesday, and a mission to bring 169 Americans ‘over the wall’ that President Biden revealed on Monday.
The operation comes amid persistent threats cited by U.S. officials posed by ISIS-K, an offshoot of the terror group that has clashed with the Taliban.
The Pentagon continues to face questions about how it will choreograph the final exit of U.S. forces by the deadline – which Kerby said the military is still working toward, even while planning for potential extension requests to present to President Joe Biden, after the Taliban spoke against any delay.
‘He wants to see this mission complete by the end of the month,’ Kirby said of Biden.
He said the military was ‘working towards that goal, but we will be drafting up potential documents ‘if in fact we believe a conversation needs to be had later.’
Kirby also provided a new total number of U.S. troops still in Afghanistan of 5,400, down from the initial 5,800 dispatched to provide security for the evacuation.
Kirby said the commander of the mission ‘didn’t need them any more’ but tried to put it in the context of the withdrawal already underway when the Taliban seized power. He said evacuations would continue almost until the end of the midnight deadline.
‘Time and space are a premium at the airport,’ he said. But Kirby said ‘we hadn’t pushed some button and said: Go retrograde now’ – meaning start the final official evacuation of US troops.
Taliban try to test ride a $6million US-made Blackhawk helicopter and another is seen over Kabul with insurgents taking US equipment and weapons
CNN captured a US Black Hawk military helicopter flying over Kabul during the chaotic evacuation in Afghanistan last week.
Alarming footage has also emerged of the Taliban trying to fly a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter in Kandahar amid fears the insurgents will get a handle on and start using weapons and equipment American forces have left behind.
The US-made helicopter costs $6million and was used by the Navy SEAL team 6 during the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden.
It has been a constant fixture in stealth US military operations since 1978 in a range of battlefields from Somalia to Syria and Helmand Province.
The Army’s frontline military helicopter is used for air assault, designed to carry 11 troops and is capable of moving a 105-millimeter howitzer and 30 rounds of ammunition.
CNN captured a US Black Hawk military helicopter flying over Kabul during the chaotic evacuation in Afghanistan last week
It is not clear who was piloting the helicopter over Kabul, but the pictures surfaced last week when the Taliban had already started taking military equipment and helicopters.
The insurgents are believed to have billions in dollars worth of US weapons and also have hundreds of Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters in their possession.
On Thursday alarming footage emerged showing what appears to be a Taliban test of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.
The one-minute clip uploaded to Twitter shows a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, described as having been captured from Afghan security forces, moving along the tarmac at a seemingly otherwise deserted location.
Alarming footage has emerged showing what appears to be a Taliban test of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter
Two men watch the chopper complete a loop of the area, where two cars are also visible in shot.
‘Taliban testing a captured Afghan UH-60,’ the post accompanying the video read. At no point did the helicopter leave the ground.
It is not clear if the UH-60 is the same that was seized by the Taliban on August 14 when images and footage of members of the group operating the $6million piece of equipment were shared on social media.
A series of videos also showed insurgents flying captured Russian choppers around the city of Kandahar.
It came as evidence emerged that the Taliban had also seized American-made Black Hawk helicopters, made famous in the 2001 Ridley Scott blockbuster Black Hawk Down.
The Afghan government pilots who fly the operational Russian helicopters were turned over to the Taliban, while the US helicopters were likely grounded by a lack of spare parts from the United States.
The White House has spent billions of dollars on supplying the Afghan military with the necessary weapons and equipment to wipe out the Taliban, but following the collapse of local armed forces, their investment is now effectively being used by the insurgents themselves.
A U.S. Chinook helicopter flies over the city of in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. The Pentagon confirmed a nighttime helicopter mission had brought Americans to the Kabul airport
Taliban fighters search a vehicle at a checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021. The Taliban, who are now the ‘titular head’ of power in Kabul, will assume security control of the airport when the US leaves
Families board a U.S. Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 24
Afghans try to reach the airport after the Taliban announced they wouldn’t allow access any longer, in Kabul, Afghanistan, 25 August 2021. Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said in a press conference on 24 August, that evacuation must be completed by August 31 and they will not allow Afghans to go to the airport from now on
He said the commander on the ground, Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, ‘in trying to manage time and space at the airport, determined that it was the prudent thing to do to let several hundred troops leave the airport.’
He also faced operational questions about precisely how the U.S. would get out the final troops at the end of the 20-year military presence, amid threats outside the airport and checkpoints being guarded by the Taliban.
Kirby declined to say the Taliban would be responsible for security at the end. ‘No I said the Taliban are responsible for running an airport that’s in a city that they are now the titular heads of government there,’ he said.
‘When we are gone, the airport will no longer be secured by American forces,’ he said.
Added Gen. Taylor: ‘We will have that ability to secure ourselves through, you know, multiple means to ensure flights are able to take off.’
The U.S. has ramped up their airlifts and have evacuated 19,000 people in the last 24 hours with just six days until the deadline.
According to the White House, since August 14 the US has evacuated 82,000 people, with 88,000 evacuated since July.
Afghan citizens board a Spanish military plane as part of their evacuation, at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 24, 2021
Army Major Gen. William Taylor, Joint Staff Operations, confirmed the helicopter mission ‘outside the airfield’ to bring in Americans