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Department of Defense Press Secretary John Kirby struggled to answer questions about the Afghanistan withdrawal after being pushed on how many Americans yet remain trapped behind Taliban lines, unable to get to the Kabul airport.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, the Pentagon press secretary admitted that he “doesn’t know” how many Americans remain in Afghanistan. His remarks come as the Biden administration scrambles to pull civilians and special visa holders out of the country, who face reprisals from the Taliban for assisting Americans against the Islamist militant group in the 20-year occupation of Afghanistan.
At the press event, Kirby and Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor said that some 7,000 people had been flown out of Hamid Karzai International Airport since the evacuations began last Saturday. That number has since increased by some thousands, but falls far short of the number of press-estimated evacuees who seek safe harbor.
When pressed on exact numbers for Americans who made it out of the country, Kirby was unable to break down the number of how many Americans had been on flights compared to Afghans and foreign nationals.
“I don’t know,” he said.
The New York Post reported that a reporter pressed him on the numbers, asking why he is unable to provide figures or an account of how many Americans remain trapped in Afghanistan, unable to evacuate from the country or face imminent danger from the Taliban. Kirby deferred to the State Department, suggesting they would have the figures, which he claims are unavailable to the Department of Defense.
“I think as you probably know, first of all, the State Department would be a better place to go for an estimate of how many Americans are in Afghanistan or in and around Kabul,” replied Kirby at the Pentagon briefing. “That is not a figure that the United States military would know, and I think you also know not every American citizen in another country that there’s no obligation that they register their presence. And that you can have a perfect accurate count.”
“But I don’t have that figure, and I’m referring to my State Department colleagues for the best estimate on that,” he said.
Despite his efforts to shove the responsibility elsewhere, State Department spokesman Ned Price said earlier on Thursday that the administration did not have a full count of Americans stranded in Afghanistan, stating that US citizens did not have the obligation to register as being in a foreign country.
“It’s a voluntary thing,” insisted Price at the conference. The media pressed on Price to provide a rough estimate for the count after he stated that 6,000 people were processed for evacuation at the Kabul airport but was unable to provide a breakdown of the number of Americans present compared to Afghans and others leaving the country.
“We have been in contact with the Americans who have requested to be repatriated. We’re just not in a position to give a number right now. We’re more broadly, not in position to offer an aggregate figure, because we are putting forward offers to individuals who may be interested in relocating,” said Price. “In some cases, they may opt not to come to the airport. They may opt not to be relocated for whatever reason.”
The Pentagon has stated its intention to evacuate up to 9,000 people each day from the airport, but Maj. Gen. Taylor said at the DOD briefing that many of the flights had been taking off without a full load of passengers due to slow processing and roadblocks erected by the Taliban on the road to the airport that prevent evacuees from leaving. Taylor’s remarks contradict President Biden’s claim on Friday that the Taliban had not been stopping Americans and others from making their way to the airport.
“We’re ready to increase throughput and have scheduled aircraft departures accordingly. We intend to maximize each plane’s capacity, we’re prioritizing people above all else. And we’re focused on doing this as safely as possible with absolute urgency,” said Taylor, adding that 13 C-17 US transport planes arrived in Kabul with troops and equipment and 12 C-17 planes had departed.
Taylor and Kirby stated that the US government opened more gates at the airport and provided more staff members to process special immigration visas for Afghans eligible to board the flights.
“We have seen by opening up another gate, by adding consular officers now, we believe that we will soon begin to see an opening up of the aperture and we’re hopeful that that means a more consistent increase in the flow,” Kirby said. “We’ve got additional consular officers at these additional gates with additional troops helping the consular officers so I think we’re poised to see an increase but I want to be careful before I make predictions. What we’re trying to do, what we want to drive, is an increase. That’s very much on everybody’s mind.”
However, Kirby added that the US military could not guarantee that the gates would be continuously accessible and not blocked by the Taliban at times.
Journalists present on the ground in Kabul showed harrowing scenes outside the airport, where civilians scrambling to get to the airport are brutalized and shot at by the Taliban.
Article Source : Conservativebrief.com