U.S. military officials said they have secured Kabul Airport and international evacuations are resuming Tuesday, Axios reported.
Evacuation operations had to be suspended on Monday when thousand of desperate Afghans stormed the airport’s runway in hopes of getting onto a departing plane. Seven Afghans were killed in the chaos, including some men who held onto the plane’s wing as it departed and tumbled hundreds of feet to their deaths.
Overnight, between 700-800 people were evacuated across seven flights, including 165 American citizens. The rest were special immigrants visa applicants and foreign nationals. Viral photos showed a plane without seats packed with roughly 600 people, including women and children, even infants, huddled on the floor.
Pentagon officials have defended their Afghanistan withdrawal plans as the world watched in horror as Taliban soldiers raised their flags in the capital city and thousands of Afghan citizens crowded embassies, begging for visas to escape their new extremist leaders.
“Just as recently as two weeks ago, we held a tabletop exercise here at the Pentagon to walk through what it would look like to do exactly what we’re doing now, which is a noncombatant evacuation operation from Hamid Karzai International Airport,” said Pentagon press secretary John Kirby. “We planned for almost every contingency here at the Pentagon, but as an old military maxim says, no plan survives first contact. So obviously we had to adjust in the moment.
“Certainly nobody wanted to see it result like it did over the last 24 hours, but now we have more forces on the ground and we have begun to secure the field, the tarmac,” he added.
Both President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump have faced blistering criticism from both sides of the aisle for the Afghanistan withdrawal plan, which the Trump administration drew up and the Biden administration enacted. Pentagon officials have conceded they expected the Taliban to take over once American and European troops left, but were blindsided by the speed and ease in which they did.
“We should have started this evacuation months ago,” said Colorado Democrat Representative Jason Crow, himself a combat veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan. “It could have been done deliberately and methodically.”
Approximately 3,500 American troops are currently in Kabul, and an additional 4,000 are on their way.
The Pentagon plans to evacuate 5,000 to 9,000 people per day from Hamid Karzai International Airport, with one flight taking off every hour.
So far, the soldiers have had “no hostile interactions, no attack, no threat by the Taliban” during the evacuation operations, Major General Hank Taylor, a Pentagon logistics expert, said during a press briefing Tuesday.
The American evacuation efforts will continue until August 31.