WASHINGTON — With the August 31 deadline for a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan fast approaching, the Pentagon has sharply ramped up evacuations from Kabul airport, moving 21,600 people within 24 hours, Defense Department officials said Tuesday. But bottlenecks in the system, and President Biden’s insistence that all troops leave the country by the end of the month, may prevent the military from keeping pace.
The race against time means 5,800 marines and soldiers at Hamid Karzai International Airport must try. Thousands of Americans and Afghan allies evacuated, and then out themselves, in a way, erasing the remnants of 20 years of war in Afghanistan in the next seven days.
That operation began on Tuesday, with John F. Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, saying that several hundred command and maintenance centers and other support forces that were not essential to the escalating evacuation process had left the country.
Defense officials were loath to say in public, though, what seems increasingly clear: Some people will be left behind.
Biden said that since August 14, when Kabul fell to the Taliban, more than 70,700 people had been evacuated from Afghanistan as of Tuesday evening.
That is far less than the number of American citizens, foreigners, and Afghan allies trying to get out. “We’re trying to get as many people out as possible,” said John F. Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. He said that US forces at Kabul airport want to “continue this pace as strongly as possible.”
But with all the insistence of Mr. Biden on it Stick to the withdrawal deadlineNeither the Department of Homeland Security nor the Department of State were able to increase screening and processing times to the levels required to meet the demand.
A US official said it took up to 12 hours for immigration officers at Al Udeid Air Base outside Doha, Qatar, to verify that Afghans had accessed a watch list set up by the National Counter-Terrorism Center. The official said checks and checks needed to move faster to prevent the evacuated pipeline from being blocked again at Al Udeid, the largest base receiving Afghans, as it did for several hours last week.
The Taliban warned of “consequences” if the US military stayed past the deadline. On Tuesday, a Taliban spokesman said the movement’s fighters would effectively prevent Afghans from going to the airport.
Officials said the Pentagon has opened military bases in Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin and New Jersey to provide temporary housing for Afghan refugees, and is likely to add more in the coming days.
Kirby said the Afghan allies of the United States, who fear Taliban retaliation, are still being processed at Kabul airport, despite the airport’s gates being closed several times over the past week due to an increase in the number of people.
The United States will continue to evacuate Afghans until the final two days of withdrawing troops and equipment, as flights are expected to be filled mostly with troops and military equipment, plus any Americans who wish to leave. Dozens of Afghan commandos – trained by the United States – are also at the airport and must be evacuated.
Understand the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan
For the military, part of the problem is the sheer scale of moving so many people so quickly, with so little advance notice. For example, C-17 military aircraft, which carry 400 people per load, have one or two pigeons, and the flight from Kabul to Qatar takes four hours.
Once flights arrive at many in Qatar and other intermediate bases in the Middle East and Europe, evacuees are screened by Homeland Security and State Department officials, who determine if they are eligible to enter the United States.
The military is taking the Taliban’s red line on August 31 very seriously, in part because, despite the sharp rhetoric from Taliban spokesmen, some of the movement’s leaders are cooperating with the US military and are allowing many people to reach the airport. In addition, the US military and the Taliban have cooperated against the threat of ISIS attacks.
After August 31, a senior US official said, all bets were off.
With so many people at Kabul airport, Doha and at other bases, concerns about sanitation, food and water are growing. C-17s carrying refugees from Afghanistan turn around and bring more trash containers, portable handwashing stations, refrigerated trucks to keep water cool, and food and water.
Defense Department officials said that over the past four days, three children were born to the evacuees. Air Force officials said a woman went into labor on Saturday as a plane landed at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. The pilot descended to a lower altitude to increase the plane’s air pressure, a decision officials said saved the mother’s life due to her low blood pressure. When the plane landed, paramedics rushed aboard and gave birth to the baby girl – a girl – in the cargo hold. Kirby said on Tuesday that the three children are doing well.
After receiving a classified briefing Monday night, Representative Adam B. Schiff, a California Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said the August 31 deadline for withdrawing US troops from Kabul is unrealistic.
“I think it’s possible, but I think it’s very unlikely,” Schiff told reporters. Using the acronym for Special Immigrant Visas, he added, “Given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated, the number of SIVs, the number of other members of the Afghan press, civil society leaders, women leaders – it’s hard for me to imagine that all of that is achievable between now and the end of the year.” the month “.