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Pentagon says flights have resumed out of Kabul airport following Monday's chaotic evacuation

Kabul airport
Posted at 9:01 AM, Aug 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-17 14:51:32-04

The Pentagon says flights have resumed from an airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, a day after video footage showed hundreds of Afghans rushing the runway in an attempt to board U.S. planes and leave the country.

In multiple media appearances Tuesday morning, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said that flights have resumed, and the Defense Department is working to move both Americans and Afghans out of the country.

"The airport is up and running; operations are continuing," Kirby told ABC News.

Kirby noted that the U.S. moved between 700 and 800 people out of Afghanistan in the last 24 hours, including 150 American citizens and many Afghan citizens. During that same period, an additional 1,000 American troops arrived in Kabul, with more to come in the days ahead.

During a press briefing on Monday, joint staff director of current operations Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor said that the Department of Defense's focus remained on protecting the airport. By his estimation, the military could evacuate between 5,000 and 9,000 people from the country each day.

During Monday's briefing, Kirby also reiterated that the evacuation mission would end, at the White House's direction, on Aug. 31. That means as many as 135,000 people could be flown out of the country in the next two weeks.

It's unclear how many U.S. citizens, Afghani special immigrant visas and third-party foreign nationals still need to be evacuated.

Flights were suspended from the airport on Monday after hundreds of people rushed to the airport in an attempt to flee the country from Taliban rule. The stunning footage showed crowds of people abandoning their cars on local highways, jumping fences and running right onto the tarmac.

An additional video showed people running beside a U.S. Air Force plane as it prepared to take off. Some clung to the aircraft's fuselage as it lifted into the air.

The Associated Press reported Monday that seven people died in the chaos at the airport.

Amid the disarray, the State Department advised Americans in the area to shelter in place. On Monday, Kirby told media outlets that the Department had reached a message to those sheltering and had "given them cues" as to how to assemble at the airport for evacuation.

Kirby added that the Pentagon is planning to house up to 22,000 Afghan citizens at three U.S. installations once they are evacuated from the country, many of them translators or those who have assisted American troops over the years.

"It's not just about moving out Americans; it's very much about meeting our moral and sacred obligations to those Afghans who helped us over the last 20 years, getting as many of them out as we can," Kirby said.

During the White House press briefing on Tuesday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan again defended the Biden administration's continued troop drawdown. While he admitted there were "chaotic scenes" at the airport on Monday, he said the Pentagon had made appropriate adjustments to keep the area secured in the hopes of transporting as many people out of the country as possible in the coming days.

"The images at the airport the past couple of days have been heartbreaking. But President Biden had to think of the alternative path as well, which was to stay in the middle of a civil conflict in Afghanistan," Sullivan said. "There are those who argue that with 2,500 forces, the number of forces in Afghanistan when President Biden took office, we could have sustained a peaceful Afghanistan. That is simply wrong."

Psaki later said that Biden continues to have faith in his intelligence advisers and that he and the intelligence agencies remain in "lockstep."