Hamid Karzai International Airport is up and running after a shutdown on Monday, with regular C-17 flights coming in and out and a limited number of commercial flights, deputy director of the Joint Staff for regional operations told reporters on Tuesday.
By the end of the day, according to Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, more than 4,000 soldiers and Marines will be on the ground, with each incoming flight filling up with evacuees to transport on its way out.
“Right now, we’re looking at one aircraft per hour in and out of HKIA,” Taylor said, within the next 24 hours. “We predict that our best effort could look like 5,000 to 9,000 passengers departing per day.”
Overnight, nine C-17s brought in 1,000 troops and equipment for the mission to secure the airport, taking out between 700 and 800 people as they left again. Of those, 165 were Americans and the remainder were special immigrant visa applicants and third-country nationals, Taylor said.
All told, he said, roughly 1,500 have been evacuated since the situation in Kabul began to deteriorate on Saturday.
There have been no attacks by the Taliban or other security incidents since an active shooter situation on Monday, in which two were shot and killed by U.S. forces.
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, has been in Qatar, where U.S. diplomats and Taliban representatives have continued peace talks.
“In meetings with Taliban senior leaders in Doha on Sunday, I cautioned them against interference in our evacuation, and made it clear to them that any attack would be met with overwhelming force in the defense of our forces,” McKenzie said in a release Tuesday.
Taylor couldn’t say how many people are still at the airport, though he clarified that the crowds that rushed the tarmac over the weekend have been cleared and only identified evacuees, including Americans and SIVs, are still there.
The Taliban have agreed to allow “safe passage” from Afghanistan for civilians struggling to join a U.S.-directed airlift from the capital, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser said Tuesday, although a timetable for completing the evacuation of Americans, Afghan allies and others has yet to be worked out with the country’s new rulers.
Jake Sullivan acknowledged reports that some civilians were encountering resistance — “being turned away or pushed back or even beaten” — as they tried to reach the Kabul international airport. But he said “very large numbers” were reaching the airport and the problem of the others was being taken up with the Taliban, whose stunningly swift takeover of the country on Sunday plunged the U.S. evacuation effort into chaos, confusion and violence.
“There are interactions down at the local level and, as the general said, we are processing American citizens to get out,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
Both Kirby and Taylor reiterated that the mission remains to secure the airport, and there have been no moves to start escorting anyone to the airport or to secure Taliban-controlled checkpoints to allow Americans and SIVs to get to the airport.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.