General Kenneth McKenzie Jr. told reporters Thursday military evacuation efforts in Kabul depended on Taliban protection after a pair of ISIS suicide bombings killed at least 12 U.S. servicemembers and dozens of civilians.
“We expect those attacks to continue and we are doing everything we can to prepare for those attacks,” McKenzie said at a Pentagon press briefing. “That includes reaching out to the Taliban who are actually providing the outer security” at the airport.
Biden's military says they are relying on the Taliban to "protect us" at the Kabul airport as 12+ U.S. soldiers have been killed. pic.twitter.com/mRE8p6vvxe
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) August 26, 2021
According to Politico, U.S. officials have shared intelligence with Taliban officials identifying those who have been cleared for evacuation.
SCOOP: U.S. officials gave the Taliban a list of names of U.S. citizens, green card holders & Afghan allies to grant entry into the outer perimeter of the city’s airport, prompting outrage behind the scenes from lawmakers and military officials. https://t.co/WHHzStyynk
— Lara Seligman (@laraseligman) August 26, 2021
Thursday’s military casualties are the first since two service members were fatally shot in February last year, where six others were wounded in the same operation. Afghan authorities told the New York Times another 30 to 40 were confirmed dead from the blasts in Kabul that wounded another 120.
U.S. forces are scheduled to leave the country on Aug. 31, a deadline the Biden administration has pledged to maintain at the Taliban’s red-line demand despite thousands poised to remain stranded under terrorist rule.
While the U.S. has depended on Taliban cooperation for evacuation efforts, the radical Islamist group has prevented people from accessing the airport, and said Tuesday it would prohibit Afghan passage.
How many Americans are still in Afghanistan is unclear. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken put the estimate at 1,500 on Wednesday.
The United States has evacuated more than 82,000 people from the country since Aug. 14, the vast majority of whom have been qualifying Afghans. The U.S. embassy warned Americans to disperse from the airport Wednesday over the terror threat which came to fruition one day later.
“Because of security threats outside the gates of Kabul airport, we are advising U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates at this time unless you receive individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do so,” read the alert.
Despite the warnings, U.S. Marines continued to process those trying to enter the airport anyway and land a seat on an evacuation flight leaving every 45 minutes.
Our U.S. Marines were put in an impossible situation, and they continued anyways. The true definition of a hero. Sending so many prayers their way. This is absolutely heartbreaking. https://t.co/W6rU2tOK6B
— Kelsey Bolar (Harkness) (@kelseybolar) August 26, 2021