One day ahead of the American withdrawal deadline from Afghanistan, the U.S. military kept up a constant flow of airport traffic in an effort to evacuate citizens and service members from Kabul.
President Joe Biden was slated on Monday morning to meet with his national security team for updates as the operation winds down.
Late Sunday, Biden was briefed by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Chief of Staff Ron Klain on a rocket attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport. It did not disrupt evacuation efforts.
Earlier, the president visited Dover, Delaware, to meet with the families of 13 service members killed last week in an ISIS-K bombing at the Kabul airport.
In Afghanistan, an American airstrike aimed at a member of ISIS also killed civilians. U.S. Central Command acknowledged the deaths, without details, on Sunday. According to reports on Monday, 10 members of the same family were killed.
Nearing its last day of U.S. operations in Afghanistan, the Department of Defense has been unspecific on how the military will fully wind down its mission in the country.
"We continue to have the capability to evacuate and fly out those until the very end,” said Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor during a briefing at the Pentagon.
Noting the high level of danger, neither Taylor nor Pentagon press secretary John Kirby would provide details, or even answers, to some reporter questions on the evacuation operation or the current state of play in Afghanistan.
Taylor added that since evacuations began in July, about 122,000 people have been evacuated out of Afghanistan as of Monday, including 5,400 Americans. In total, 28 flights left Kabul’s international airport in the last 24 hours.
The Pentagon reported there are now 3,700 passengers are traveling to the U.S. via 11 flights to Dulles International Airport near Washington and via six flights to Philadelphia International Airport.
Kirby referred reporters to the State Department when asked about the number of Americans who may still be on the ground and trying to leave the country.
The military is further using “a number of intermediate staging bases” to move thousands of evacuees through military bases in the Middle East and Europe to the U.S.
Exactly how and when troops finally withdraw from the country, however, was left unclear. Pentagon officials also did not go into great detail on the security situation at the airport, only noting that it is secure for the time being.
"We are operating on the assumption that we need to be prepared for future potential threats," Taylor said, confirming that the airport was attacked by five missiles on Sunday, though there were no casualties. Three missiles missed the airport, one failed to hit any important targets or people, and another was intercepted by a U.S. defense system.
“The threat stream is still real. It is still active. And in many cases, it's still specific,” Taylor continued.
– Matthew Brown
CAIRO — The Islamic State group’s affiliate in Afghanistan has claimed responsibility for Monday’s rocket attack in Kabul, saying it fired at least six Katyusha rockets at the airport in the Afghan capital.
The rockets stuck a neighborhood close to the Kabul airport. The claim of responsibility was carried by the militant group’s media arm, the Aamaq news agency. It didn’t provide further details.
The U.S. military said five rockets targeted the airport on Monday morning and that U.S. forces on the airfield used a defensive system to intercept them.
– Associated Press
The U.S. military evacuated about 1,200 people were evacuated from Kabul on Aug. 26, bringing the total number of people evacuated from Afghanistan since Aug. 14 to be around 116,700 people, per the White House.
Another 50 people were evacuated on two allied coalition flights. The U.S. conducted 26 flights yesterday to ferry evacuees out of the country. Since late July, around 122,300 people have been evacuated.
The latest numbers, lower than in previous days, underscore that evacuations in Kabul are winding down as U.S. forces face an Aug. 31 troop withdrawal deadline. Many allied forces ended their evacuation efforts last week, claiming that their operations could not function without U.S. security assurances.
– Matthew Brown
The United States has the capacity to evacuate the approximately 300 U.S. citizens remaining in Afghanistan who want to leave before Tuesday's deadline, senior Biden administration officials said, as rocket fire in Kabul and another U.S. drone strike against suspected Islamic State militants underscored the grave threat in the war's final days.
The steady stream of U.S. military jets taking off and landing at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan's capital continued Monday even after rocket fire targeted the airport. No one claimed responsibility for the rockets, which hit a nearby neighborhood.
– Associated Press
A United States drone strike targeting ISIS-K bombers in Afghanistan on Sunday may have also killed civilians.
"We are aware of reports of civilian casualties following our strike on a vehicle in Kabul today,” said Navy Capt. Bill Urban, spokesman for U.S. Central Command, on Sunday.
At least one of the occupants of the vehicle was believed to be a suicide bomber, according to a U.S. official. The Pentagon confirmed the drone strike Sunday, saying it was against an "imminent ISIS-K threat" to the airport in Kabul.
“We know that there were substantial and powerful subsequent explosions resulting from the destruction of the vehicle, indicating a large amount of explosive material inside that may have caused additional casualties,” Urban said. “It is unclear what may have happened, and we are investigating further.”
At a Monday press briefing, officials said the incident is being investigated.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul had warned of a "specific credible threat" and urged those hoping to evacuate to leave the airport. President Joe Biden said Saturday the Kabul airport was "highly likely" to be the target of another attack before the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline.
A blast at the airport on Thursday killed 13 U.S. service members and more than 169 Afghans. A retaliatory U.S. drone strike on Friday killed two ISIS-K members.
Former Acting FEMA Administrator Robert Fenton, Jr. will lead the Biden administration's effort to resettle refugees from Afghanistan, the Department of Homeland Security announced Sunday.
Fenton, who will report directly to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, will lead a broad range of operations to resettle Afghans, including immigration processing, COVID-19 testing and isolation and securing permanent homes for refugees who are neither American citizens nor permanent residents, DHS said.
They made the 'ultimate sacrifice':The 13 US service members killed in Afghanistan airport bombing
“Bob has dedicated his career to public service and has decades of experience managing complex and critically important missions. He will help lead this interagency effort with incredible adeptness and the highest standards of honor and integrity," Mayorkas said in a statement.
Fenton has a long history of responding to national disasters, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005, wildfires in California and the 9/11 terrorist attack. He was acting FEMA administrator during the presidential transition periods in 2017 and 2021.
– Kristine Phillips
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that the United States is doing “everything possible” to get out about 300 American citizens who indicated they want to leave Afghanistan by the Aug. 31 deadline.
“We are very actively working to help them get to the airport, get on a plane, and get out of Afghanistan,” Blinken said during an interview on ABC’S “This Week.”
The White House said Sunday that about 2,900 people were evacuated from Kabul in the last 24 hours that ended at 3 a.m. Sunday. Since Aug. 14, about 114,400 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan.
– Rebecca Morin