Pentagon leaders said at a briefing on Wednesday that the United States military does not have the capability to help the thousands of Americans stranded outside the Kabul airport, which is now surrounded by Taliban checkpoints.
Asked whether the military could help escort Americans outside the airport in Afghanistan to the Kabul airport, where the evacuations are taking place, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “The forces that we have are focused on security of the airfield.”
He added: “We don’t have the capability to go out and collect up large numbers of people.”
“We will stay focused on securing the airfield. We cannot afford to either not defend that airfield or not have an airfield that’s secure,” he said. “I don’t have the capability to go out and extend operations currently into Kabul. And where do you take that? How far do you extend into Kabul, and how long does it take to flow those forces in to be able to do that?”
There are an estimated 11,000 Americans trapped in Afghanistan, according to the White House.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said the State Department is working with the Taliban to get Americans to the airport.
“The State Department…is working with the Taliban to facilitate safe passage of American citizens, U.S. passport holders to the airport. And that’s the primary means and under the current conditions,” Milley said, adding, “We have the capability to do other things if necessary.”
Milley said those “other things” would be a p0licy decision, indicating that would be up to the Biden administration, not the military.