Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin appeared stumped for an answer after a reporter asked him if the United States is relying on “diplomacy with the Taliban” to allow people safe passage to the Kabul airport, at his first appearance in front of the press after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
The reporter asked Austin: “So it sounds like you’re saying this depends on diplomacy with the Taliban. That’s it. That’s our only option is getting them to agree to do this.”
Austin remained silent for several seconds and looked away before Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley stepped in with a response.
Defense Secretary Austin looks completely stunned when a reporter asks "It sounds like you're saying this depends on diplomacy with the Taliban. That's it."
General Milley interrupts, noting that the State Department has sent messages urging people to go to the airport. pic.twitter.com/xXs4zSipcl
— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) August 18, 2021
The Biden administration has come under heavy fire from critics on the right and left for not guaranteeing the safety of an estimated 11,000 Americans who are stuck around Afghanistan, after the Taliban took over the country this past weekend.
The Biden administration has been forced to work out an arrangement with the Taliban in order to let Americans and others trying to flee through to the airport. The Taliban has the airport surrounded with checkpoints and is reportedly screening who gets through. Afghans who helped the U.S. military and its NATO allies are terrified of being killed by the Taliban once the U.S. military leaves and have been desperate to flee.
Milley did not directly answer the question, but instead said the U.S. is manning checkpoints at the airport’s perimeter.
He said the U.S. military has set up three entry control points at the airport, on the north, east and at Abbey Gate.
“They’re currently manned with consular officers, Marines, this is all part of the perimeter. Messages have gone out by various means of communication from the State Department to American citizens and others and they’re being told to go to those gates,” he said, adding:
Right now, we’re processing it about, I think the last report is about 120, 130 an hour, something like that, at the north and about 340, 350 an hour, something like that, at the South Gate. So right now if there’s a steady flow of people. Now, as that goes on, I think those numbers will continue to grow and as those messages go out.
“For the others, State Department is still working through exactly getting the procedures for the evacuees to get to the airfield,” he said.