A group of 169 Americans were airlifted from a hotel outside the Kabul airport on Thursday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby confirmed to reporters Friday, one of a very limited number of actions that U.S. troops have undertaken outside of the Hamid Karzai International Airport walls since a contingent of 6,000 began deploying last week.
President Joe Biden first spoke of the mission during an address on Friday, in which he described “military assets” bringing Americans “over the wall” of the airport.
“… the original plan was for the Americans to gather themselves up at the Baron [Hotel] and walk through the Abbey gate. The gate is right here. So you can see from the hotel to the gate,” Kirby said. “… but there was a large crowd established outside the Abbey gate ― a crowd, that, that not everybody had confidence in, in terms of their ability to walk through it. And so, local commanders on the scene took the initiative and flew these helicopters out there to pick them up.”
Three Army CH-47 Chinooks fetched the Americans from a landing zone at the hotel, Kirby said, then dropped them at the airport for processing. He could not confirm whether they had since been flown out of Afghanistan.
The extraction was the first time U.S. officials have confirmed that troops have been operating outside the walls of the airport.
“… but there have been, on occasion, have been people walked in,” Kirby said. “People walking up, and not necessarily going to the right place and soldiers have helped them outside the perimeter of the airport get to where they need to go.”
The group was encouraged to come to the Baron by another nation, Kirby said, though he declined to say which one. That country’s officials had established security at the hotel, he added, then contacted American officials to make them aware of the group.
The French and British have reportedly been extracting their citizens in Kabul. The U.S. so far has stuck mostly to the airport, though Biden left the door open on Friday to further missions outside the wire.
“We’re going to do everything that we can to provide safe evacuation for our Afghan allies, partners, and Afghans who might be targeted because of their association with the United States,” he said in his second national address this week on the chaotic situation in Afghanistan.
Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, deputy director of the Joint Staff for regional operations, told Military Times that the U.S. had not yet begun negotiating with the Taliban to assure safety for troops who might attempt rescue missions in the city.