Kabul evacuations kick into overdrive with a week left before Afghanistan withdrawal

More than 21,600 evacuated from Afghanistan on Monday, per the latest count from the Defense Department. In addition to 12,700 flown out on military aircraft, another 8,900 took civilian or military flights from partner countries, blowing past the military’s estimated 9,000-a-day capacity.

A flight took off roughly every 45 minutes, according to the Maj. Gen, Hank Taylor, deputy director of the Joint Staff for regional operations, for a total of 32 C-17 Globemasters and five C-130 Hercules. With an unknown number of Americans and Afghans to evacuate before the end of the month, agencies on the ground are hoping to keep up the pace.

“That’s definitely the plan,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

DoD is tracking about 63,000 evacuations total since late July, 58,000 of those since Aug. 14.

Though Pentagon officials have said since the operation began that they had more than enough aircraft capacity, the slow ramp up of evacuations was mostly due to the ability of people to get to the Kabul airport and be processed.

That has been going more smoothly, officials said.. As of Tuesday morning, there were about 5,000 evacuees at the airport waiting to be evacuated, with sites both in the Middle East and Europe where Afghans will be processed before resettling in the United States or partner countries.

“The continued ability to inform, and get the word out, of how to get into the gates, where to come,” Taylor said, including bringing the right documentation, has helped increase the number of people gettin gout. “The processing of those, not only through the gates, but the processing internally on Kabul by our troops that are there, continues to become more efficient.”

And while there are still many reports of people waiting in line for hours, sometimes coming back multiple times and still being refused, officials said the crowds outside are smaller, and the panic has died down.

“The crush of those first few days has reduced, as more order and structure around the airport has increased,” Kirby said.

Officially, the U.S. has seven more days to get out as many people as possible, though President Joe Biden has hinted that the mission could continue until every willing U.S. citizen has gotten out.

“I’m not going to get into a specific tick-tock,” Kirby said of the next few days, as military and State Department personnel will have to shift from in-processing new evacuees to packing themselves up and flying out for good.

That will take “at least several days,” Kirby said, though there’s been no timeline announced for the end of the drawdown.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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