A Defense Department official said Sunday that 1,000 troops are being sent to the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, as the capital city neared closer to falling into Taliban hands. The stunning development unfolded rapidly on Sunday asand the U.S. evacuated Americans from the country.
The additional troops will bring the total number of authorized military in Kabul to 6,000, with 3,000 on the ground now.
There are still sporadic commercial flights out of Kabul International Airport, which is being run by the U.S. military. There have been reports of sporadic gunfire around the airport, but a Defense Department official said the shelter in place order was an attempt to keep the flow of people at the airport manageable.
Several hundred embassy personnel were already evacuated by Sunday morning, and the U.S. hopes to have all embassy employees — minus those who are staying to process visa applicants — by Monday morning.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered there be “no empty seats,” meaning every plane out of Kabul International Airport must be full. It’s unclear how many American citizens are still in the country.
The Taliban took control of the presidential palace on Sunday. Ghani said Sunday that he left Afghanistan to spare the country any bloodshed.
“[The] Taliban have won the judgment of sword and guns and now they are responsible for protecting the countrymen’s honor, wealth and self-esteem,” Ghani wrote on Facebook, according to an automated translation.
General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators in a briefing that al Qaeda could now reconstitute itself faster than the original estimate of two years. Austin said he would also have to reevaluate his own estimates.
The White House tried to project an image of calm, tweeting that and Vice President Kamala Harris met with national security officials and other senior officials about Afghanistan.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken rejected any comparisons to the U.S. pullout from Vietnam. “This is manifestly not Saigon,” Blinken said on ABC’s “This Week.”
The U.N. Security Council called an emergency meeting for Monday morning.