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Camp Pendleton Marines deploy to Kabul, Pentagon says evacuations will increase

Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base sign outside the main gate of the base. (UT File Photo/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

About 1,000 Camp Pendleton-based Marines are among the thousands of U.S. troops on the ground in Kabul, Afghanistan in response to the ongoing crisis brought on by the collapse of the Afghan government and the near-complete takeover of the country by the Taliban.

The Marine battalion — 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines — was already deployed in the Middle East region as a crisis response task force, according to a Defense department official familiar with current Afghanistan operations.

“This is what Marines do — provide a rapid response capability and serve as a 9-1-1 force,” the official, who is not authorized to speak publicly about the operation, said.

The battalion is one part of the military’s response after Kabul, the Afghan capitol, fell to the Taliban over the weekend. Afghan president Ashraf Ghani fled the country Sunday.

At least 4,000 troops were expected to be on the ground in Kabul by the end of the day Tuesday, Army Major Gen. Hank Taylor said during a Pentagon press briefing. Units deploying to or already in Kabul include members of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and another Marine battalion from the East Coast that was also already deployed in the region.

Images of Afghans desperate to flee the Taliban were widely shared on social media Monday, including disturbing video of some clinging to an Air Force cargo plane as it taxied among a throng of people on the tarmac of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport. The Air Force said Tuesday it was investigating after body parts were found in the wheel well of the jet and videos showed people falling from the aircraft as it flew.

Taylor said military and limited commercial flights resumed operations at the airport. He said 5,000 to 9,000 passengers could depart each day as part of the U.S. evacuation effort.

U.S. military leaders are in talks with the Taliban “multiple times per day,” said John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, at Tuesday’s news conference.

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, visited the airport Tuesday, he said in a statement.

“U.S. military air traffic controllers and ground handlers are rapidly scaling up operations to ensure the smooth flow of military reinforcements to the airport and the evacuation of U.S. and partner civilians in coordination with our State Department colleagues, McKenzie said. “In meetings with Taliban senior leaders in Doha on Sunday, I cautioned them against interference in our evacuation, and made it clear to them that any attack would be met with overwhelming force in the defense of our forces.”

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