The 82nd Airborne Division’s commander, Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue, is headed to Afghanistan as U.S. military leaders are in communication with the Taliban, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby announced last week that a brigade combat team of between 3,500 to 4,000 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division would deploy from Fort Bragg to remain on standby in Kuwait and provide security at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul if needed.
The airport is where other military infantry battalions are assisting with the evacuation of American citizens and Afghans with special immigrant visas, as U.S. forces withdraw from the country after nearly two decades of war there.
A battalion of about 1,000 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division immediately deployed to Kabul over the weekend. The Fort Bragg brigade combat team headed to Kuwait.
During a press briefing from the Pentagon on Tuesday, Kirby said the 82nd Airborne Division is in Afghanistan because of its abilities as the Global Response Force.
“Their job is to be ready to assist in a very expeditious manner, and the task of securing and operating an airfield is actually a unique task that the 82nd can do and Gen. Donahue has experience in that,” Kirby said.
He clarified that Rear Adm. Peter Vasely continues to be the commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Forward and that the 82nd Airborne Division’s support “made the most sense” as Vasely balances other duties to include being a liaison with the State Department and allies and partners.
“Elements of the 82nd Airborne Division have already been flowing in to do the actual mission of security of (the airport),” Kirby said.
Donahue’s focus, Kirby said, is the security mission at the airport.
He did not say which commanders are communicating with the Taliban and said he wasn’t sure of when Donahue would arrive in Afghanistan.
He declined to comment on the specifics of conversations with the Taliban, but said there are interactions between American commanders at the airport and Taliban leaders in Kabul.
“They are charged with making sure this is a safe and secure environment, and we trust them to have the interactions they feel they need to have, to ensure that in every aspect across the whole spectrum of what this mission requires of them that they can do it safely and efficiently and in an orderly manner,” Kirby said.
There’s been no hostile interactions, no attacks and no threats by the Taliban, said Maj. Gen. William “Hank” Taylor, deputy director of the Joint Staff for Regional Operations.
“We remain vigilant … We retain the security at (the airport) that enables the safety, orderly evacuation of Americans and Afghans,” Taylor said.
Taylor described the operation as ongoing, with the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan starting at 2,500 Monday and nine C-17 aircraft delivering another 1,000 troops and equipment throughout the night.
He said he expected there to be 4,000 troops on the ground by the end of the day Tuesday.
The mission of facilitating the safe evacuations of U.S. citizens, at-risk Afghans and helping with Special Immigrant Visas has not changed, Taylor said.
“The mission is of historical significance, and it is incumbent upon us to be resolute in the protection of American and Afghan lives,” he said.
Kirby said the mission continues through Aug. 31, with President Joe Biden making “it very clear that we are to complete this drawdown by Aug. 31.”
“This is a very temporary mission for a very specific purpose,” he said at last week’s news conference. “That’s a big difference than saying you’re deploying for 8, 9, 12 months (with) forces to stabilize and secure Afghanistan, which we’ve been doing for the last 20 years.”
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