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Photos: US releases first photos of evacuation efforts from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan

U.S. Army soldiers board a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft prior to departure for Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Allies Refuge at Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, Aug. 13, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Brooks)
August 18, 2021

The Department of Defense released new photos on Wednesday showing the U.S. military’s efforts so far in recent days to evacuate thousands of Americans and Afghans in Kabul.

Marines assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) at Al Udeied Air Base, Qatar, Aug. 17, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. Mark Andries)

The photos show a mix of U.S. personnel and Afghans being evacuated by U.S. troops at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul – the only remaining U.S.-controlled location in Afghanistan.

Marines assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) fly to Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 17, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. Mark Andries)

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley called the airport “secure” on Wednesday, but repeatedly said that the U.S. mission is centered only on the airport and there are no current plans or capacity to rescue Americans and Afghans behind Taliban lines outside the airport.

A Marine assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) escorts a Department of State employee for evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 15, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Isaiah Campbell)

“The forces that we have are focused on security at the airfield. I don’t want to detract from that. … I don’t want to do anything to make the airfield less safe,” Austin said. “We don’t have the capability to go out and collect large numbers of people.”

Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) process Department of State personnel for evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 15, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Isaiah Campbell)

Austin said that the Taliban has been “checking credentials” of Americans attempting to pass their checkpoints to enter the airport.

A U.S. Department of Defense service member marshals a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) in support of Operation Allies Refuge in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 17, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Taylor Crul)

“We will continue to coordinate and deconflict with the Taliban to make sure those people that need to get to the airfield have the right credentials to ensure passage,” Austin said. “The Taliban has been checking those credentials. If they have them, they’ve allowed them to pass.”

A Marine assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) processes an evacuee at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 15, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Isaiah Campbell)

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday that 11,000 U.S. citizens self-reported to the State Department, however, national security officials told Senate aides on Tuesday that there are as many as 15,000 U.S. citizens left in the country, according to The Washington Post.

U.S. Department of Defense service members defend aircraft at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), in support of Operation Allies Refuge in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 17, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Taylor Crul)

An average of 20 sorties of C-17 cargo jets are evacuating people every 24 hours, Milley said on Wednesday. He added that 5,000 people have been evacuated so far, but did not specify how many of those were Americans or Afghans. On Tuesday, just 1,400 people had been evacuated since August 14.

A Marine assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) escorts Department of State personnel for evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 15, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Isaiah Campbell)

Milley said the State Department “is working with the Taliban to facilitate safe passage of American citizens – U.S. Passport holders,” however, the State Department released a warning to Americans on Wednesday that it “cannot ensure safe passage” to the airport.  

An Afghan child sleeps on the cargo floor of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III, kept warm by the uniform of the C-17 loadmaster, during an evacuation flight from Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 15, 2021.(U.S. Air Force Courtesy Photo)

“U.S. government-provided flights are departing.  U.S. citizens, LPRs, and their spouses and unmarried children (under age 21) should consider travelling to Hamid Karzai International Airport,” the security alert said. “THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT CANNOT ENSURE SAFE PASSAGE TO THE HAMID KARZAI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT.”

U.S. Soldiers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, patrol Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) in support of Operation Allies Refuge in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 17, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Taylor Crul)

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Tuesday that the U.S. has asked Americans to “come to the airport to get on flights and take them home,” but confirmed that the U.S. has received reports of “people being turned away or pushed back, or even beaten.” He added that the U.S. was concerned that the issues could continue, and said U.S. officials were holding talks with Taliban officials to try to “resolve those issues.”

U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, arrives at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan on Aug. 17, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Capt. William Urban)

As recent as one day earlier, Americans were told to “shelter in place” and avoid attempts to travel to the airport until they heard otherwise from a U.S. government agency, Department of State spokesman Ned Price said.

A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III safely transported approximately 640 Afghan citizens from Hamid Karzai International Airport Aug. 15, 2021. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

Price said that many Americans are in Kabul and others are not, but he did not mention the total number of Americans remaining in Afghanistan, or how Americans outside of Kabul could leave the country. Senate aides also told Washington Post that administration officials say there’s currently no plan to evacuate Americans outside of Kabul due to impassable Taliban checkpoints.

U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, arrives at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan on August 17, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Capt. William Urban)

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said that the U.S. has the capacity to fly out 5,000 to 9,000 people from Kabul per day if the airport can continue to be secured without evacuation flights being interrupted. At full capacity, he said, evacuation flights should be able to reach completion by President Joe Biden’s August 31 full withdrawal deadline.

U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to the 10th Mountain Division stand security at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 15, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Isaiah Campbell)

Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen told Sky News on Tuesday that the group is “committed not to attack” Americans leaving Afghanistan, and added that they should complete withdrawal before September 11. It’s unclear what consequences they may inflict on Americans if that deadline is not met.

U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, U.S. Central Command commander, with U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Farrell J. Sullivan, Naval Amphibious Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade commander, at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan on Aug. 17, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Capt. William Urban)