US sends helicopter to Kabul neighborhood to get stranded Americans out

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WASHINGTON (AP) – The US military sent a helicopter to a neighborhood in Kabul to pick up stranded Americans on Monday as the military announced by far its biggest day of evacuation flights out of Afghanistan.

But the deadly violence that prevented many desperate evacuees from entering Kabul airport has persisted, and the Taliban have signaled that they may soon seek to stop the evacuation.

Twenty-eight U.S. military flights carried around 10,400 people out of Taliban-held Afghanistan in the 24 hours that ended early Monday morning, a White House official said. Pentagon chief spokesman John Kirby said the faster pace of evacuations was due in part to coordinating with Taliban commanders to bring evacuees into the airport.

“So far, and going forward, this requires constant coordination and conflict resolution with the Taliban,” Kirby said. “What we have seen is that this deconfliction has worked well in terms of allowing access and movement as well as reducing the overall size of the crowd just outside the airport.”

With access still difficult, the US military went beyond the airport to conduct another American salvage helicopter. U.S. officials said a military helicopter picked up 16 U.S. citizens on Monday and brought them to the airfield for evacuation. This was at least the second such rescue mission beyond the airport; Kirby said that last Thursday, three army helicopters picked up 169 Americans near a hotel just beyond the airport gate and transported them to the airfield.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told the White House talks with the Taliban continue as the administration seeks additional ways to safely move more Americans and others to Kabul airport.

People walk on the tarmac as they disembark an Airbus A400M military transport plane at French military airbase 104 in Al Dhafra, near Abu Dhabi, on August 23, 2021, after being evacuated from Kabul in as part of Operation “Apagan”. (BERTRAND GUAY / AFP)

“We are in daily talks with the Taliban through political and security channels,” he said, adding that in the end, it will be the decision to continue the evacuation led by him alone. the army beyond August 31.

As a reminder of the urgency felt amid a dizzying array of threats to the safety of the evacuation effort, the Pentagon released video of a laser near the airport targeting a C-17 aircraft from the US Air Force and apparently attempting to disrupt the pilot during landing.

After more than a week of evacuations plagued by major obstacles, including Taliban forces and overwhelming crowds that make approaching the airport difficult and dangerous, the number of people flown in has reached – and exceeded – the US forecast for the first time. The tally was more than double the 3,900 flights made in the previous 24 hours on US military planes.

Army Gen. Stephen Lyons, head of US Transportation Command, which manages the military planes that fly the Kabul airlift, told a Pentagon press conference that more than 200 planes are involved, including refueling planes, and that arriving planes spend less than an hour on the Kabul tarmac before loading and taking off. He said the non-stop mission was wreaking havoc among the crews.

In this image provided by the US Marine Corps, families begin to board a US Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 23, 2021. (Sgt. Samuel Ruiz / US Marine Corps via AP)

“They are tired,” Lyons said of the crews. “They’re probably exhausted in some cases.”

On a more positive note, Lyons said that in addition to the widely reported case of an Afghan woman giving birth on a U.S. evacuation plane, two other babies were born under similar circumstances. He did not provide details.

The Pentagon has said it has added a fourth US military base in New Jersey to three more – in Virginia, Texas and Wisconsin – that are ready to temporarily house incoming Afghans. Major General Hank Williams, deputy director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for regional operations, told reporters that there are now around 1,200 Afghans at these military bases. The four bases combined are capable of accommodating up to 25,000 evacuees, Kirby said.

Afghan evacuees continued to arrive at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington. A bus transported some of the latest arrivals from Dulles Airport to another site for what would be one of many processing stops before they reached new homes in the United States.

Families evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, pass through the terminal before boarding a bus after arriving at Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va. On August 23, 2021 (AP Photo / Jose Luis Magana)

Exhaustion darkens the faces of many adults. How does it feel to be here, a reporter asked a man. “We are safe,” he replied.

An older woman sank with relief in a gifted wheelchair, and a little girl carried by an older boy shaded her eyes to look curiously around. It was a temporary stopover for what had been a bitter struggle for days for many of them to get flights from what is now Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The race to evacuate left most of the arrivals carrying only a purse or purse, or a plastic bag containing their belongings. Some have arrived for their new lives entirely empty-handed.

Biden said on Sunday he would not rule out extending the evacuation beyond August 31, the date he had set to complete the troop withdrawal. And British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to press Biden for an extension to get as many foreigners and Afghan allies out as possible. Biden is due to face the G-7 allies of the United States at a virtual summit on Afghanistan on Tuesday.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, in an interview with Sky News, said August 31 is a “red line” that the United States must not cross and that the expansion of the American presence “would provoke a backlash. “.

Since the Taliban captured the capital on August 15, completing an astonishing rout of the US-backed Afghan government and army, the US has carried out the evacuation in coordination with the Taliban, who delayed the attack as part of a 2020 withdrawal agreement with the Trump administration.

Taliban fighters in a vehicle patrol the streets of Kabul on August 23, 2021 (Wakil KOHSAR / AFP)

Monday’s warning signaled that the Taliban may insist on shutting down Kabul airport airlifts in just over a week. Lawmakers, refugee groups, veterans organizations and U.S. allies have said ending the evacuation could then block countless Afghans and foreigners still hoping for theft.

Since August 14, the United States has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 37,000 people.

A shootout just outside the airport killed at least one Afghan soldier early Monday, German officials said. It was the last of the often fatal unrest outside the airport. Those who come in the hope of escaping Taliban rule face sporadic gunfire, beatings by the Taliban and crowds that have trampled many.

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