A nugget of good news from Afghanistan today: U.S. forces rescued 169 Americans who had been in hiding in a hotel in Kabul and brought them safely to the Kabul airport. It’s believed to be the largest such rescue beyond the grounds of the airport to date.
The Americans had gathered at The Baron hotel in Kabul, a designated meeting point for evacuees in the city. Originally, the Americans were going to walk 200 yards from the hotel to the airport gate. U.S. commanders didn’t like the look of the crowd at the gate so they dispatched three Chinook helicopters to pick up the Americans.
Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby downplayed the incident.
“They were very close to the perimeter of the airport. Very close,” he said, adding later that they had been airlifted from the Baron hotel, near the airport, by three US Chinook helicopters.
The helicopters had been deployed due to concerns for the Americans’ safety in traversing a huge crowd that had gathered outside the airport’s Abbey entry gate.
“There was a large crowd established outside the Abbey Gate, a crowd that not everybody had confidence in, in terms of their ability to walk through it, and so local commanders on the scene took the initiative and flew these helicopters out there to pick them up,” Kirby said.
The hotel rescue was gratifying but hardly significant. While the number of Americans still trapped in Kabul is unknown, it’s believed to be at least 5,000 and perhaps as many as 15,000. And there are as many as 20,000 Afghans who either have visas or desperately want them because they worked with the U.S. military.
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Scenes like this are only going to get worse.
So far, according to the Pentagon, just 7,000 Americans and Afghans have been evacuated.
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William “Hank” Taylor said that while the U.S. military can airlift approximately 5,000 to 9,000 people a day out of Kabul, that figure is dependent on “who is on the airfield, ready to leave a holding area and get on the aircraft.”
More than 2,000 people were evacuated on C-17 aircraft in the past 24 hours, Taylor said. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby estimated that about 300 of the passengers were Americans. Kirby told reporters Thursday he does not know how many U.S. citizens are left in Afghanistan.
Not all the Americans in Kabul want to leave. Some are spouses of Afghan civilians. Others work for NGOs and charities. But there is no way the U.S. military is going to be able to fulfill Joe Biden’s promise to evacuate everyone who wants to leave. The Taliban are not going to have unlimited patience and unless our military is allowed to go beyond the airport perimeter and start picking up Americans for transport home, the chances for a safe and orderly evacuation are non-existent.