Pentagon Says 'Speed of Evacuation Will Pick Up' as Chaos Consumes Afghanistan

The United States has put up a "Herculean" effort to evacuate thousands of Americans and allies from Afghanistan as the Taliban have seized control of the country, plunging its future into uncertainty, but thousands more remain in limbo, the Pentagon acknowledged Tuesday.

"A number of evacuations occurred overnight," Army Major General Hank Taylor, a logistics specialist on the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Tuesday. "As we speak, we are continuing our air operations, and they continued throughout the night."

The United States has stationed at least 3,000 troops in Kabul to help evacuate Americans and the Afghans who have aided them over the nearly two decades since the war began after the September 11 attacks.

On Tuesday, Taylor promised that the "speed of evacuation will pick up."

"Right now, we're looking at one aircraft per hour in and out," he said. "Our best effort could look like 5,000 to 9,000 passengers departing per day."

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters the government believes people are safe to leave from Kabul's airport, which has been overrun by people trying to flee the country as the Taliban have taken over.

"There's been no hostile interactions from the Taliban to our operations at the airport," Kirby said.

The Biden administration has defended its decision to stick to an agreement that the Trump administration made with the Taliban and Afghan government to withdraw troops from the country this year. Biden has also repeatedly stressed that the Afghan military forces were trained by American soldiers and that the United States spent billions equipping the Afghans with tanks, guns and other necessities.

"Our true strategic competitors—China and Russia—would love nothing more than the United States to continue to funnel billions of dollars in resources and attention into stabilizing Afghanistan indefinitely," Biden told reporters Monday. "We gave [Afghans] every chance to determine their own future—what we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future."

But Biden has faced a sharp backlash in recent days over the rapidly deteriorating situation on the ground, which has required the evacuation of U.S. Embassy officials, American citizens and Afghan people who have helped the United States during the war.

As the Taliban closed in on the capital city of Kabul, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani made a hasty escape on Sunday, after insurgents had already seized several cities surrounding Kabul.

Ghani's current location is unknown, and U.S. officials at the Pentagon declined to reveal more information when pressed by an Afghan reporter on Monday.

Biden announced in April that American troops would be out of Afghanistan by this year's 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks—putting an end to the longest war in U.S. history. That deadline was revised last month, with the U.S. military set to be out of Afghanistan by the end of August.

Biden has long been a proponent of ending the Afghan war and again defended his decision in a public address on Monday.

"How many more generations of America's daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghanistan's civil war when Afghan troops will not?" Biden asked before taking no questions from reporters. "How many more lives—American lives—is it worth? How many endless rows of headstones at Arlington National Cemetery?"

State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in a statement late Monday night that Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and European Commission Vice President Josep Borrell, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab about Afghanistan's developing situation and efforts to bring U.S. citizens to safety and assist vulnerable Afghans.

"The secretary expressed his profound appreciation for the EU, NATO, Turkey and the U.K.'s efforts in Afghanistan," Price said.

Pentagon gives update on Afghanistan withdrawal
Speaking about Afghanistan evacuation efforts, a Pentagon general told reporters Tuesday that "our best effort could look like 5,000 to 9,000 passengers departing per day." Above, Taliban fighters patrol the streets of Kabul on Tuesday. AFP/Getty Images