The U.S. Air Force has evacuated 2,000 people in the past 24 hours from Kabul, but flights are leaving well short of capacity as Americans and Afghan refugees struggle to get into the airport.
Each C-17 transport plane took off Thursday with 180 people on board – 40% short of its 300-person capacity, Fox News learned.
Roughly 7,000 Americans and Afghan allies who worked with the United States during the 20-year war in Afghanistan have been evacuated since Saturday.
The Pentagon said earlier this week it hoped to evacuate 5,000 to 9,000 people a day in the next two weeks, though press secretary John Kirby said he still did not know the number of Americans trapped in the Central Asian country.
Defense officials told reporters Thursday that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is strictly to protect the airport to facilitate mass evacuations.
“We’ve made very clear to the Taliban that any attack upon our people in our operations at the airport will be met with a forceful response,” Kirby said. “There’s been no hostile interactions between the Taliban and our forces or of American citizens getting through.”
Kirby conceded that Afghan citizens attempting to reach the airport have been met by “hostile” treatment from the Taliban.
There are now more than 5,200 American troops on the ground helping facilitate the evacuation of roughly 6,000 people, many of whom are American, who are ready to fly out of the Hamid Karzai International Airport, officials said Thursday.
Spokesperson Ned Price said the State Department would be sending additional consular officers to help the 20 officers currently processing visas in Kabul.
“By tomorrow, we will have just about doubled the consular capacity we have available” in Afghanistan, he told reporters.
Additional consular officers are also being sent to Qatar and Kuwait to further assist with “third-country national[s].”
Lucas Tomlinson and Rich Edison contributed to this report.