The Pentagon on Saturday said 17,000 people have been evacuated from Kabul since the Taliban surged last week, including 2,500 Americans, while officials also conceded that a “small number” had been harassed or beaten trying to get to the airport.
Officials, speaking to reporters, emphasized that the “airport remains secure” and that the military has maintained gate security. There are currently 5,800 troops on the ground keeping the airport secure.
In the last 24 hours, six military C-17s and 32 charter planes have left the country with a total of 3,800 people, officials said. Three flights, meanwhile, have landed at Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
The numbers come a week after the Taliban caught the U.S. flat-footed and surged throughout the country and into Kabul ahead of the planned Aug. 31 withdrawal, leading to a scramble and scenes of chaos as Americans and Afghan allies, some applying for Special Immigrant Visas (SIV), sought to get out of the country before it fell to the radical Islamist militant group.
It has led to massive political pressure on the White House, and President Biden, in particular, for the botched operation. Biden has defended his decision-making multiple times this week, including at a press conference on Friday.
Biden sought to portray a situation in which the U.S. had regained control and was steadily evacuating Americans and certain Afghans, but warned that he couldn’t predict the final outcome.
“I cannot promise what the final outcome will be, or that it will be without risk of loss, but as commander in chief I can assure you I will mobilize every resource necessary,” he said.
Biden was scheduled to leave for Wilmington, Delaware, this week but the White House announced Saturday that he would no longer make the trip – this after criticism that he had previously not been at the White House during a time of crisis.
“There’ll be plenty of time to criticize and second-guess when this operation is over, but now I’m focused on getting this job done,” he said Friday in a nod to the criticism he has already received.
Fox News and other outlets have reported how those seeking to get to the airport have been blocked and even beaten as they try to get in. The Biden administration has acknowledged this has happened, but on Saturday again said it was a small number of cases.
“We know of cases, a small number that we know of… where some Americans and certainly, as the secretary also said in that statement, Afghans that we want to evacuate, it wasn’t just Americans he talked about, have been harassed and in some cases beaten,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters. “We don’t believe it is a very large number.”
Republicans have been searing in their criticism of Biden’s handling of the chaotic withdrawal.
“Biden’s failed Afghanistan withdrawal has put thousands of American lives in danger behind enemy lines,” Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., tweeted. “The Taliban is beating Americans but Biden is still relying on & trusting them. He is incompetent, unhinged. incoherent & unfit.”
Meanwhile, the Pentagon was asked if Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was frustrated for reportedly having his advice not to withdraw troops ignored by President Biden.
“The secretary is 100% focused on the mission at hand right now, which is a noncombatant evacuation operation,” Kirby said. “And he’s comfortable that throughout this deliberation, his voice was heard that he had an opportunity to provide his best advice and counsel to the commander in chief and to the national security team, as did other leaders here at the Pentagon.”
Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson contributed to this report.