Pentagon sending more troops to secure Kabul airport; all flights suspended

People rush to their homes after Taliban fighters entered Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday. Photo by Bashir Darwish/UPI
1 of 8 | People rush to their homes after Taliban fighters entered Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday. Photo by Bashir Darwish/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 16 (UPI) -- The Pentagon said Monday it is sending hundreds of more troops to Afghanistan after chaos reigned at the international airport in Kabul in the wake of the Taliban's abrupt rise to power.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin authorized the immediate deployment of an additional infantry battalion to Kabul, spokesman John Kirby told reporters during a news briefing at the Pentagon.


The battalion was scheduled to be part of a quick reaction force in Kuwait.

"Currently, there are approximately 2,500 U.S. troops at the airport," the press secretary said. "Over the next 24 hours we expect additional forces to arrive from both the 82nd Airborne Division and a battalion from a Marine Expeditionary Unit. That should bring our force level to over 3,000."

A total of about 6,000 U.S. troops have now been ordered to secure the airport and are expected to arrive within days to facilitate evacuations. U.S. Embassy personnel began arriving at the airport on Sunday.


The additional manpower is coming after hundreds of diplomatic officials, members of the fallen government and civilians searched desperately for a way out of Afghanistan after the Taliban's abrupt rise to power.

People scattered through terminals and even onto the tarmac at Hamid Karzai International Airport in a frenzy to leave the capital city, which fell to Taliban fighters in stunning fashion on Sunday.

Civilians clung to a U.S. military transport plane on Monday as it attempted to depart the airport, CNN reported.

As the situation deteriorated, U.S. troops opened fire as they tried to control the crowd to allow planes to take off. Officials ultimately suspended the evacuation flights and all commercial flights were suspended.

Two armed Afghans were killed by U.S. troops, the Pentagon spokesman said.

"We are working to reestablish security at Hamid Karzai International Airport following breaches overnight that emanated from the civilian side of the airfield," Kirby said. "At this time, out of an abundance of caution, there are no flights coming or going, military or civilian."

Witnesses reported that multiple Afghan civilians who'd grabbed onto the side of an Air Force jet were run over and killed. Some had held onto the planes even after they'd left the ground. Witnesses told The Wall Street Journal three people were found dead outside the passenger terminal building.


"We can confirm that the safe evacuation of all embassy personnel is now complete," U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said, according to CNN.

"All embassy personnel are located on the premises of Hamid Karzai International Airport, whose perimeter is secured by the U.S. military."

"The United States joins the international community in affirming that Afghans and international citizens who wish to depart must be allowed to do so," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement late Sunday. "Roads, airports, and border crossing must remain open, and calm must be maintained.

"The Afghan people deserve to live in safety, security and dignity. We in the international community stand ready to assist them."

The White House said U.S. President Joe Biden will speak about the situation in Afghanistan on Monday afternoon.

Britain, Canada and Germany were among the countries evacuating their embassies and diplomatic personnel also sought flights out of the country.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled on Sunday and groups of Taliban fighters took over the presidential palace in Kabul. Monday, security officials handed over further control and pleaded for a peaceful transition of power.


"I say welcome to them, and I congratulate them," one security official said, according to The New York Times.

All over the country, Taliban leaders were seen taking authority from government officials with little, if any, resistance. Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said he has formed a council with other government leaders to meet with the Taliban for a peaceful transition.

The Taliban agreed to a peaceful transition and said they entered Kabul to restore order and public safety. Some Kabul residents immediately started tearing down advertisements showing women without headscarves, for fear it could upset Taliban leaders. Their version of Islam excludes women from much of public life.

The mass exodus comes amid rising fears among Afghans about what might occur now that Taliban fighters have retaken control after American forces had kept them at bay for two decades.

Women in Afghanistan are particularly concerned, as they were greatly oppressed the last time the Taliban had a share of power in 2001.

"Please spare a thought for the people women and girls of Afghanistan. A tragedy unfolds in front of our eyes," Phumzile Mlambo, the executive director of U.N. Women, said in a tweet.


The completion of the swift Taliban takeover came about two weeks before the deadline imposed by the U.S. military to have all troops withdrawn from Afghanistan. Biden announced the pullout earlier this year and the Pentagon said in recent weeks that the withdrawal was more than 90% complete.

Taliban fighters moved quickly in capturing provincial capitals across Afghanistan over the past week, leading some current and former U.S. officials to worry that Afghan forces could do little to stop them.

Citing documents obtained for a forthcoming book, The Washington Post reported Monday that U.S. leaders in Afghanistan worried for years that Afghanistan's police and military structure would never be able to operate effectively without U.S. assistance -- largely due to a lack of motivation, lack of education among trainees and systemic corruption throughout the Afghan military apparatus.

The Post report notes that the U.S. government spent $85 billion over the 20 years American forces were in Afghanistan to train and equip Afghan armies and police.

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