In a press briefing held on 17 August, the Pentagon announced that it has 4,000 troops on the ground and is working towards the capacity to transport 5,000 to 9,000 people out of Kabul daily. Major General Christopher Donohue, the 82nd Airborne Division commander, will arrive in Kabul to take command of the airport soon, while Rear Admiral Peter Vasely will remain in charge of the overall evacuation operation.
Joint Staff deputy director for regional operations Major General William Taylor told the press that:
“[Kabul airport] remains secure. It is currently open for military flight operations as well as limited commercial flight operations. Through the night, nine C-17s arrived delivering equipment and approximately 1,000 troops. Additionally, seven C-17s departed. These flights lifted approximately 700 to 800 passengers and we can confirm 165 of these passengers are American citizens. The rest are a mix of SIV [special immigrant visa] applicants, third country nationals.”
As the operation shifts focus from securing the airfield and delivering troops and equipment to evacuating civilians, the general expects the speed of evacuations to pick up.
“Right now we’re looking at one aircraft per hour in and out of [the airport]. We predict that our best effort could look like 5,000 to 9,000 passengers departing per day. But we are mindful that a number of factors influence this effort and circumstances could change.”
The exact number of Afghans trapped in Kabul, hoping to escape, is unknown. Current estimates suggest that there are at least 10,000 Afghans, plus their families – which increases the total significantly, who helped the U.S. military and are eligible for evacuation. On top of this there will be Afghan citizens who fear the Taliban and wish to leave who did not directly assist international forces. Many are currently without a means of escape, many remain in hiding in fear that the Taliban may actively be hunting them.
Images and videos continue to depict a scene of chaos and despair at the airport. One image showed 640 passengers crammed into a single US Air Force C-17 Globemaster while controversy has ensued over a German plane, one of the two sent by the German government, departing with only 7 passengers aboard while nearly a hundred German citizens, plus Afghan embassy employees, remain to be evacuated. So far however, an uneasy peace has been maintained between the Taliban and the Americans with Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby stating that “there is communication between them and us”.