The Air Force will deploy enough aircraft to ferry out “thousands per day” from Kabul as the American diplomatic presence draws down and more Afghan interpreters are brought out of the country, the Pentagon said Aug. 13.
The first of approximately 3,000 troops deploying to Afghanistan to provide security for this part of the withdrawal arrived Aug. 13, and the rest are expected to arrive over the following two days, Defense Department spokesman John F. Kirby said in a briefing. Kirby said he didn’t know of any combat aircraft deploying as overwatch.
“There will be airlift provided,” Kirby said. “Clearly there’s an Air Force role here with respect to airlift.”
The Pentagon, U.S. Transportation Command, and Air Mobility Command were planning the details, Kirby said.
“Airlift will not be a limiting factor in this mission,” Kirby said, adding that military aircraft won’t be all that are used.
“Capacity is not going to be a problem,” he said. “We will be able to move thousands per day.”
The Pentagon announced Aug. 12 that it was deploying up to 8,000 new troops to the Middle East as part of the withdrawal, as the Taliban has rapidly moved across Afghanistan and claimed several cities in steps to encircle the capital of Kabul.
In addition to the 3,000 personnel in Kabul—two Marine Corps infantry battalions and one Army battalion, all already in U.S. Central Command—the Pentagon is sending a combined USAF and Army 1,000-person team to Qatar to help process Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applications. Another brigade combat team of the 82nd Airborne will deploy to Kuwait to stand by if needed.
The new forces in Kabul are deploying to Hamid Karzai International Airport, where U.S. attack and lift aircraft, infantry and security personnel, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft are already present, Kirby said.
The Pentagon moved swiftly to get these troops “on station as quickly as possible” to support the State Department’s moves when they begin. Kirby did not provide a specific timeline, other than saying the Afghanistan withdrawal will be completed “by the end of the month.”