By Tom Squitieri
WASHINGTON — The mission in Kabul is set, the Pentagon’s top leaders said, and that seems to mean U.S. citizens are on their own to get to the airport and fly to safety.
Asked during a press briefing if the burgeoning U.S. military assets at Kabul airport will include ways to escort U.S. citizens and others through the Taliban gauntlet surrounding airport entry gates, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “We don’t have the capability to go out and collect up large numbers of people.”
Yet other nations, with much smaller footprints at the airport, apparently do.
On Wednesday, British and French units went into Kabul repeatedly to safeguard and escort their citizens from where they were sheltered to the airport.
British soldiers from the Second Battalion, Parachute Regiment, (2 PARA), went into Kabul in vehicles to collect abut 200 British nationals from secure locations before taking them to the airport, the defense ministry said.
Similarly, elements of the French Recherche, Assistance, Intervention, Dissuasion force, commonly abbreviated RAID, protected French expatriates as well as Afghans in the French Embassy before escorting them to the airport, they said.
RAID is an elite tactical unit of the French National Police.
The French also used elements of its International Police Cooperation Unit (DCI) of the Home Affairs Ministry, created to spur international police cooperation “to better protect its citizens and interests,” the Ministry said.
“I would draw a distinction between extracting someone in extremis condition or circumstance versus going out and collecting up large numbers of American citizens.” Austin said.
Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs, insisted that it is a “policy decision” to go help get Americans and others to the airport “and if directed, we have capabilities that can execute whatever we’re directed.”
Based on responses during the briefing, the Pentagon is preferring talking with the Taliban rather than taking action.
“Through the State Department, the Taliban are facilitating safe passage to the airport for American citizens, that is, U.S. passport holders,” Milley said in his opening remarks to reporters.
Austin said that, “we will continue to coordinate and deconflict with — with the Taliban and make sure that those — those — those people that need to get to the airfield, have the right credentials to — to ensure passage and the Taliban has been checking those credentials. And if they have them, they have allowed them to pass.”