By Tom Squitieri
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon made it crystal clear Wednesday that its mission in Afghanistan is to protect the airport and that Americans needing help to get to Kabul — especially those beyond the city limits — for possible evacuation are on their own.
In military parlance, they are S.O.L. — the more common vernacular of the World War One phrase “Applicable to everything from death to being late for mess.”
That means the many Americans in cities like Mazar-i-Sharif, where a U.S. citizen was granted permission by the Taliban to leave but has no way to get to Kabul, are stuck.
“When I said, outside Kabul, I’m talking about, you know, relatively close by,” John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesperson, said. “I don’t want to set the expectation that — that we’re going to be able to fly all over the country to pick up people. You heard the Secretary himself say that we — we — there’s a — there’s a limit to the capability we have here.”
That fiat appears to run counter to President Biden’s promise of August 20 when he said, ”But let me be clear. Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home.”
Asked if the U.S. is needing the goodwill of the Taliban to transport Americans to Kabul, Kirby said, “It’s the — it’s really more about the focus of the mission, which is protecting the airport, and that’s what the assets are — are largely there for. (We) were brought in to protect and safeguard that — that airport.”
The Pentagon has conducted three beyond-the-wire missions to bring Americans to Kabul airport. “They have been successful, but they have been of short duration and a short distance,” Kirby said. “So I want to make sure that I level set that because I — and I was glad for the chance to — to clarify that.”
The Pentagon says about 4,000 Americans and their families are among the 82,300 evacuees out of Kabul since the country fell to the Taliban. The State Department estimates there are about 1,500 Americans remaining in Afghanistan.