WASHINGTON – U.S. troops Monday sought to gain control of the international airport in Kabul after thousands of Afghans rushed through the civilian side and swarmed the military landing strip.
There are about 3,000 U.S. troops at the airport who are attempting to set up barriers to separate the military portion of Hamid Karzai International Airport from the civilian terminal and its landing strip, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to comment publicly.
The airport had no physical barrier between its civilian and military operation, although they are separated by a significant distance. Huge crowds of Afghans desperate to flee the country and its new Taliban leadership entered the civilian side of the airport and swarmed a U.S. Air Force C-17 as it taxied on a runway.
Footage shows chaotic tarmac scenes. Reuters reported five people have died there.
U.S. troops are erecting barriers with concertina wire to secure the military side of the airport, the official said. An additional 3,000 troops will arrive in Kabul in the next few days to help.
The Pentagon is authorized to deploy 6,000 American troops to Afghanistan to help with the evacuation of U.S. personnel and Afghans who assisted U.S. forces.
The Taliban’s surprisingly swift rout of Afghan security forces and fall of the government on Sunday — including the flight of Afghan President Ashfar Ghani from the country — drew comparisons to the U.S. abandonment of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War, as well as harsh criticism for President Joe Biden’s strategy for winding down the nearly 20-year-old war in Afghanistan.
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Jonathan Finer, Deputy White House National Security Adviser, speaking on MSNBC on Monday, confirmed there will be additional US troops at the airport.
“Absolutely there’s a plan to secure the airport,” Finer said. “That’s why we’ve been able to flow additional forces into Afghanistan without having to fight their way in. There has been contingency planning going on now for a period of month. We believe there are the forces in place to be able to provide security for the airport, particularly with the additional forces that are going to be arriving again today, tomorrow and in the coming days, and the main focus of our efforts today are going to be getting that airport back up and running so the flights can continue.”
Biden remains at Camp David, where he’s been out of sight save for an image of him participating in a videoconference that was released Sunday by the White House.
Robert Gibbs, who served as White House press secretary during the Obama administration, called it imperative that Biden speak to the nation and the world.
“Hopefully this happens very soon,” Gibbs tweeted Monday morning. “He must lay out again the reasoning behind his decisions, how he sees the future of this region & what must be done to prevent another safe haven for al-Qaeda to plan attacks.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., put it more bluntly.
“Mr. President,” McCarthy tweeted, “Do your job and address the nation.”
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In the capital, a tense calm set in, with most people hiding in their homes as the Taliban deployed fighters at major intersections. There were scattered reports of looting and armed men knocking on doors and gates, and there was less traffic than usual on eerily quiet streets. Fighters could be seen searching vehicles at one of the city’s main squares.
The U.S. Embassy has been evacuated, and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport to aid with the evacuation. Other Western countries have also closed their missions and are flying out staff and nationals.
Contributing: Associated Press; Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY