The U.S. military evacuated about 3,800 people from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul in the past 24 hours, the White House announced Saturday, and 17,000 since August 14, the Saturday before the Taliban entered Kabul.
The White House said a total of about 22,000 people had been evacuated since the end of July.
Among the 17,000 evacuated over the past week were 2,500 Americans, Army Major General William Taylor said Saturday at a Pentagon media briefing.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the briefing he did not have a “perfect figure” indicating how many Americans remain in Kabul and in other parts of Afghanistan.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Friday the total number depends on certain factors. He said the State Department is working to contact all U.S. citizens who have reached out to the department as well as at-risk Afghans seeking U.S. assistance.
Noting that the United States has “a tremendous airlift capacity,” he said, “We are going to do as much as we can for as long as we can for as many people as we can.”
U.S. President Joe Biden reiterated a vow Friday to stay in Afghanistan until all American citizens who want to leave and Afghans who risked their lives working for the U.S. government during the conflict have been evacuated.
“Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home. Make no mistake, this is dangerous. It involves risks to our armed forces and is being conducted under difficult circumstances,” Biden said alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the White House.
Biden also said his administration would do “everything that we can” to safely evacuate “our Afghan allies, partners and Afghans who might be targeted.”
Biden also said that U.S. forces went outside the airport gate in Kabul and brought 169 Americans “over the wall.” He noted that his administration worked with The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post to successfully evacuate 204 of their staff members in the country.
The president said his administration was in “constant contact” with the Taliban to ensure safe evacuations while also issuing a warning.
“We made clear to the Taliban that any attack, any attack on our forces or disruption of our operations at the airport will be met with swift and forceful response,” Biden said.
The president has faced criticism from U.S. lawmakers that his administration did not act quickly enough to relocate Americans and at-risk Afghans as the Taliban made sweeping advances across the country.
General Taylor told reporters Friday that there are about 5,800 U.S. troops at the airport in Kabul to help the evacuation efforts.
He said evacuations stopped Friday for more than six hours because of a backup at a refugee transit point at a U.S. airbase in Qatar. Taylor said that the flights resumed later in the day and that, in general, evacuation flights are steadily increasing.
On Saturday, the White House said evacuees had been flown out on 6 flights using C-17 aircraft and 32 flights on charter planes.
Despite the chaos and occasional violence outside the airport, the president has stressed that the U.S. military is in control at the airport and evacuating thousands, with the goal of getting everyone who needs to be evacuated, both American and Afghan, out by August 31.
Concern is growing over reports that Afghans and American citizens are having trouble getting to the airport because of Taliban checkpoints. The U.S. is continuing to communicate with local Taliban commanders to move people through the checkpoints.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued a new security warning Saturday advising Americans not to go to the airport without “individual instructions from a U.S. government representative,” noting possible security threats posed by the Islamic State outside the airport gates.
U.S. officials who spoke anonymously declined to provide details about the IS threats but said they are significant.
Patsy Widakuswara and Steve Herman contributed to this report.