US fighter jets fly over Kabul to secure evacuations

American stranded in Afghanistan describes chaos at Kabul airport: ‘It’s crazy’

Haroon checks back in with ‘Fox & Friends’ as he continues to try to leave the country.

The Pentagon said Thursday that the U.S. has been conducting armed “overwatch” flights over Kabul in the last 24 hours as an “added layer of force” to ensure the security of the U.S. mission to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies from the country after the Taliban takeover.

Department of Defense officials denied that the flights were a “show of force” or a prelude to airstrikes on Kabul.

Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor on Thursday said Pentagon officials “continue to recognize the inherent danger of operating in this environment,” maintaining, though, that U.S. troops are remaining “agile, professional, and are postured to continue the mission, and to respond if required.” 

“We will use all of the tools in our arsenal to achieve this goal,” Taylor said, adding that the U.S. is “absolutely focused on this mission of national importance” and is “committed to the safe evacuation of as many people as quickly and as safely as possible.” 

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby, responding to questions about the overwatch flights, said the U.S. “has the right to defend ourselves, our people and our operations.” 

U.S. Army soldiers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division patrol Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan Aug. 17, 2021. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Taylor Crul/Handout via REUTERS)
(U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Taylor Crul/Handout via REUTERS)

Taylor elaborated on the overwatch mission, saying it gives the U.S. the option of providing close air support if necessary.

“So, as prudent military operations, we ensure there are always assets available so that the commander, if required, can ensure the time and space of reaction is as little as possible,” Taylor said.

Pentagon officials, though, said these are not the first armed overwatch flights over Kabul, saying the U.S. “had overwatch capabilities throughout the drawdown” of U.S. troops. 

“The fact that we are flying overwatch missions now, and have been since the 14th – we were actually doing it before the 14th,” Kirby said. “Force protection is a high priority, and we’re going to have at our disposal all the assets and resources necessary to make sure we can accomplish this mission safely and efficiently, just like we were accomplishing the previous mission of drawdown safely and efficiently.”

He added: “This is a continuum. It is not something new.” 

“Protection is the prudent and responsible thing to do,” Kirby said. 

Fox News pressed the Pentagon on whether it is receiving credible threats that if it does not leave Afghanistan by a certain date, al Qaeda or other terror groups will begin attacking U.S. forces. 

Kirby said he would not “speak to intelligence assessments one way or the other.” 

“Obviously, force protection is a high priority,” Kirby said. “We’re always evaluating the threat. It’s not only a day-by-day thing, it’s an hour-by-hour thing.” 

He added: “We know that this is still a perilous environment and all I can tell you is that we’re going to do everything that we can to make sure that we can protect our force, protect the people that we’re trying to move on to the airport, and protect their movement out of Kabul, as well as protect the entire operation at the Air Force.” 

British paratroopers are leaving the airport and going into Kabul to rescue and evacuate some of their citizens who are trapped and cannot get to the airfield because of the Taliban ring. Fox News pressed Pentagon officials as to why U.S. troops are not doing the same. Pentagon officials said the U.S. mission, at this time, is only to protect the airport. 

“At this time, as our main mission continues to be to secure it, to allow those American citizens and other civilians to come in and be processed at the airfield,” Taylor said. 

Meanwhile, Pentagon officials said there are now multiple gates that have access for entry into Kabul airfield, which they say “will help expedite processing in a safe and orderly manner.” 

Officials said there are 5,200 U.S. troops on the ground in Kabul, and that, at this point, they have airlifted approximately 7,000 evacuees – an increase they say is “reflective of both a ramp-up of aircraft and airlift capability, faster processing of evacuees, and greater information and fidelity in reporting.” 

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