Pentagon spokesman John Kirby Tuesday admitted that he’d “be lying” if he said the Biden administration had predicted the level of panic that took place at the Kabul international airport while Afghans attempted to climb onto planes while they were taking off, but insisted the right action was taken to pull out troops by May 1 before interpreters and other endangered people could be removed.
“We had a very small footprint on the ground, 2,500 when the administration came into office, ” Kirby told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “They were doing a very good job at helping with civility, security, and advising and assisting Afghan national security forces … we began to draw down and we had to do it in a quick way, because we couldn’t trust the Taliban. We couldn’t trust their word that they wouldn’t attack us, so we moved quickly to get the troops drawn down.”
However, at that time, the troops were not coming under fire by the Taliban because of the peace agreement that was signed in Doha, Qatar, on Feb. 29, 2020, but after May 1 of this year, “those troops would have been in harm’s way, much worse than they were, and we believed that would have required a plus-up of troops.”
The Pentagon has been planning for noncombatant evacuations since Biden’s announcement in May about pulling troops from Afghanistan, said Kirby.
“Two weeks ago, we held an exercise to walk through what it would look like to do what we’re doing now, a noncombatant evacuation operation at the airport,” he said.
And now, “the north side of the airport is back up and running again with military aircraft and security seems to be better at the southern side although we’ll work on that throughout the day,” said Kirby. “We planned for a lot of contingencies but no plan is perfect and no plan can be predictive in terms of what factors you’re going to deal with.”
Kirby, also appearing on CNN’s “New Day,” told that program that military planes will keep flying out of the airport to evacuate people, and “after we’ve done the force flow in, all the troops are in, then we can just keep running military aircraft in and out. Just on the military craft alone, we believe we can get between 5,000 and 9,000 people out per day.”
Kirby, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, acknowledged on MSNBC that there are many veterans of the 20-year war in Afghanistan who are reacting to the withdrawal from the country. He said that the administration recognizes their sacrifice and that he understands their feelings on a personal level as well.
“I lost a friend there,” said Kirby. “We all understand that each of you, each veteran is going to have to process this in our own way and we respect that. Some are going to be angry, some are going to be sad. There’s a range of emotions that all of us are going through as we watch these images and finish pulling out of the country.”
But, the Pentagon is “committed to completing this drawdown in a safe and orderly way,” as well as to getting American citizens and as many of the interpreters and others who helped the United States out of Afghanistan,” said Kirby.
Meanwhile, the administration has been working on the issue of special immigrant visas with the State Department, but that is a lengthy process, said Kirby.
“This is something that we’ve been focused on at the Pentagon for a while,” he added. “But there are a lot of them, and there’s a vetting process that has to occur. … We’ve already taken out of the country more than 2,000, with some placed here at Fort Lee in Virginia, others going straight into relocation centers around the country to non-governmental organizations.”