U.S. troops left the international airport in Kabul earlier this week to rescue at least 169 Americans who were visible to them and unable to breach a phalanx of Taliban fighters, a senior Defense Department spokesman said on Friday.
News of the rescue comes amid reports that U.S. forces were confined to Hamid Karzai International Airport and had not yet been authorized by President Joe Biden and the Pentagon to venture into the occupied capital city to seek out and retrieve American citizens as British and French forces have reportedly done.
The Epoch Times reported that the operation occurred either on Wednesday or Thursday as Biden was taking questions from reporters at the White House.
U.S. forces glimpsed the group of Americans outside the airport and made the decision to retrieve them, John Kirby, a Department of Defense spokesman, told reporters.
The group was “very close to to the perimeter of the airport, very close, and in a short amount of time, with a short amount of distance, some of our troops were able to go out there and bring them in,” he said.
Asked for additional details, Kirby said that he didn’t have any, including whether the U.S. troops were forced to brandish weapons at Taliban fighters or whether other, similar, operations had been carried out, The Epoch Times noted.
“The mission was significant because it’s the first time, according to U.S. officials, that American troops have left the U.S.-held airport to rescue Americans,” the outlet reported.
The operation came as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters on Wednesday that the 6,000-odd U.S. Army and Marine Corps personnel deployed to the airport didn’t “have the capability to go out and collect up large numbers of people.”
According to published reports on Saturday, U.S. Army Chinook helicopters airlifted 169 people out of Kabul the previous day. In sum, U.S. forces managed to evacuate more than 5,700 people from the capital city over the past 24 hours.
Kirby said that the Pentagon had flown more troops to Kabul to assist in securing the airport. He added that now there is the capability to find American citizens and retrieve them in the city but that each mission would have to first be analyzed for risk and benefits before they are given the green light by the administration.
At present, there are still thousands of Americans trapped in Afghanistan following the rapid advances of Taliban forces over the past month.
There have been “scattered reports,” according to The Epoch Times, of other operations involving U.S. special forces including one under the auspices of “Operation Promise Kept” to rescue Mohammad Khalid Wardak, a member of the Afghan National Police who assisted U.S. military forces for years and was at risk of being captured and killed by the Taliban.
Robert McCreary, a former White House official under President George W. Bush, told The Associated Press that Wardak and his family were rescued under the cover of darkness on Wednesday.
And Matthew Pottinger, a deputy national security adviser during President Donald Trump’s administration, told Fox Business on Thursday he was aware of United Kingdom special forces units operating inside Kabul “to get British citizens, Afghans and in some cases Americans that they encounter, and helping bring them to safety.”
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley told reporters earlier this week the U.S. has “a variety of special operations forces” currently deployed in Afghanistan.
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