The U.S. military took control of air traffic at Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport and secured the airport's perimeter, the Pentagon and State Department said late Sunday, as thousands of Americans, foreign nationals, and Afghans jostled to leave the country, now effectively under Taliban control. President Biden has ordered about 6,000 U.S. troops to secure the airport and aid the evacuation, and the full contingent of U.S. forces is set to arrive within 48 hours, the joint statement said.
"Tomorrow and over the coming days, we will be transferring out of the country thousands of American citizens who have been resident in Afghanistan, as well as locally employed staff of the U.S. mission in Kabul and their families, and other particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals," the Pentagon and State Department said. All U.S. Embassy staff were moved to the airport Sunday, and U.S. officials say they are working to accelerate the evacuation of Afghans who helped the U.S. and are eligible for Special Immigrant Visas.
"The Pentagon intends to have enough aircraft to fly out as many as 5,000 civilians a day, both Americans and the Afghan translators and others who worked with the U.S. during the war," The Associated Press reports. "But tens of thousands of Afghans who have worked with U.S. and other NATO forces are seeking to flee with family members. And it was by no means clear how long Kabul's deteriorating security would allow any evacuations to continue."
There are about 88,000 Afghans eligible for SIVs who could need to be evacuated, and only about 2,000 have arrived in the U.S. over the past two weeks, The Washington Post reports. The Pentagon has plans to relocate up to 30,000 SIV applicants to the U.S. in the immediate future while their applications are processed, Fox News reported Sunday night, citing Defense Department documents.
"Once we get more airlift out of Kabul, we're going to put as many people on those planes as we can," and "not just American citizens, but perhaps some Afghan SIV applicants as well," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told Fox News. "We're going to focus on getting people out of the country, then sorting it out at the next stop." He added that "we're going to be in oversight of the air operations at the airport for as long as we can."