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US forces are conducting extraction missions to rescue American citizens and Afghan allies who are unable to reach the Kabul airport, the Pentagon confirmed on Monday, showing an escalation in the frenzied withdrawal after the Taliban took control of the country.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby outlined at least two instances where US military helicopters and troops had been sent beyond the airport's perimeter to bring people in for processing and eventual relocation.
As chaotic scenes continue to occur outside Hamid Karzai International Airport, people are reportedly experiencing difficulty travelling there safely and must deal with Taliban checkpoints, violence and crowds.
Last Thursday, 169 Americans were brought to the Kabul airport by three US military CH-47 helicopters from the nearby Baron Hotel, Mr Kirby confirmed after President Joe Biden mentioned the extraction in remarks he gave on Friday.
“Among the many Americans we evacuated, there were 169 Americans who … we got over the wall into the airport using military assets,” Mr Biden said.
Mr Kirby said “there has been at least one additional instance where rotary airlift was used to help Americans get from outside the airport into the airport".
The two incidents have amounted to the relocation of at least 350 people from elsewhere in Kabul to the airport, Mr Kirby said.
“We’re considering every opportunity and every means by which we could get folks to the airport,” Mr Biden declared on Friday
It is not clear if the US is performing extraction missions beyond Kabul.
“On occasion — where there’s a need, and there’s a capability to meet that need — our commanders on the ground are doing what they feel they need to do to help Americans reach the airport,” Mr Kirby said.
He said these missions will occur if Americans are “in extremis".
“If there’s an incident where somebody’s in extremis, and we need to get them in small numbers, we can do that. And we have been doing that,” Mr Kirby said.
The missions are a change from previous statements in which the Pentagon said US forces did not have the capacity to operate beyond Kabul's airport.
The US embassy in Kabul has also said that it cannot ensure the safety of Americans trying to reach the airport by themselves.
As of Monday, the US had brought at least 37,000 Americans and Afghan allies out of Afghanistan since August 14, when the Taliban took control of the country.