Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin to visit the Gulf to discuss Afghanistan

US secretary of defence is expected to make stops next week in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin speaks at the Pentagon about the end of the military mission in Afghanistan. Getty Images / AFP
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US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin will leave for Saudi Arabia on Sunday, the first stop on a week-long trip to the Gulf to discuss the Afghan evacuee situation with regional leaders.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby announced the visit on Friday and said Mr Austin would visit Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait.

This week, Mr Austin said the trip would be to thank those countries for helping enable evacuation operations in Afghanistan.

“I’ll be travelling to the Gulf next week to thank our partners there who have done so much to help save and shelter Afghan civilians” he said.

Thousands of evacuees remain in Gulf countries and on military bases awaiting their transfer to the US or a third country.

Gen Glen VanHerck, commander of the North American Aerospace Defence Command and the US Northern Command, said on Friday that about 25,600 Afghan evacuees have arrived in the US as a result of the Pentagon’s airlift from Kabul last month.

The evacuees are being housed under “Operation Allies Rescue” at eight military installations across the country. Currently, there is space for 36,000 people, but this will be expanded to a maximum capacity of 50,000.

Gen VanHerck said there had been some minor issues so far, including disputes among the evacuee population and sanitation problems at one base.

“I am building eight small cities. We are going to have challenges, just like you do across the nation in various locations,” he said.

The evacuee population is mainly made up of asylum seekers, though some are recipients of Special Immigrant Visas. A small number of unaccompanied children are among the evacuee population, the general added.

Updated: September 03, 2021, 4:56 PM