tv Defense Sec. Austin Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Milley Brief on Afghanistan CSPAN August 18, 2021 3:03pm-3:40pm EDT
most responsible for the outcome in afghanistan. daniel in buffalo, good morning. caller: good morning. it is mostly the afghani's fault for it. they are responsible for their own country. the country as a standard country. it is always been small. warlords control different areas. ultimately though, we have to contain the country. host: who do you think is most responsible for the outcome here? caller: i think donald trump and mike pompeo are. trump, with the taliban, negotiated with terrorists, but they did not negotiate with the afghanistan government. all this was planned and set up.
trump talked to the man who is running the taliban. all of this was a set up. the date was set two months after joe biden took office. why? the taliban was already taking over afghanistan. host: good afternoon everybody. we are time constraints today. i will be moderating. mr. secretary? sec. austin: i am going to speak briefly and turn it over to the chairman for operational updates. let me start by saying that we remain laser focus right now on the international airport in kabul. we are focused on doing everything that we can to continue evacuating american allies, and afghans, who have
worked alongside us. also, other courageous afghans are at special risk. we are prioritizing three key concerns. first, the safety and security of our people and the people that we are trying to evacuate. the chairman will brief you that the file elements of military forces can you to flow into kabul, with about 4500 and place as we speak. we are trained and equipped to defend ourselves and our operations. there is been no hostile interactions with the taliban. our lines of communications with the 10 balance -- taliban commanders are open as they should be. my second focus is maintaining security at the airport itself. in concert with forces of our allies, our troops have set up defensive positions around the airport.
it will continue to function safely. we do not take this for granted, and i continue to be in daily contact with general mackenzie and commanders on the ground to make sure they have what they need to keep it safe. my third area of focus, of course, is the pace. increasing the flow of aircraft and people out of kabul. we have flown out several thousand since the 15th of august. our goal is to increase our capacity every day going forward. as we build out this capacity, we are working hand in glove with the state government which is leading the whole of government effort to nullify and process citizens were leaving. we are urgently identifying in the process afghan applicants as well. we dispatch small military teams to two of the airport gates in
state department consul efforts. they are seeking entry. we expect to be able to augment that capability in the coming days. this is truly a team effort across the interagency, and throughout all of this our u.s. servicemembers are making exceptional efforts under challenging circumstances. they are showing their humanity and their compassion. i want to thank them for their skill and their professionalism. it is not lost on me, that even as we conduct this very important mission, we continue to help our fellow americans deal with the surge of the pandemic and the citizens of haiti deal with the aftermath of her -- earthquake. we also think general mackenzie and the rear admiral of the united states forces, and
general donahue and brigadier general sullivan. is making an enormous difference. they know, as i do, that there is a lot of work to be done. all of this is very personal for me. this is the war that i fought in and led. i'd of the country. i know the people. i know those who fought alongside me. we have a moral obligation to help those who helped us. i feel the urgency deeply. i want to end with the word for the force of our military. i know that these are difficult days for those who have lost loved ones in afghanistan, and those who carry the wounds of war. especially now, we mourn those
who made the ultimate sacrifice in afghanistan. let me say to their families and loved ones, our hearts are with you. the u.s. military stands as one to honor those we have lost. afghan war veterans -- i am hearing strong views on all sides, and that is how it should be. what is important is that each of us will work through this in our own way. we need to respect that and we need to give one another the time and space to help do it. our greatest asset as a nation is the extraordinary men and women who volunteer to keep a safe, and their families. we honor their service, we understand your sacrifice, and we will never forget. with that, i will turn it over to general milley, who could
talk about where we stand, operationally. gen. milley: good afternoon. i would like to give you an overall situation update. currently, the united states military is focused on a specific mission of conducting a noncombatant evacuation operation from afghanistan. this is likely to be, probably, the second are just by the united states. our key tax -- tasks are to secure and maintain the kabul international airport. we will defend the airport from attack and defend all americans who wish or desire to leave the country. we will evacuate any afghan natural -- national. we will evacuate personnel designated as such, and we will
evacuate any evacuees designated as such. the president has made a decision to withdraw our presence from afghanistan on april 14. since that date, we have conducted a deliberate and responsible drive with a specific task of securing the embassy and our diplomatic presence in afghanistan. since then, the situation has rapidly degraded. today, the situation is very dangerous and very dangerous. it is dynamic and fluid. we can be proud of the soldiers and sailors and marines executing this mission. they are currently in harm's way. that needs to be our focus. there will be plenty of time to do aars, but right now, our mission is to secure the airfield, defend the airfield, and evacuate all who have been faithful to us. there will be many porous modems on this topic -- postmortems on
this topic. right now our troops are at risk. we fully intend to successfully evacuate all american citizens who want to get out of afghanistan. all american citizens who want to get out of afghanistan. they are our priority number one. in addition, we intend to evacuate those who have been supporting his fears. we will not leave them behind. we will get out as many as possible. our troops in kabul are taking hard risks to compass admission. every minute, they are on the ground making difficult decisions with skill, bravery, and valor. currently, the situation at the airport is stable. however, there are threats. we are closely monitoring those. at any moment, they could happen. we could identify them. if we identify them, we will take military action without hesitation. we have rules of engagement.
with the taliban and every other organization, they know it. the taliban are in and around kabul right now, but they are not interfering with our operations. through the state department, the taliban are facilitating safe passage through the desk to the airport for american citizens. that is, u.s. passport holders. as you saw the other day, unarmed innocent civilians amassing on the airfield became a safety hazard to our airplanes, our aircrews, and themselves. we currently have that situation under control inside the airfield. there are many other risks out there. the troops are dealing with those every single day in the skeletal environment -- volatile environment which can and will change rapidly. let me make one other comment. i am seeing over the news that there are warnings of a rapid collapse.
i have previously sent from this podium, and his sworn test me before congress, that the intelligence clearly indicated multiple scenarios were possible. one of those was an outright taliban take over, following a rapid collapse of the afghan security forces and the government. another was the civil war. a third was in negotiations and settlement. the timeframe of rapid collapse -- that was widely estimated. it ranged from weeks to months to even years. following our departure, it was nothing that iron anyone else saw that indicated collapse of this army and this government in 11 days. central command submitted a variety of plans that were briefed and approved. the joint chiefs of staff, the secretary of state, and the president.
the plans were coordinated, sacred eyes, and rehearsed to deal with these various scenarios. one of those contingencies is what we are executing right now. as i said before, is plenty of time to do aar and delve into these questions with great detail. now is not that time. we have to focus on this mission because we have soldiers at risk. we also have american citizens and afghans who support us for 20 years also at risk. this is personal. we are going to get them out. we in uniform have a deep commitment to this mission. now let me give you an operations update. the security situation is currently secure at this time. since the 12th of august, we have deployed 2 united states marine battalions. all of those are pretty positioned -- pre-positioned. to that, we alluded, marshaled
and deployed the 80, consisting of three airborne infantry battalions and associated enablers. finally, there was an infantry unit securing the mc. in addition, we have a variety of ground forces. in combination, we have some of the best soldiers in the world that we've ever seen. in total, there are total -- 20 u.s. maneuvering companies. there are 4500 troops, and the flow continues. we are authorized up to 6000. on top of that, the nice taste navy and air force. we have multiple squadrons of f-18's, f-16s, a c-130s, b-52s,
and more. in a significant amount of rotor aviation, including attack and lift helicopters. we are working with our allies and partners. there are british infantry rifle conference race -- infantry's, as well as special forces. there are additional special forces operations. this forces capable of extracting a significant amount of people in u.s. aircraft. right now we are averaging about 20 sorties of c-17's every 24 hours. we have the capability of significantly increasing that. we have already evacuate approximate 5000 people, and we intend to increase that. there are variety of commercial and charge flights taking out evacuees on behalf of various other countries and ngos.
the military side of the airfield is open, and the civilian side of the airfield is open. we intend to keep them both open for military, commercial, and charter flights. one caveat on the sill -- civilian side -- the state department is working to rapidly increase the flow of passengers available to get on the aircraft's. we are fully supporting that. it is highly dynamic in this environment. there are number of unexpected challenges that will concede to occur. we rely heavily on the talent and skill of our troops. we have great peoples -- people out there right now. in addition to afghanistan, which is our main effort, we are also conducting humanitarian efforts in haiti in the aftermath of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake.
on the west coast, we are fighting wildfires, and we continue to offer covid support. as we reflect on these difficult and challenging times, every soldier, sailor, aimer -- airmen, and marine -- almost 800,000 -- should hold their heads high. 2448 lost their lives. 700 were wounded in action. many others suffer the unseen wounds of war. to each of them, i want you to know personally that your service matter. as the secretary said, this is personal. i know this is personal for every one of you. thank you. >> will go to questions.
>> i've a question for you two gentlemen. you mentioned the urgency of the evacuation. american citizens and afghans who are at risk who are being advised to go to the airport are unable to get inside because of a checkpoint. are you considering other ways that you can get around that problem like, for example, sending forces beyond the airport to collect people and escort them into the airport? let me ask general milley -- with the rapid collapse of the afghan forces, there is a large amount of weaponry that is out there now. it was either surrendered or abandoned by afghan forces, or otherwise captured by the the taliban. are you considering ways you
might destroy some of that equipment to avoid falling into the taliban hands? sec. austin: thanks bob. the forces that we have are focused on the security of the airport. you know how important that is. you know what happens. if we lose the ability to provide security, we don't want to detract from if we need to secure the airfield. we must offended as well. there are number of threats still the environment. i certainly do not want to do anything to make the airfield less safe, and we will not do that. we will continue to coordinate
nd conflict -- and d conflict -- deconflict with the taliban. the taliban has been taking our credentials. they allowed in the past. gen. milley: we obviously have capabilities, but i would prefer not to discuss any operation other than what we have right now. there will be another time and we can discuss future operations. >> you are saying that one of your tasks is to evacuate all american citizens from afghanistan. there are americans left clearly all over kabul. there may be americans and other parts of the country.
how can the united states and the pentagon live up to that task of evacuating all americans because we continue to see violence and how will you get them and let you go get them? gen. milley: the state department, as you know, is working with the taliban to facilitate safe passage american citizens and passport holders to the airport. that is the primary means under the current conditions. that is the primary effort. we have the capability of doing other things as necessary. >> as you said, special forces have the capability to extract cup, -- which is in the military round. gen. milley: we will execute as directed.
sec. austin: i would dried distinction between extracting someone in in extremis conditions or circumstances versus going out and collecting large numbers of american citizens. >> do you have the capability of going out and collecting americans? sec. austin: we have that capability? >> you have 5000 personnel securing the area. small groups of taliban fighters outside of there. this is potentially the second largest place that could be taken. how do you get people inside so that they can actually get on the plane? both of you have served in major roles in afghanistan.
did you not first see the possibility that afghan security forces were not up to this fight? gen. milley: we continue to work with the state department officials on the ground. we must speed up the process of getting people in and move them onward. so, status deploying more consular officers to be able to help with that. as we stated earlier, we are going to push more military assistance down to the entry points to facilitate these efforts, but we are working hard to get as many people through is possible, and quite friendly, it is obvious we are not close to getting the numbers through, so we will work that 24 hours a
day, seven days a week. we are going to get everyone out that we could possibly evacuate. i will do as long as we possibly can until we run out of capability. >> did you feel the afghan security forces were not up to the fight? gen. milley: the afghan security forces had the capacity. they had the trays and -- training, and size, to defend the country. this comes down to leadership. no, i did not, nor did anyone else see a collapse in the army of that size 11 days. >> at what point does the military need to start thinking about changing its own russia great to meet the deadline. do you regret not getting ahead
of the curve? sec. austin: at what point do we start to retrograde our own abilities. that is the point before he put them in there. we have to have the right mix of capabilities on the ground. we don't want excessive materials on the ground. they may not be relevant to what we are doing. we have to develop a detailed plan to retrograde our equipment and sacred eyes that plan with our efforts to get as many people out as best we can. that work is something we started thinking about early on, and we continue to think about it and develop detailed plans for it. >> do you regret not starting evacuation a few days earlier?
sec. austin: we make plans for a number of things, and clearly of things, and clearly as the chairman pointed out, as we did detailed planning, we recognize that there might be a point in time when we had to leave. we positioned all of our forces there to do that. we put forces on standby in the united states to support that. we also were in support of the state led applicant process throughout. in terms of doing everything that we could at the right time, i think we have been pretty prudent in terms of thinking ahead and planning for contingencies and executing for
those plans right now. >> this question is for both of you. i would like both of you to answer it. it seems like we keep harping on the same thing. barring a lobotomy by the taliban, you have three tasks ahead of you. one, you can establish accord and into kabul. two, you can extend the deadline. three, you can leave the tens of thousands of afghans who have helped us for 20 years behind. which are going to be? sec. austin: first of all, we are going to evacuate everybody that we physically can possibly evacuate. we will conduct these -- this
process as long as we possibly can. we will continue to d conflict issues with the taliban, and we will stay focused in securing the airfield. we cannot afford to not defend the airfield or not have an airfield that is secure where we have hundreds and thousands of civilians. it would put our forces at risk. >> that does not answer the question. you still say you're focuses on the airfield, and people cannot get into the airfield. sec. austin: we will do everything we can to drive down conflict entry passages for them to get to the airfield. i do not have the capability to go out and extend operations currently into kabul. where do you take that? how far can you extend into kabul?
how long does it take to flow those forces in to do that? >> it sounds like our only option is to get them to agree to do this. gen. milley: let me add something here. we have control point set up. a north one, and east one, and a third one at the gate. it is all part of the perimeter. messages have gone out to american citizens and others about those cases. right now, we are processing at about 130 on our. an hour. as that goes on, i think those numbers will could need to grow. as messages go out, i would tell
you that for american citizens, passport holders, the taliban and the state department are working on a facilitation measure. those numbers are likely to grow. for the others, the state department is still working through exactly getting the procedures for evacuees to get to the airfield. >> how many u.s. taxpayer funded aircraft have been flowed out of the country, and what are you doing to get those back? we have heard of pilots flying to certain countries. you talk about reports that suggest that 11 days would be when kabul would fall. but you suggest that there were reports saying weeks. if so, why did you abandon the bagram airfield.
sec. austin: in terms of the aircraft that have been flown out that you mentioned earlier, i've received reports of a number of aircraft that were flown into uzbek stan -- i was back a stand -- uzbekistan. right now, we are focused on the airfield and getting people out. we will take that issue at a later date and we will continue to try to gain information on the issue as well. gen. milley: securing bagram was a significant level of military effort, and would require external efforts. our task at that time was to protect the embassy.
if we were to keep both bagram and the embassy going, that would be a significant number of military forces that would've exceeded what we had. the decision was made, the proposal was made, to go ahead and collapse bagram. that was approved. we estimated that risk of going out of bagram. it was estimated to be a better tactical solution in accordance with getting the troops down to a 600 number. >> thank you.
with a commercial airport making it much more difficult to send out this week, bagram had two runways. is there any thought of retaking bagram and expediting this evacuation, and if not, why not? gen. milley: great question. i cannot discuss branches and sequels off of our current operation, and i will leave it at that. >> that is the last one for today. >> the reality is, the taliban was threatening kaunda hair already. do you not feel you had a moral up -- obligation to protect afghanistan. should you have tried harder to get these people out?
also, have you been asking to allow the afghans through, and have the taliban denied that? the united states could not provide any state relief. sec. austin: it is a very dynamic environment, as you can imagine. there have been things that occurred that we do hear reports of -- people getting turned away by checkpoints, going back and reinforce the taliban, having credentials they need through. that is working better than it was. quite frankly, we have a major issue right now -- processing
people who are there as fast as we possibly can. it is not a dearth of people getting there. it is being able to move the folks there through so we can them on the aircraft. there been some unfortunate incidents. we continue to work to make sure there is safe passage for the people trying to get to the airport. >> has the military asked the taliban and have they declined? sec. austin: we continue to work on that. we have gone and emphasized that people who are trying to get to the airport have the right credentials and need to be allowed through. >> if the taliban entering kabul, people are worried that the longer they wait, even if it
means several days to get a flight, it will be difficult to get them through. also there is the question of if they should try harder. gen. milley: like i set up front, we are focused on the mission. we are focused on getting out american citizens and afghans who are at risk. there will be time to focus on regrets. right now, this is not that time. >> we appreciate your time. thank you. [no audio]
>> coming up in 20 minutes, the house transfer -- transportation chair will talk about the infrastructure bill. we have live coverage beginning at 4:00 on c-span. after that, president biden will address the nation on the pandemic, the delta variant, and vaccination efforts. the conference is set for 4 :30. live on c-span. >> good wednesday morning. here is the headline from usa today. how did afghanistan and this way? finger-pointing begins. the taliban. the u.s. intellie
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