As the Defense Department continues to stick to its plans of not reaching out into Kabul to assist U.S. personnel and Afghan helpers evacuate, British and French forces have done so to rescue their citizens, multiple outlets report.
The Daily Mail reported that London deployed an additional 300 troops to Kabul specifically to extract trapped British nationals earlier in the week. Within hours of touching down in Kabul, the British troops retrieved some 200 British nationals from around Kabul, the Telegraph reported. Prompting the mission were reports of Taliban hunting down former Afghan government officials, along with Britons stuck behind a web of Taliban checkpoints lining the route to the airport.
Additionally, France 24 reports that the French military has been conducting similar operations since Monday. French President Emmanuel Macron thanked French security forces on Twitter for executing a ‘sensitive operation’ which evacuated more than 200 French and Afghans.
News of these operations by NATO partners in Afghanistan leaves some Americans asking for Washington to follow suit. Matt Zeller, who served in Afghanistan as an Army intelligence officer, and is now a member of the Association of Wartime Allies, a group dedicated to relocating Afghans who helped the U.S., expressed his frustration on Facebook.
“Some of our NATO allies have already figured out better solutions. Some, like the French, are just going out with their Special Forces and getting their people by whatever means necessary. Mr. President, if the French can do it, so can we,” Zeller wrote.
Zeller’s frustrations stem from a chaotic scene around the HKIA that prevents potential evacuees from reaching safety. Earlier this week, Zeller told Military Times that the situation in Kabul was dire and shaping up to be “worse than Saigon.”
“There’s total chaos at the airport, this is the absolute fiasco we all learned about, and nobody listened to,” Zeller told Military Times. “They need to then begin establishing secure corridors in Kabul, so people can get to the airport because what’s happened is the Taliban have erected checkpoints everywhere.”
Yesterday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said yesterday that despite the U.S. having at least 5,000 troops on the ground, he does not have the “capability” to reach out beyond HKIA.
“The forces that we have are focused on the security of the airfield. And you know how important that is, and you know what happens if we — if we lose the ability to provide that security,” Austin told reporters from a podium in the Pentagon.
Austin’s comments come amid reports of both British and French military units doing precisely that, pushing out into Kabul to secure the safety of their citizens. Occurring despite the Daily Mail reporting that the British contingent numbers less than 1,000 troops.
In his press conference yesterday, Austin acknowledged the challenges that Taliban checkpoints present for those seeking to leave Afghanistan. However, Austin stated that the U.S. government would continue to negotiate safe passage of evacuees with the Taliban rather than take action.
“We’ve gone back and tried to — and reinforce to the Taliban that if they have credentials, they need to be allowed through,” Austin said.
Thursday morning, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby and Army Maj. Gen. William D. “Hank” Taylor, deputy director for regional operations and force management for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reiterated that the U.S. military mission in Kabul is focused solely on operations at HKIA.
Negotiating with the Taliban for safe passage is not enough for Zeller and others, particularly in light of actions taken by Britain and France.
“It’s ungodly, man. F---ing sinful,” Dane Bowker, who deployed multiple times to Afghanistan, including with a Joint Special Operations Task Force, told Military Times.
Zeller finished his message this morning by asking the president to take action, as the window to fly out both Americans and Afghans is rapidly closing. Among these actions was a request to use the U.S. troops on the ground to secure safe passage for those needing a flight out.
“The Taliban cannot be allowed to remain 100m from US Marines where they can commit atrocities in front of us knowing we will do nothing. They are thugs. We are the United States of America. Show them we won’t be bullied. Use the might of our forces to create a humanitarian corridor in Kabul — so that people can safely get to the airport without this chaos and constant Taliban interference,” Zeller wrote.
James R. Webb is a rapid response reporter for Military Times. He served as a US Marine infantryman in Iraq. Additionally, he has worked as a Legislative Assistant in the US Senate and as an embedded photographer in Afghanistan.