In his opening remarks, Secretary of Defense Austin emphasized the planning that preceded the evacuation from Afghanistan and the positioning of forces that allowed troops to arrive in Kabul fairly quickly as the evacuation began.
As early as spring, the Pentagon began thinking about the possibility of a non-combatant evacuation and preparing for a number of scenarios, Austin told lawmakers. By early June, Austin pre-positioned forces in the region, he said, including three infantry battalions.
“We wanted to be ready, and we were,” he said.
Although the first two days of the evacuation were “difficult,” Austin acknowledged, US troops restored order in 48 hours, and the herculean effort to move tens of thousands of American citizens and at-risk Afghans began in earnest.
“We all watched with alarm the images of Afghans rushing the runway and our aircraft. We all remember the scenes of confusion outside the airport,” Austin said.
The secretary of defense went on to outline where things stand now.
“We are still working to get Americans out who wish to leave,” Austin said, though it is now the job of the State Department and the interagency, not the military.
Lawmakers have repeatedly criticized the Biden administration for concluding the military evacuation and withdrawal from Afghanistan while there were still American citizens who wanted to leave the country, in addition to the inability of the administration to say just how many Americans are left in Afghanistan.
On Monday, a senior State Department official said the department is working to get out approximately 100 US citizens and Afghan green card holders from Afghanistan, but there was no indication of when it might happen or by what route they would leave the country.
“Even with no military presence on the ground, that part of our mission is not over,” Austin said.