WASHINGTON — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says the U.S. military doesn’t have the capacity at this point to extend security forces beyond the perimeter of the Kabul airport in order to get more civilians safely evacuated out of Afghanistan.
Afghans and aid organizations have said that citizens are having a hard time getting past the Taliban and into the airport, in a mass exodus triggered by the insurgents' rapid takeover of the country and its capital on Sunday.
Austin told reporters at a Pentagon press conference on Wednesday that the U.S. is working to get as many people through the evacuation process and out of the country as quickly as possible, but “we’re not close to where we want to be.”
The Pentagon says that about 5,000 civilians have been taken out of Afghanistan so far, but officials have said they want to get to a goal of getting a maximum of 5,000 to 9,000 people out a day.
Austin said that securing the airport is the paramount mission right now and he doesn’t want to do anything to detract from that. He said the U.S. military doesn’t have the capability to go out and collect large numbers of citizens and get them to the airport.