There are still Americans in the "low hundreds" in Afghanistan, but there will be a "whole government effort" rather than a military effort to get them out, as the United States has several "leverage tools" to use, Pentagon press secretary Adm. John Kirby said Tuesday.
"We believe we got the vast, vast majority of American citizens out, something to the tune of 6,000 of them, and we think it's probably in the low hundreds that are still there," Kirby said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," commenting the morning after the announcement that the last U.S. service members have left Afghanistan. "There were also several hundred others that didn't want to leave."
More than 123,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan since July, and to remove the rest, the Biden administration will use "leverage tools" that are "more in the diplomatic economic lanes," said Kirby. "We don't really see a military role right now."
The diplomacy that would be used is "not completely unlike" efforts made elsewhere in the world," he added.
"We have Americans that get stranded in countries all the time and we do everything we can to try to facilitate safe passage," said Kirby. "We have made it clear what our expectations are to the Taliban and if the Taliban want to govern and they say they do, and they want to not retaliate when they say they do, we're going to hold them to their deeds, not just [their] words."
President Joe Biden had said he was willing for the Pentagon to develop contingency plans in the event the deadline of Aug. 31 needed to be extended, but the situation on the ground was becoming too dangerous not only for the troops but for Afghan citizens near the Kabul airport, said Kirby.
"There was a very credible, specific increasing threat stream by ISIS that was making the entire operation more perilous and we had to make decisions in the last couple of days to make sure we could get everybody out as safely as possible and not imperil civilians more than they were," said Kirby.
But when asked if it would have made sense to start evacuations earlier, Kirby said there will be "time to do the forensics," including asking such questions, but the situation was moving so quickly in Afghanistan quick decisions had to be made.
"Within 48 hours, we went from believing we had a capable, long-time ally in the government and the Afghan forces to having to develop a pragmatic relationship with a long-time enemy, which is the Taliban," said Kirby. "We were thinking about this to the spring to the point we flowed forces in off of ships so if we had to do it we could do it quickly. That's why we were able to get 3,000 troops on the ground within two days and not only defend but secure and continue the operations of a major international airport. A lot of planning went into this, and we'll have time to do the forensics, but we moved as fast as we could."
Meanwhile, the United States is committed to getting the Afghans who helped American service members out and away from the Taliban, which is being held to its commitment for the safe passage of American citizens and allies, said Kirby, while admitting that doesn't mean the United States has faith or trust in the organization.
When asked if he could see a scenario in which American service members go back into Afghanistan if it is a breeding ground for terrorism, Kirby pointed out that U.S. intelligence capabilities are "definitely not what it was like pre-9/11."
"We didn't have anywhere near the kinds of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities that we have now," said Kirby. "We didn't have the footprint in the region that we have now, and that footprint will remain. As you saw again over the last couple of days, we have the capability to reach out and touch any piece of Earth that we need to if we need to. And we're going to do that. If there is a threat emanating from Afghanistan, we're going to do everything we can to prevent that threat from materializing as fast as possible."
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