Kirby also pointed out that rescue missions by U.S. forces have been more frequent in recent days than senior administration officials have admitted – and that some have been facilitated by means other than military helicopters.
“Occasionally – where there is a need and there is an opportunity to meet that need – our field commanders do what they think is necessary to help the Americans get to the airport,” said Kirby.
Kirby said there are “a variety of methods” by which rescue operations “can be conducted” and “without going into detail, we use the variety of methods available to us”.
Although Kirby only confirmed that an additional rescue mission had taken place since the airlift last Thursday, “that doesn’t mean it’s the sum of our efforts to go out and try to get and assist the incoming Americans,” he said. “We’re just not going to describe all of them in detail because the threat environment is so high.”
Still, Kirby stressed that rescue missions are not “regularly” approved. “I don’t want to leave you thinking that we’re somehow patrolling the streets of Kabul,” he said.
Kirby’s remarks about ongoing rescue missions by U.S. forces suggest an apparent shift in U.S. military capabilities since last Wednesday when Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin admitted that efforts to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies were entirely confined to the airport itself.
At the time, Austin assessed that the US military was “unable to operate and expand operations currently into Kabul” and said, “The armed forces we have are focused on airfield security.”
On Monday, Kirby attempted to reverse the secretary’s comments, arguing that Austin said the US military has “been unable to make large, massive movements of people” as of last Wednesday.
“But [Austin] said if there is an incident where someone is extreme and we need to get them in small numbers, we can do that. And that’s what we did, ”said Kirby.
“Over the next few days, more skills have flown in, more troops have flown in,” added Kirby. “And so we have the opportunity to help when we can and where we can … Americans are moving towards the gates. And we’re not going to go into the details of each of them, but we have those skills. “
In a speech at the White House last Friday, President Joe Biden mentioned the first publicly known rescue mission by US troops and said: “There were 169 Americans who … we got military over the wall into the airport.”
Biden also told reporters after his address that he was ready to send US troops into Kabul to pull out vulnerable Americans and Afghan allies. “We are looking into every opportunity and means to get people to the airport,” he said.