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Germany has sent two special forces helicopters to Kabul as NATO allies begin operations to evacuate people from their homes in the Afghan capital to the airport past Taliban checkpoints.
The German Ministry of Defence on Aug. 20 posted on Twitter that it is “expanding our operation in Afghanistan” with the deployment of two Airbus H145M helicopters aboard an A400M transport plane.
“We have just informed the German Bundestag about this,” the translated tweet from the German Verteidigungsministerium reads. “Two H-145M helicopters are still being relocated to #Kabul today. The aim is to bring those to be protected from their whereabouts in Kabul to the airport.”
The German Luftwaffe later tweeted a photo of one H145M being loaded onto the transport plane, saying it was being flown from Wunstorf Air Base in northern Germany to Kabul.
European news outlets report that other NATO allies, including the U.K. and France, have sent special forces troops into Kabul to evacuate their citizens to the airport past chaotic crowds of Afghans trying to escape the capital as the Taliban advance through the city and surround the remaining route out of the country.
Meanwhile, the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is focused solely on securing Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), although evidence abounds online and in international reports that U.S. Special Operations Forces are on the ground with multiple aircraft.
In an address from the White House, President Joe Biden on Aug. 20 said U.S. troops in Afghanistan were prepared to “do whatever needs to be done to get them to the airport.”
As of Aug. 20, there are 5,800 U.S. troops on the ground at the airport.
“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 said Aug. 18 at the Pentagon, standing next to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley.
“I would draw a distinction between extracting someone in extremis condition or circumstance versus going out and collecting up large numbers of American citizens,” Austin said. “We don’t have the capability to go out and collect up large numbers of people.”
During one incident, U.S. forces did exit the airport perimeter to assist 169 Americans in gaining access to the airfield, according to Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby. Those people were “very close” to the entrance gate and U.S. forces did not “have to go far” to bring them inside, Kirby said Aug. 20.
Biden mentioned those 169 Americans in his address, who, he said were brought “over the wall into the airport using military assets.” It turns out, three U.S. CH-47 Chinook helicopters were needed to bring those Americans to the airport, Defense One reports. The evacuees had gathered at the Baron Hotel, near the airport and intended to move on foot to the airport, but were unable to make it the short distance, so the helicopters plucked them from the hotel and brought them to the airport.
From the Pentagon, Kirby reiterated Biden’s comments, but would not comment on whether U.S. forces were prepared to leave the airport perimeter to rescue American citizens.
“The president was clear that we’ll do whatever we have to do to rescue as many Americans as want to leave Afghanistan,” Kirby said. “The [defense] secretary is not going to rule anything in or out in terms of what the possibilities might be.”
“The mission right now, as you and I are speaking, is to keep security at the airport sound,” Kirby said. “We feel like that with the additional capacity we have, if there is a need to expand the mission in the future, we feel we have what we need.”
On Aug. 20, photos been circulating online of what appear to be MH-60L Direct Action Penetrator (DAP) and MH-47G aircraft, both of which are operated by the U.S. 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), also call the Night Stalkers.
Asked whether reports from Afghanistan of U.S. aircraft leaving the airport and transporting evacuees from multiple locations in Kabul to the airport, Kirby curtly and quickly said he “can’t confirm those reports that this time.”
While he acknowledged other NATO nations are using helicopters and commandos to rescue their citizens from outside the airport perimeter, Kirby said “we’re not aware of indications that there is that big a need” for U.S. forces to fly beyond the airport to rescue Americans.
Another photo of a Turkish soldier at the airport shows several AH-6 Little Bird fast attack helicopters in the background.
The U.S. has “significant rotary-wing assets on the ground” at HKIA, including AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and CH-47 Chinooks, Milley said.
Milley said the U.S. State Department is working with the Taliban to facilitate the safe passage of American citizens and U.S. passport holders to the airport from elsewhere in Afghanistan.
“That’s the primary means, and under the current conditions, that’s the primary effort,” Milley said. “We have the capability to do other things if necessary.”