- US F/A-18s launched from the USS Ronald Reagan are flying armed overwatch over Kabul.
- The Pentagon said that this is being carried over from the drawdown mission to the evacuation operations.
- “We will use all of the tools in our arsenal to achieve” security, a US general said at the Pentagon.
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US military fighter jets are flying armed overwatch missions over Kabul as US forces continue round-the-clock evacuations, defense officials said at the Pentagon Thursday.
In the last 24 hours, “F/A-18s from the Ronald Reagan carrier strike group flew armed overwatch flights over Kabul to ensure enhanced security,” US Army Maj. Gen. William “Hank” Taylor, the Joint Staff deputy director for regional operations, told reporters.
“We maintain a watchful eye and are continuously conducting in-depth assessments to protect the safety of Americans,” he said. “We will use all of the tools in our arsenal to achieve this goal.”
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that these flights were not low-pass flights or shows of force, but were, instead, at-altitude overwatch missions in line with those conducted as the US steadily withdrew its forces.
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan arrived in the US Central Command area in late June to support the withdrawal.
The Navy said at the time that the carrier “provide airpower to protect US and coalition forces as they conduct drawdown operations from Afghanistan.”
“Force protection is a high priority,” Kirby said Thursday. “We’re going to have at our disposal all the assets and resources necessary to make sure we can accomplish this mission safely and efficiently just like we were accomplishing the previous mission of drawdown safely and efficiently.”
“The Ronald Reagan has been there providing support,” Taylor said. “These F/A-18s are flying more than just yesterday.”
Asked if the US was prepared to conduct airstrikes in Kabul, Kirby said that he “is not going to talk about potential future operations.” He did, however, say that “we’ve made it very clear to the Taliban that any attack upon our people in our operations at the airport would be met with a forceful response.”
The US has been working to evacuate US personnel and Afghan partners and their families following the capitulation of the Afghan armed forces and the collapse of the Afghan government in the face of a sweeping Taliban offensive that reached Kabul on Sunday.
The US has more than 5,200 troops on the ground providing security and supporting the ongoing evacuation operations at Hamid Karzai International Airport in the Afghan capital. So far, roughly 7,000 evacuees have been moved out of Afghanistan.
“We’re ready to increase throughput,” Taylor said. The Pentagon has indicated that it hopes to ramp up operations to the point that it could move as many as 5,000 to 9,000 people out per day.