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The Pentagon has said it will house up to tens of thousands of Afghan immigrants in US military bases, as the Biden administration races to restore confidence in its bungled evacuation of the country.
As many as 22,000 Afghan immigrants will be placed in military housing at Fort Bliss in Texas, Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and Fort Lee in Virginia after defence secretary Lloyd Austin approved their use following a request from the US Department of State.
The decision, announced on Wednesday, follows scenes of chaos and violence at Kabul’s international airport earlier this week, as the US faced criticism for not evacuating more swiftly Afghans who aided US forces.
US officials re-established security at the airport on Tuesday and said they would speed up the pace of evacuations in the days ahead.
On Wednesday morning, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said that 2,000 people had been evacuated from Kabul over the past 24 hours. Approximately 300 of those were US citizens. The scale of evacuation could reach between 5,000 and 9,000 people a day, he added.
At least five Afghans have so far been killed at the airport, including some who tried to cling to the exterior of a US Air Force C-17 military cargo plane as it attempted to take off.
Videos on social media appeared to show two figures falling from the aircraft after it became airborne. Ann Stefanek, an air force spokesperson, said on Tuesday that “human remains” had been discovered in the plane’s wheel well after it landed at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
On Wednesday, Kirby said US forces had fired shots near the gates on the perimeter of the airport, but that the shots were intended as “non-lethal crowd control measures”. He declined to comment on whether the shots contained rubber bullets or live rounds.
Kirby confirmed that the Afghan military had been flying military planes out of Kabul’s airport, but declined to confirm the number of planes that were leaving.
He added that as part of the broader drawdown, some US military equipment had already been removed from Afghanistan and returned to the US, some had been destroyed and some transferred to Afghan forces.
“We don’t obviously want to see our equipment in the hands of those who would act against our interests, or the interests of the Afghan people,” Kirby said.