Americans have been beaten by the Taliban while attempting to reach the U.S.-held airport in Kabul, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said during a Defense Department briefing held after U.S. citizens were told Saturday not to travel to the airport due to security threats.
“We know of cases, a small number that we know of," Kirby said at the briefing. "We don't have perfect visibility, but we know of a small number of cases where some Americans and certainly, as [Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin] also said in that statement, Afghans — Afghans that we want to evacuate, it wasn't just Americans that he talked about — have been harassed and in some cases beaten. We don't believe it is a very large number. And a matter of fact, the numbers would indicate ... that ... by and large, most Americans who have their credentials with them are being allowed through the Taliban checkpoints and ... into the gate and onto the airfield.
"We are aware of sporadic cases where they aren't being allowed, where there is some harassment going on, and yes, some physical violence has occurred" within the last week.
"What appears to be happening is that not every Taliban fighter either got the word or decided to obey the word [to allow Americans to get to the airport]," he added.
U.S. Army Major General Hank Taylor also provided updated numbers on evacuations, saying that among the 17,000 evacuated this week, 2,500 were Americans.
On Friday, minutes after President Joe Biden said the U.S. wasn’t aware Americans were being harassed or assaulted by the Taliban at checkpoints in Afghanistan, the defense secretary and a spokesman for the Department of Defense said U.S. citizens trying to leave that country had been beaten by militants.
The president said the U.S. government "doesn't have the exact number" of Americans who are in Afghanistan or where they're located and is working to "verify" their whereabouts.
During a briefing call with House members Friday, Austin said the reports of Taliban beating Americans on their way to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul was “unacceptable,” Politico reported, based on “several people who participated” in the briefing and “other top officials.”
“We’re also aware that some people, including Americans, have been harassed and even beaten by the Taliban,” Austin was quoted as saying by multiple sources.
“This is unacceptable and (we) made it clear to the designated Taliban leader,” Austin added. “… With the exception of those cases, we continue to see Americans and appropriately credentialed Afghans continue to move through.”
During the briefing call, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan an “enormous mistake,” Politico reported.
Kirby had also acknowledged the harassment of Americans in Afghanistan on Friday.
“We’re certainly mindful of these reports and they’re deeply troubling, and we have communicated to the Taliban that that’s absolutely unacceptable, that we want free passage through their checkpoints for documented Americans,” Kirby was quoted as saying by The Epoch Times.
Earlier on Friday, Biden said during a press conference, “we have no indication that” Americans seeking to flee the country have been unable to safely reach the airport in Kabul.
“We’ve made an agreement with the Taliban,” the president continued, answering a question. “They’ve allowed them to go through. It’s in their interests to let them go through. We know of no circumstance where American citizens are carrying an American passport, are trying to get through to the airport. But we will do whatever needs to be done to see to it that they get to the airport.”
On Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul had sent out a security alert published online, noting that the U.S. “cannot ensure safe passage to the Hamid Karzai International Airport."
Following the drawing down of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban quickly seized control of much of the country, eventually taking the capital Kabul and forcing the government to flee.
In response to the unexpected speed at which they retook the nation, tens of thousands of Americans, Afghan allies, and others have desperately tried to leave the country.
The Rev. Franklin Graham, president and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, has called for a day of prayer for the people of Afghanistan on Sunday.
“There is no hope for these people to get out safely — apart from a miracle from the hand of God — and that’s what we need to pray for,” Graham said in a statement.
A return to Taliban rule for Afghanistan has led many to express concern over the treatment of women, as well as religious minorities, such as the small Christianity community.
On the website of the missionary group Frontier Alliance International, an anonymous pastor posted a statement saying the Taliban was already cracking down on Christians.
“The Taliban has a hit list of known Christians they are targeting to pursue and kill. The U.S. Embassy is defunct and there is no longer a safe place for believers to take refuge,” said “Pastor X.”
“All borders to neighboring countries are closed and all flights to and from have been halted, with the exception of private planes. People are fleeing into the mountains looking for asylum. They are fully reliant on God, who is the only One who can and will protect them.”
Melissa Barnhart contributed to this report