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U.S. winds down evacuations ahead of final Afghanistan withdrawal

U.S. completes withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan
U.S. completes withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan 03:34

Washington — With the United States' mission in Afghanistan entering its final hours, the Pentagon is winding down evacuations of Americans and Afghan allies from the main airport in the country's capital while officials warn the threat from ISIS-K militants remains high.

The White House said Monday that in a 24-hour span from Sunday morning to Monday, the U.S. evacuated 1,200 people from Kabul, with 26 military flights and two coalition flights carrying evacuees out of Kabul. 

Over a 24-hour period the prior day, from early Saturday into early Sunday, roughly 2,900 people were evacuated, with 32 military flights and nine coalition aircraft departing Kabul's airport.

The U.S. has relocated more than 122,300 people from Afghanistan since the end of July, including 5,400 American citizens, Army Major General Hank Taylor told reporters during a Pentagon briefing Monday. While it's unclear exactly how many Americans are still in Afghanistan, Jake Sullivan, President Biden's national security adviser, told "Face the Nation" in an interview Sunday the administration believes roughly 300 remain.

"There is still time," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Monday when asked about American passport- or green card-holders who may be trying to get to the airport in Kabul ahead of Tuesday's withdrawal deadline.

The State Department is in touch with U.S. citizens who remain in Afghanistan, and Taylor said the U.S. military continues "to have the capability to evacuate and fly out those until the very end."

Afghans in Kabul waiting for an airlift out of the country, however, were notified by NATO that "international military evacuations from Kabul airport have ended and we are no longer able to call anyone forward for evacuation flights," according to a text message sent from the alliance and confirmed by CBS News. The New York Times first reported the message to Afghans awaiting evacuation. 

The Pentagon has kept quiet the details of when the U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan will be completed, though Kirby said all American forces will be out of the country by Tuesday. 

"Our goal is to complete this retrograde and to wrap up evacuation operations as safely and as orderly as we can," he said. 

But as the U.S. nears an end to the 20-year military presence in Afghanistan, capped by a rapid takeover of the country by the Taliban, Mr. Biden and Defense Department officials have warned the threat to American forces from ISIS-K, an affiliate of the terrorist group ISIS, remains high. 

The military is "operating under the assumption that we need to be prepared for future potential threats," Kirby said, and the final hours of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan mark a "particularly dangerous time."

Ahead of Tuesday's deadline for pulling U.S. troops from Afghanistan, five rockets targeted the main airport in Kabul on Monday morning, Taylor said. Three landed off the airfield, while a defensive system known as C-RAM, the Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortar System, thwarted a fourth. The fifth rocket landed inside the airport's perimeter, with no harm to military personnel.

The rocket attack follows a suicide bombing outside an airport gate last week, which claimed the lives of at least 170 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members. U.S. officials said a member of ISIS-K carried out the bombing, and Mr. Biden pledged to hold those behind the attack responsible.

On Friday, the U.S. conducted an airstrike that took out two "high profile" ISIS-K planners and facilitators, though Kirby declined to provide more information on those killed in the operation. The Pentagon conducted a second airstrike in Kabul on Sunday against an ISIS-K vehicle carrying explosives.

Kristin Brown contributed to this report.

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