The US military used helicopters to evacuate a group of Americans from a hotel near the Kabul airport, according to the Pentagon spokesperson who provided new details about the mission that was first revealed by President Biden in his speech on Friday.
The 169 Americans were retrieved after another country informed US commanders that citizens had gathered at the Baron Hotel near the airport, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Friday evening.
Three CH-47 Chinook helicopters flew from the military side of the airport to the Baron Hotel, just off the southern side of the airport, to collect the Americans and bring them onto the field, Kirby said. He did not know if the Chinooks flew multiple flights to bring the Americans over.
"It was a very quick, safely performed operation," Kirby said.
The original plan had been for the Americans to walk through the Abbey Gate, located approximately 200 meters from their hotel, Kirby said. But a large crowd had gathered at the gate, and some of the Americans felt unsafe trying to work their way through the crowd.
Kirby clarified his earlier remarks that this crowd had walked onto the field with the assistance of some US troops. He said there have been a few instances of Americans arriving at the airport and being escorted onto the field by US troops. But he said this is the only instance of which he is aware where US helicopters have left the field to collect American citizens.
The Associated Press was first to report about this mission.
The decision to launch the helicopters was made by the commander on the ground "on the spot."
"He executed a mission that he believed was in the best interest of helping these Americans, and he did," Kirby said. A third country, which Kirby would not identify, had established security at the hotel and informed the US that its citizens were there.
Colombia has agreed to take Afghans who worked with the US government temporarily as they wait for the US to process their paperwork, Colombia's President Ivan Duque said Friday.
In a joint video statement with US Ambassador to Colombia Philip Goldberg, Duque and Goldberg both reiterated that Afghans will only stay in Colombia temporarily and will eventually move to the US.
Goldberg thanked Colombia’s efforts and said that the US will contribute to the costs incurred during this operation.
The Colombian president's office declined to answer how many refugees will move to Colombia or the timeframe of this operation.