Joe Biden told military officials he was reluctant to deploy US forces outside the Kabul airport perimeter over fears of a Black Hawk Down-style tragedy.
In a video conference last week, the president also negatively commented on how quickly the Afghan government fell apart and told commanders he wanted them to be focused on beefing up security at the airport.
During the call, the president alluded to the ‘Black Hawk Down’ tragedy of the Somali Civil War, which saw 18 US personnel killed.
In 1993, US forces tried to capture key allies of Somali general Mohamed Farrah Aidid. Adid had overthrown President Mohamed Siad Barre’s socialist government.
During the raid, 18 Americans and two United Nations soldiers were killed after two Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were shot down by RPGs.
In a conference call with military officials last week, President Biden said he didn’t want rescue missions to turn into ‘Black Hawk Down,’ when US choppers were shot down in Somalia in 1993
The bodies of some American soldiers were dragged through the streets of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, with the incident later inspiring a 2001 Ridley Scott film, also titled Black Hawk Down.
Biden has since changed his mind, with secretive rescue missions currently being flown in Kabul.
US Special Operations rescued 16 Americans from an unspecified position two hours outside of the Kabul airport early Monday morning, according to the Associated Press But Biden is only said to have green-lighted such missions after pressure over British and German allies mounting their own.
They were taken to Kabul for evacuation processing, days after Biden said he was reluctant to send US forces outside the airport perimeter for fears of an ISIS-style attack.
The latest rescue comes after the Defense Department revealed that three Army chinooks picked up 169 Americans who were trapped at the Baron Hotel just outside the Kabul Airport last week.
As recently as Sunday, Biden had talked about the dangers of moving operations past the airport.
‘These troops and innocent civilians at the airport face the risk of attack from ISIS-K from a distance, even though we’re moving back the perimeter significantly,’ Biden said in a speech at the White House.
The US has evacuated 28,000 people from Kabul since August 14. Above, a family boards a US Air Force plane during an evacuation from the Hamid Karzai airport in Kabul on Monday
At the time, British and French allies had already gone beyond the boundaries of the Kabul airport and sent troops into the city to help recover their citizens. That is believed to have heaped pressure on Biden and US officials to finally do the same.
The Hamid Karzai International Airport has become a safe haven for US evacuation efforts, though accessing the last way out of the country has gotten difficult as the Taliban erect checkpoints on roads leading to the airport.
Two American helicopters were shot down during the Somali Civil War in October 1993. Above, children play in helicopter wreckage in Somalia in December 1993
Eighteen US troops and two UN troops died, and some Americans were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu
The events were immortalized in a 1999 book called ‘Black Hawk Down,’ which was made into a 2001 movie of the same name by director Ridley Scott starring Josh Hartnett and Eric Bana
In Kabul, the are other ‘sortie’ flights – made by a single military aircraft – happening outside of the airport, but officials won’t reveal the airlift sites for security reasons.
‘On occasion, as needed, our commanders have the authority they need to use their assets and their forces to help assist Americans who need to get to the airport, get to the airport, on a case-by-case basis,’ said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on Monday.
That’s a stark turnaround from Sunday, when Biden refused to go into detail about evacuation operations outside the airport due to the threat of attack from the Taliban and the Central Asia branch of ISIS.
‘We’re working hard and as fast as we can to get people out. That’s our mission. That’s our goal.’
The US has negotiated with the Taliban to extend the perimeter around the Kabul airport for safe passage of evacuees. Above, US Marines help at an evacuation checkpoint on Saturday
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that US troops are ‘not operating outside the perimeter of the airport’ on Monday, but some evacuations outside the airport have happened
‘What I’m not going to do is talk about the tactical changes we’re making to make sure we maintain as much security as we can,’ he said.
‘We have constantly – how can I say it – increased rational access to the airport where more folk can get there more safely. It’s still a dangerous operation, but I don’t want to go into the detail while we’re doing that.’
The military has evacuated 28,000 people from Kabul since August 14, according to the New York Times.
On Monday, Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the Taliban had agreed to move their checkpoints further out from the airport to allow the US to process evacuees.
Though he added: ‘American troops are not operating outside the perimeter of the airport.’