American troops left the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, this week and rescued 169 Americans, officials said Friday.
The operation took place on Wednesday or Thursday, President Joe Biden said while answering questions at the White House.
U.S. troops saw the Americans outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport and decided to act, Department of Defense spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon.
The group was “very close to to the perimeter of the airport, very close, and in a short amount of time, with a short amount of distance, some of our troops were able to go out there and bring them in,” he said.
Pressed for more details, Kirby said he wasn’t aware of the tactical details, such as whether guns were drawn, or any similar operations.
The mission was significant because it’s the first time, according to U.S. officials, that American troops have left the U.S.-held airport to rescue Americans.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters Wednesday that the U.S. military did not “have the capability to go out and collect up large numbers of people.”
The Pentagon has flown more troops in Kabul and security at the airport is more stable, Kirby said. The capability is there now, but each proposed mission would need to be analyzed for potential risks and benefits.
Thousands of Americans remain in Afghanistan, which was taken over by the Taliban this month. Citizens from other countries are also there. Many are trying to get to the airport, along with streams of Afghans who fear suppression once U.S. troops fully pull out, which is scheduled in a few weeks.
Scattered reports allege rescue missions have been carried out by U.S., British, and French special forces.
For instance, U.S. troops allegedly undertook what was described as Operation Promise Kept to rescue Mohammad Khalid Wardak, an Afghan police officer who for years helped the U.S. military and was under threat from the Taliban.