In a stunning admission Friday morning, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby acknowledged that the Taliban released "thousands" of ISIS-K terrorists from prisons in Kabul and Bagram, Afghanistan, that the U.S. relinquished control of prior to evacuating the country.
Members of that same terrorist group are now suspected to have carried out attacks at Kabul airport Thursday that left at least 13 U.S. military service members and 60 Afghans dead, with hundreds more wounded.
What are the details?
Kirby's statement was offered in response to a pointed question from Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin during a press briefing Friday.
"How many ISIS-K prisoners were left at Bagram and believed to have been released from the prison there and why weren't they removed before the U.S. pulled out to some place like Gitmo?" Griffin asked.
"Well, I don't know the exact number. Clearly, it's in the thousands when you considered both prisons," Kirby answered. "Because both of them were taken over by the Taliban and emptied."
The shocking admission comes as the Biden administration faces increased scrutiny over its botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, including speculation as to why it handed over control of Bagram Airfield — the U.S.'s largest military base in the country — before completely evacuating American citizens and Afghan nationals.
Kirby tried to cover for the administration by noting that withdrawing from Bagram and handing over control of prisons housing terrorists there and in Kabul was part of its retrograde plan to shift responsibilities to the Afghan government.
"As for emptying out, remember, we were turning things over to Afghan national security forces, that was part of the retrograde process," he explained. "And, of course, as the Taliban advanced we didn't see the level of resistance by the Afghans to hold some territory, some bases, and unfortunately those (in Kabul and Bagram) were bases the Afghans didn't hold."
But that argument likely won't sit well with many Americans as it becomes increasingly clear that the Biden administration retained far too great a trust in Afghan security and appeared to have been caught completely off-guard by the Taliban's rapid advance.
Kirby added earlier that while U.S. officials have determined ISIS-K terrorists are responsible for the deadly attacks, they haven't entirely ruled out the possibility that the Taliban aided the terrorists in some way.
But the Pentagon spokesman's tough talk on the Taliban is muffled by the administration's reported cooperation with the militant regime.
U.S. officials in Kabul reportedly supplied the Taliban with a list of names of U.S. citizens and Afghan nationals for the purpose of streamlining permitted access to the airport for evacuation. The list has since been decried as a "kill list" by critics and government officials alike.