Two off-duty soldiers found themselves caught behind enemy lines as the Taliban rapidly took over Afghanistan in recent days, Army Times has learned.
“[The] soldiers are accounted for and safe,” a Defense Department spokesperson told Army Times.
The two Army Reserve soldiers — both of whom hold the rank of specialist — were in Kabul on personal travel when the Taliban swept into the city and took control, a second defense official told Army Times on background.
Military officials conducting the evacuation were not aware that the soldiers were in Afghanistan until they self-reported their whereabouts and requested instructions and assistance in evacuating the country, the official confirmed.
One soldier made it to the evacuation site at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Wednesday, the official said, and the second arrived Thursday. Army Times delayed publication of this story until the soldiers were at the airport in order to ensure their safety.
Neither soldier experienced “hostile action” or reported injuries sustained during their journey, the defense official said. Media reports and videos have indicated that Taliban fighters are beating some evacuees as they proceed to the airport.
According to the official, at least the first soldier navigated Taliban checkpoints to make it to Hamid Karzai International Airport, where U.S. troops are evacuating Americans and Afghans who assisted throughout the nearly 20-year war.
It was not immediately clear how the second soldier made it to the airport.
The State Department has repeatedly told evacuees that they could not guarantee their safety while they travel to the airport.
It was not immediately clear whether the soldiers were in any duty status. Part-time reservists who are not on duty are not subject to leave restrictions.
Security clearance holders, regardless of their duty status, are required to obtain approval from counterintelligence officials prior to conducting overseas travel. It was not clear, though, whether the soldiers have security clearances or if they had reported their travel plans.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.