President Joe Biden on Friday tried to put an optimistic face on the chaotic evacuations taking place at Kabul’s airport as American forces scramble to remove US citizens and vulnerable Afghans from the country.
In remarks at the White House, Biden gave an overview on evacuation effort and recounted the efforts of US troops in the evacuation over the last several days. While reports from the ground indicate that the scenes outside Hamid Karzai International Airport are growing increasingly desperate, Biden said the US is pulling off “one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history.”
“Let me be clear: any American who wants to come home, we will get you home,” Biden said.
“I cannot promise what the final outcome will be … or that it will be without risk of loss,” Biden added. “But as commander in chief, I can promise you I will mobilize every resource necessary, and as an American, I offer my gratitude to the brave men and women of the US armed forces who are carrying out this mission. They’re incredible.”
The President’s speech focused on the evacuation of American citizens and their families, Special Immigrant Visa applicants and their families and vulnerable Afghans. While Biden attempted to give a positive look at the evacuation, the reality on the ground is far more dire. Afghans in Kabul are battling massive crowds and violence to make it to the airport gates, and have to wait hours to enter once they’ve arrived.
CNN’s Clarissa Ward reported there hadn’t been any flights out of the Kabul airport in more than eight hours Friday. Biden addressed the pause in his remarks and said flights in Kabul were paused for “a few hours this morning to make sure we could process the arriving evacuees at the transit points.” He said the order had already been given to resume outbound flights, and said the US had evacuated 5,700 people on Thursday.
The President stressed the US was doing everything it could to provide safe evacuations for its Afghan allies, partners and Afghans who may be targeted because of their association with the United States.
“The United States stands by its commitment that we’ve made to these people and it includes other vulnerable Afghans such as women leaders and journalists,” Biden said.
Biden said the US was in constant contact with the Taliban working to ensure civilians have safe passage to the airport. He said the US has communicated that any attack on US forces or disruption of its operations at the airport would be “met with swift and forceful response.”
“The past week has been heartbreaking,” Biden said. “We’ve seen gut-wrenching images of panicked people acting out of sheer desperation. You know, it’s completely understandable. They’re frightened. They’re sad. Uncertain what happens next. I don’t think anyone, I don’t think any one of us can see these pictures and not feel that pain on a human level.”
He admitted there would be “plenty of time to criticize and second guess this operation,” he said that for now he was focused on “getting this job done.”
Tents are needed for the thousands of Afghans standing out in the blazing sun for hours at Kabul airport, Ward reported. Mothers of children are particularly struggling in the sweltering heat. CNN has met people at the airport who have been waiting there for two days
The US Embassy warned Friday morning of continuing safety concerns over getting to the Kabul airport, and said that — due to large crowds and security worries — “gates may open or close without notice.”
White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told CNN Friday that the White House does not have a precise number of Americans who are still in Afghanistan, saying the administration is still trying to account for Americans who may have left the country prior to August 14 without notifying the US embassy.
The Pentagon said Thursday that the US military had increased the pace of evacuations. The US evacuated approximately 3,000 people from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Thursday, and approximately 14,000 people since end of July, according to a White House official.
Biden, who met with senior staff in the Situation Room on Wednesday, made clear he wants every flight leaving the airport filled to capacity. An official cautioned that, given the chaotic nature of the evacuation, the presidential directive doesn’t always mean it will happen for every flight.
The US military hopes to move 5,000 to 9,000 people a day, but they have not been able to meet that goal since the evacuation process started.
Biden suggested in an ABC interview this week that he’s willing to keep US forces in Afghanistan until all American citizens who want to leave are out of the country, but stopped short of making the same commitment to the United States’ Afghan partners but said Friday he is committed to getting the US’ Afghan allies out.
“There’s no one more important than bringing American citizens out. I acknowledge that. But they’re equally important, almost, as all those SIVs we call them, who in fact helped us,” he said. “They were translators. They were in the battle with us. They were part of the operation,” he added.
The President said Americans should expect for all US citizens in Afghanistan to be evacuated by August 31, the deadline the administration has set for ending the nation’s longest war. Biden said a Group of Seven meeting would be convened next week to coordinate “our united approach on Afghanistan and moving forward.” He noted he had spoken directly with United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.
This is a breaking story and will be updated.
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