Biden commits to evacuating Americans, Afghan allies
August 22, 2021
President Joe Biden. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
President Biden on Friday said his administration was considering “every opportunity and every means” to get Americans and Afghan allies through Taliban checkpoints and into the Kabul airport.
State of play: Biden said Taliban militants are allowing those with American passports to pass through their checkpoints, but added that the United States is now figuring out how to handle the “mad rush” of non-Americans who are attempting to cross.
“We’re making the same commitment. There’s no one more important than bringing American citizens out, I acknowledge that. But they’re equally important,” Biden said.
“Almost all of those — those SIVs [Special Immigrant Visa applicants] we call them — who, in fact, helped us, that were translators, that went into battle with us, that were part of the operation, as well as we’re also trying to get out as many NGOs —nongovernment organizations, women’s organizations, et cetera. We’re doing all we can,” the president added.
Responding to a question about reports of criticism from American allies surrounding the withdrawal and chaotic evacuation, Biden said: “The fact of the matter is, I have not seen that,” the president said, adding: “Matter of fact, the exact opposite. I’ve got the exact opposite thing. … We’re actually committing to what we said we would do.”
By the numbers: Biden said that 18,000 people have been evacuated since July, 13,000 since the military lift began on Aug. 14 and “thousands more” on chartered flights.
He said that U.S. forces went outside the airport gate and brought 169 Americans over the wall.
The Biden administration also worked with the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post to “successfully” evacuate 204 of their employees in the country.
What he’s saying: “This is one of the largest, most difficult air lifts in history, and the only country in the world capable of projecting this much power on the far side of the world with this degree of precision is the United States of America,” Biden said.
“But let me be clear: any American who wants to come home, we will get you home. Make no mistake, this evacuation mission is dangerous. It involves risks to our armed forces, and it’s being conducted under difficult circumstances,” he added.
The Biden administration has been in “constant contact” with the Taliban to “ensure that civilians have safe passage to the airport.”
“We’ve made it clear to the Taliban that any attack, any attack on our forces or disruption of our operations at the airport will be met with swift and forceful response.”
Biden officials said they are aware that the Taliban has harassed and in some cases assaulted Americans and Afghans traveling to the Kabul airport, according to the Hill.
In a meeting with lawmakers on Friday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he is open to expanding the U.S. presence beyond the airport. “I haven’t ruled out any particular option going forward,” he said. “If I believe a different course is warranted, I will absolutely recommend that to the president.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken also told lawmakers there are “very legitimate questions about whether or not we should have gotten more people out sooner, we will have that discussion at the right time.”