WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said flights out of Afghanistan have resumed Friday afternoon after an hours-long pause, and he pledged to get all Americans out of the country who wanted to leave. Nearly as important as getting Americans out is evacuating the U.S. military translators and others who helped American troops, the president said
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said flights out of Afghanistan have resumed Friday afternoon after an hours-long pause, and he pledged to get all Americans out of the country who wanted to leave.
Nearly as important as getting Americans out is evacuating the U.S. military translators and others who helped American troops, the president said alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Speaking at the White House, Biden said over 18,000 people have been evacuated from the country since the end of July and 5,700 in the last 24 hours. At the Pentagon, spokesman John Kirby said that the vast majority of evacuees have been Afghan nationals. Kirby added that the U.S. military’s top priority is to airlift U.S. citizens and their families first.
Biden’s remarks come as more than 5,000 U.S. forces rush to airlift as many people as possible out of the country ahead of a self-imposed deadline to depart Afghanistan by Aug. 31.
“I think we can get it done by then, but we’re going to make that judgment as we go,” Biden said of the withdrawal timeline.
Evacuees crowd the interior of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft, carrying some 640 Afghans to Qatar from Kabul, Afghanistan August 15, 2021.
Courtesy of Defense One | Handout via Reuters
The president also repeated his belief that there was never a time, in the past or the future, that American troops could have departed Afghanistan without chaos.
“There’s no way we would have been able to leave Afghanistan without there being some of what you’re seeing now,” he said.
For many Americans, “what you’re seeing now” are scenes of desperate families with children fleeing to the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul seeking a flight out of the country. Critics have faulted the president for not showing more empathy for these people.
Earlier this week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters that the Pentagon wasn’t able to safely escort Americans to the airport for evacuation.
“I don’t have the capability to go out and extend operations currently into Kabul,” Austin said when asked about those who cannot reach the gates of the airport because they are behind Taliban checkpoints.
The United States is relying on an agreement with the Taliban to guarantee the safe passage of Americans. While the State Department has said the Taliban have kept their commitments on the safe passage of U.S. citizens, some Afghan nationals are being stopped by the militants.
Biden said he did not plan to expand the American security perimeter beyond the airport, because it would draw “unintended consequences.”
“We have been in constant contact with Taliban leadership on the ground in Kabul, as well as the Taliban leadership in Doha,” he said. “And we have been coordinating what we are doing.”
When asked at the Pentagon if U.S. forces would expand their mission outside of the airport perimeter, Kirby declined to speculate on future military operations. He reiterated that Biden would have to approve such a mission.
At the State Department, spokesman Ned Price told reporters that American citizens in Afghanistan will soon receive personalized phone calls coordinating their departure out of the country or relocation to the United States, should they decide to leave.
The Pentagon has said that its goal is to airlift approximately 5,000 to 9,000 people a day out of Kabul. U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William “Hank” Taylor, deputy director for regional operations, said Thursday that the departure tempo is dependent on who has been cleared to leave the country through the State Department.
Taylor said he expected a departure pace of one U.S. military cargo aircraft per hour. But less than a day later, Taylor’s expectation collided with the reality of hours of halted flights.
The Pentagon confirmed the flights were delayed about seven hours during a briefing on Friday saying the temporary pause was because the aircraft did not have a destination to fly to outside of Kabul. Taylor said that at least one flight has since left Kabul, with other aircraft lined up to take off.
Kirby added that the U.S. military is looking for additional locations to send evacuation flights.
Price said Friday that more than a dozen countries, including Turkey, Bahrain, Germany and Italy have agreed to transit Americans as well as Afghan nationals “through their territories to safety.”
“Albania, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Mexico, Poland, Qatar, Rwanda, Ukraine and Uganda have also made generous offers regarding the relocation efforts for at-risk Afghans,” Price added.