President Biden on Friday declared that the U.S. has made “significant progress” getting citizens and allies out of Afghanistan, as he convened a White House press conference to address the intense criticism he‘s suffered over the chaos at the Kabul airport.
“Any American who wants to come, we will get you home,” he said. “As the commander-in-chief, I can assure you that I will mobilize every resource.”
“Make no mistake, this evacuation mission involves risks to the armed forces, and it’s being conducted under difficult circumstances and involves risks to our armed forces,” he said. “I cannot promise what the final outcome will be.”
Mr. Biden said that “thousands more” have been evacuated in private charter flights facilitated by the U.S. government. Those evacuated on the charter flights include American citizens, permanent residents and Afghans who worked alongside the U.S.
If the Taliban obstructs rescue efforts, Mr. Biden said, they will be met with a “swift and forceful response.”
Mr. Biden raised some eyebrows when he said there were no circumstances in which Americans cannot get to the Kabul airport. That contradicts media reports of chaos and violence along the roads to the airport, including Taliban militants setting up checkpoints blocking Americans from reaching the airport.
“To the best of our knowledge, Taliban checkpoints there are letting through people showing American passports,” he said.
The U.S. 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.”
Thousands of Afghans are waiting for hours in the hot sun outside of Kabul airport only to face more long waits once they make it inside.
Signs of desperation among frantic Afghans are increasing. A video was circulated this week of a baby being passed out of the crowd outside the airport wall to a U.S. serviceman on the wall, who lifts the baby over the razor wire.
The BBC reported Friday that the Taliban have stepped up their hunt for Afghans who assisted Americans and the previous Afghan government. The report said Taliban militants are going door-to-door to find people and threaten their family members.
“Last week has been heartbreaking,” Mr. Biden said. “We’ve seen gut-wrenching and sheer desperation.”
Mr. Biden bristled when asked if the bungled Afghanistan withdrawal damaged U.S. credibility on the international stage. The president said he has seen “no question of our credibility from our allies around the world.”
Roughly 5,700 people were evacuated on Thursday, including 350 U.S. citizens, family members and special immigrant visa applications and other vulnerable Afghans, Mr. Biden said.
About 9,000 people have been airlifted out of the country since Saturday, according to officials.
The U.S. does not know how many Americans remain in Afghanistan and could be evacuated, national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CBS Evening News on Thursday.
Mr. Sullivan said the reason it’s unclear how many Americans are in Afghanistan is that some notify the U.S. embassy when they arrive, but fail to tell officials when they leave.
He said the US. will try to locate all of the Americans in Afghanistan by reviewing an existing database of Americans who are there and broadcast messages to them in many different ways.
Mr. Biden told ABC News this week that he did not order an evacuation sooner, fearing it would spark a “crisis in confidence” in the Afghan government. The government ultimately collapsed, however, within days of the American exit.
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