Biden delivers remarks on Afghanistan as panic grips Kabul airport

Biden delivers remarks on Afghanistan as panic grips Kabul airport

August 22, 2021

Biden refuses to rule out extending August 31 deadline to withdraw from Afghanistan and extends safe zone around Kabul airport: President says the US has evacuated 33,000 people and describes mission as ‘hard and painful’

  • President Biden spoke to the nation from the White House Roosevelt Room
  • It followed fresh concerns about the fate of American nationals stuck in Kabul
  • He is due to speak to G7 leaders on Tuesday to coordinate response efforts 
  • Critics have accused him of being slow to communicate with allies
  • And he faces more questions about whether he was warned of rapid collapse

President Joe Biden says the United States is ‘working hard’ and as ‘fast as we can’ to get Americans and U.S. allies out of Afghanistan, noting that 33,000 people have been evacuated from the country since July.

Biden, who set an evacuation deadline of August 31, says about 11,000 people were lifted out of Kabul in less than 36 hours, describing the evacuation ‘hard and painful’ and admitting ‘a lot could still go wrong’. 

‘Let me be clear — the evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul is going to be hard and painful,’ Biden said. 

‘No matter when it started, when we began. It would have been true if we had started a month ago, or a month from now. There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss and heartbreaking images you see on television.’ 

He said defense officials ‘hope’ they will not have to extend the evacuation operation, but ‘there are going to be discussions I suspect on how far along we are in the process’.

President Joe Biden says the United States is ‘working hard’ and as ‘fast as we can’ to get Americans and U.S. allies out of Afghanistan, noting that 33,000 people have been evacuated from the country since July

‘Our first priority in Kabul is getting American citizens out of the situation as quickly and safely as possible,’ Biden said.

‘Any American that wants to get home will get home.’ 

Biden says for security reasons, he cannot share what plans entail for moving Americans safely to the Kabul airport.  

He also said the government is ‘looking to move our Afghan allies’ out of the country as well, noting that citizens of NATO allies and Afghan allies were amongst the 11,000 individuals evacuated this past weekend.

The president stated that as evacuation efforts are underway he wanted to be clear about three things:  

‘One, planes taking off from Kabul are not flying directly to the United States,’ said Biden, explaining that the planes are landing at U.S. Military bases and transit centers around the world where security screenings will take place for non-citizens.

‘Two, at these sites where they are landing we are conducting scrutiny security screening for everyone who is not a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident.

‘Anyone arriving in the United States will have undergone a background check.’

He also noted that the government will welcome these individuals into the U.S. 

‘Three, once screened and cleared we will welcome these Afghans we helped us in the war effort over the last 20 years,’ said Biden.

His speech marked the latest attempt by the White House of a crisis that is rapidly turning into a humanitarian and political disaster. 

A similar effort on Friday backfired when Biden claimed that he knew of no cases of Americans being stopped from reaching Kabul airport – only to be flatly contradicted by the Pentagon.

Things worsened over the weekend. The U.S. was forced to tell Americans not to try to brave the chaos around the airport unless they have been told to report there after at least seven people died, including a two-year-old, in the crush.

President Biden met with his national security in the White House Situation Room on Sunday morning as they faced fresh questions about how much they knew of intelligence assessments that said the Taliban could be in Kabul within days

At least seven people have been killed at Kabul airport by stampeding crowds, as thousands of panicked Afghans try to flee the country, the British military said on Sunday

Afghans trying to flee are surrounding Kabul airport where the Taliban are using live rounds and beatings to maintain order. Americans were told not to try to reach the airport on Saturday

And it emerged that evacuation flights were dropping flares and making steep combat landings after warnings that terrorists of the Islamic State might try to shoot down a plane.

The Biden administration has given no firm estimate of the number of Americans seeking to leave Afghanistan. Some have put the total between 10,000 and 15.000.

A White House officials said U.S. planes flew 3900 people out of Kabul in the previous 24 hours. Coalition aircraft rescued a similar number. 

Biden is still facing questions about why his administration did not have a better evacuation plan after being warned that the Taliban could sweep into Kabul within days. 

He was also slammed by allies and opponents for staying at Camp David last weekend as the crisis deepened.   

And even allies such as the United Kingdom have voiced their frustration this weekend at the way Biden pushed ahead with such a rapid withdrawal.

A former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan said the hasty retreat would embolden enemies, including terrorist groups.

‘It has damaged our alliances, emboldened our adversaries and increased the risk to our own security. It has also flouted 20 years of work and sacrifice,’ said Ryan Crocker in a New York Times essay. 

Against that backdrop of criticism, the White House tried to show a president hard at work. 

It sent out a situation room photograph of Biden meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other members of his national security team.

Earlier, the Pentagon ordered six U.S. commercial airlines to help move evacuees from temporary sites outside of Afghanistan. 

And this week Biden will join a virtual meeting of the G7 to discuss cooperation between the nations as the Taliban overruns Afghanistan, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in her statement on the upcoming meeting.

‘The leaders will discuss continuing our close coordination on Afghanistan policy and evacuating our citizens, the brave Afghans who stood with us over the last two decades, and other vulnerable Afghans,’ Psaki’s statement reads.

‘They will also discuss plans to provide humanitarian assistance and support for Afghan refugees,’ she continued.

‘The meeting will build on President Biden’s calls this week with G7 leaders Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President Emmanuel Macron of France, and Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy.’ 

President Joe Biden will participate in a virtual meeting with G7 leaders on Tuesday to discuss the ongoing situation in Afghanistan

The G7 intergovernmental group includes leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

The call comes after Biden received a slew of backlash last week for not talking with any world leaders in the aftermath of the Taliban takeover. Hours after reports came out attacking him for his inaction, Biden spoke with Johnson. 

The G7 intergovernmental group includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

On Sunday afternoon, Biden will deliver remarks on Afghanistan – and Hurricane Henri response – at the White House.

Britain currently holds the rotating leadership of the G7 and announced earlier on Sunday that it called for the group to meet virtually this week.

The meeting comes as chaos in Afghanistan continues to unfold, and nations scramble to evacuate their citizens from Kabul.

So far, Biden has sent in 6,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan to help with evacuation efforts after the Taliban was able to take over the country in just over a week. This means the U.S. has deployed more troops into Afghanistan than the number of American citizens it has extracted from the country since the Taliban swept into power on August 14. 

The Pentagon said Saturday they were only able to evacuate 2,500 Americans from Kabul in the past week. 

Overall, the U.S. was able to evacuate 7,000 people from the pandemonium at the Kabul airport since last weekend, including 3,800 in the last day.

Up to 15,000 Americans still need to be evacuated and the administration hopes to get out 50-60,000 more Afghan allies and their families.

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