WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said flights out of Afghanistan have resumed Friday afternoon, 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, said the president.
Speaking at the White House, Biden said over 18,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan since the end of July and 5,700 in the last 24 hours.
Biden’s remarks come as 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.
The president said the end of August was still the intended date of departure. “I think we can get it done by then, but we’re going to make that judgement as we go,” he said.
Biden defended his decision to pull out American forces, saying the only alternative would have been to commit even more U.S. troops to fight an unwinnable war.
“The only rational thing to do was to preposition American forces ahead of time, to begin the process of evacuating American citizens, SIVs and others who helped us,” he said.
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 trying to access the airport, as well as the stories of Afghans who helped the U.S. military and now face mortal danger at the hands of the Taliban.
Critics have faulted the president for not showing more empathy for these people.
Thousands of Afghans have fled to the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul seeking a flight out of the country after the Taliban swept across the country.
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
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.”
A boy is processed through an Evacuee Control Checkpoint (ECC) during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan August 18, 2021. Picture taken August 18, 2021.
US Marines | Reuters
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 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.
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