US Foreign Policy Updates
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Joe Biden pledged to evacuate any American attempting to leave Afghanistan and insisted that the failed US airlift made “significant progress”, rejecting suggestions that his administration had ignored warnings that the Taliban would capture Kabul at lightning speed.
“This is one of the largest and most difficult airlifts in history,” Biden said in a televised address to the nation Friday afternoon. “But let me be clear, every American [who] want to come home, we will take you home.”
Biden said the US has evacuated 13,000 people since it began military airlift on Aug. 14, but tens of thousands of US citizens and eligible Afghans are still struggling to reach the airport that is close to the center of Kabul, the capital city. is now under the control of the Taliban.
The failure to get US citizens and Afghan allies out of the country before the Taliban takeover has become a source of criticism, with Republicans and even some Democrats questioning why the White House did not move more quickly when the decision was made in April to to withdraw the troops.
Bill Roggio, a military analyst who interacts with US citizens unable to reach the airport, said the US evacuation operation was “outrageous”.
“Six days after the fall of Kabul and Americans are still trapped behind Taliban lines and every moment matters right now,” he told the The Washington City Times. “The Taliban are effectively holding an unknown number of Americans hostage to the situation they have created outside the airport by not allowing safe passage to the airport.”
Biden said the government was in “constant contact” with the Taliban and that the Islamist group allowed “to our knowledge” U.S. passport holders to pass through checkpoints they had set up outside the airport.
Major General William Taylor, the US military leadership’s deputy director for regional operations, said Taliban talks took place both with the Islamist group’s leadership and on the ground near the airport. “The things we ask for — passages — are happening and getting better,” Taylor said.
NATO foreign ministers issued a statement Friday calling on those in positions of authority in Afghanistan to respect and facilitate. . . safe and orderly departure, including via Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul”.
Biden admitted that other people trying to flee the county were trapped in the “crowd of all people just outside the wall at the airport” and said the government is “considering every opportunity and means to get people to the airport”.
The military had already gone “over the wall” and rescued 169 Americans, he added. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the incident took place “very close to the perimeter of the airport – very close” and that US troops had moved on foot to pull the evacuees to the airport.
Biden, however, rejected suggestions that the US military should expand the perimeter outside the Kabul airport, pointing out that doing so could exacerbate the already unstable situation and result in “an awful lot of unintended consequences”.
Kirby said the military was “prepared and positioned” to move beyond the airport to rescue trapped people trying to flee, but that “the main focus is on airport security and making sure”. . . air operations are resumed and continued”.
The president also made his most complete commitment yet to rescue Afghans who helped the US mission in the country and qualify to leave, adding that they were “as important, almost” as US citizens.
The US was forced to suspend evacuation efforts for about seven hours on Friday as officials struggled to build capacity at a US air base in Qatar to process Afghans fleeing the country.
“We interrupted flights in Kabul for a few hours this morning to ensure that we can process the arriving evacuees at the transit point, but our commander . . . has already ordered to resume outbound flights,” Biden said, adding that the US had evacuated 5,700 people on Thursday.
About 11,000 US citizens have pre-registered their presence in Afghanistan, while tens of thousands of Afghans who assisted the US mission are also eligible for evacuation.
US defense officials say they have the capacity to fly 5,000-9,000 people a day from the airport, but have managed to fly only 2,000 a day. US officials attribute this to the slow processing of names by the State Department and to Taliban checkpoints in the city that prevent evacuees from making it to the airport. On Friday, the US had 5,700 troops at the airport.
Biden had pledged to leave in full by August 31, but has hinted he could extend the timeline.
Meanwhile, the president declined suggestions. His government ignored warnings that the Taliban would take Kabul as soon as they did. The speed with which the Islamist group captured the capital has resulted in a much slower and more dangerous airlift than the military had planned.
Nearly two dozen State Department officials sent a secret telegram to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in July, warning that the Taliban’s advance was much closer than other assessments had concluded.
“We have all kinds . . . of advice,” Biden said, adding that the consensus was that Afghan forces — which quickly disintegrated in the face of the Taliban advance — would successfully defend the capital until later this year.
He said: “I’ve made the decision, the buck stops with me. I took the consensus opinion.”