President Joe Biden on Friday vowed to evacuate all American citizens and Afghan allies out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, saying that U.S military personnel are capable of conducting the dangerous mission.
“We’re going to do everything that we can to provide safe evacuation for our Afghan allies, partners, and Afghans who might be targeted because of their association with the United States,” he said in his second national address this week on the chaotic situation in Afghanistan.
“Let me be clear: Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home.”
Biden said about 18,000 individuals have been evacuated from the country since late July, with about 13,000 of those in the last week.
But human rights groups have said that thousands more are stuck outside the airport, their escape plans halted either by Taliban checkpoints or paperwork problems. Earlier this week, an unknown number of individuals died while clinging to the side of U.S. military aircraft in a desperate attempt to leave the country.
State and Defense Department officials have said they are processing people as quickly as possible, but have faced logistical issues concerning where to send the large number of evacuees.
But Biden on Friday promised that the U.S. military mission there — about 6,000 troops have deployed in recent days to secure the airport and help with processing — will not end while the need to evacuate individuals still exists.
“Make no mistake, this evacuation mission is dangerous,” he said. “It involves risks to armed forces … I cannot promise what the final outcome will be, but as commander-in-chief, I can assure you that I will mobilize every resource necessary.”
Biden said that U.S. officials have been “in constant contact” with Taliban leadership in Kabul, to ensure safe passage of individuals to the airport.
Reporters challenged Biden’s assertion that “we know of no circumstance where American citizens, carrying an American passport, [arent’] getting through to the airport,” citing numerous social media posts from the Afghanistan capital showing scenes of harassment and attacks by Taliban fighters on would-be evacuees.
“We have an agreement that [the Taliban] will let pass through the checkpoints any Americans,” Biden said in response.
He also again defended his decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from the country this year, saying that after nearly 20 years of involvement in Afghan security, the risks to American personnel were no longer acceptable.
“We are going to retain over-the-horizon capabilities if [terrorist groups] were to come back to Afghanistan, to be able to take them out,” he said. “This is where we should be. This is about America leading the world, and all our allies have agreed with that.”
The American evacuation mission — which Biden dubbed “one of the largest most difficult airlifts in history” — is scheduled to run through Aug. 31. The president vowed to remain longer if need be, but did not discuss whether Taliban officials might concede to extending the timeline further.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.