President Joe Biden addressed the crisis in Afghanistan for the second time in several days, largely focusing on the progress made but acknowledging the danger involved in the mission to evacuate thousands of Americans and Afghan citizens.
“This is the one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history,” he said.
Biden focused on what the military has accomplished, saying that Kabul’s airport has been secured and that military flights and civilian charters have resumed.
“We’ve already evacuated more than 18,000 people since July and approximately 13,000 since our military lift began on August 14,” he said, adding that thousands of American citizens and SIV (special immigrant visa) applicants were also evacuated on charter flights.
He said the U.S. evacuated 5,700 people yesterday, though during a briefing earlier in the week, Pentagon officials said the U.S. could potentially move 5,000 to 9,000 people per day. The president also said officials are working to verify how many Americans still remain in the country and stressed that citizens will be able to leave the country.
“Let me be clear: Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home,” Biden said.
Just before Biden spoke, evacuation flights from Kabul’s airport were temporarily halted due to delays in processing individuals in third-party countries, a White House official told CNN. The same official said that a commander “has issued the order to recommence” after an eight-hour pause.
Biden said he “knows of no circumstance” where American citizens haven’t been able to make it through checkpoints to the airport, despite reporting to the contrary. Not long after Biden’s address, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reportedly told House lawmakers that Americans had been beaten by Taliban members in Kabul.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby then told reporters, “We’ve communicated to the Taliban that that is absolutely unacceptable and we want free passage through these checkpoints for documented Americans.”
“By and large, that’s happening,” Kirby added.
Biden also said Friday that he has spoken to British prime minister Boris Johnson, German chancellor Angela Merkel, and French president Emmanuel Macron, saying they all agreed to convene a G7 meeting next week to “coordinate our united approach moving forward.”
In a recent interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Biden was adamant that the decision to pull troops from Afghanistan was the right one and that there was no withdrawal scenario that would’ve been ideal.
“The idea, somehow, that there was a way to get out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens,” Biden said.
The rapid collapse of the Afghan military, giving way to the Taliban seizing control of the country, has prompted fierce criticism of the U.S. withdrawal plan and the military intelligence that informed it.
Biden maintains that the military’s intelligence didn’t indicate that a Taliban takeover was imminent, though the New York Times reported that more recent intelligence suggested that the Afghan military was not prepared for a Taliban attack and that a swift collapse was possible. Biden took ownership of the move on Friday.
“I made the decision. The buck stops with me,” he said. “I took the consensus opinion. The consensus opinion was, that in fact, it would not occur, if it occurred, until later in the year.”
Biden also pushed back on the idea that the situation in Afghanistan could affect the United States’s standing with its allies.
“I have seen no question of our credibility from our allies around the world,” he said.
The president stated that the U.S. is in “constant contact” with the Taliban over the logistics of evacuation.
“We’ve made clear to the Taliban that any attack on our forces or disruption of our operations at the airport will be met with swift and forceful response,” Biden reiterated.