Biden publicizes “unbelievable” evacuation operation from Kabul, however warns of ongoing hazard: NPR
President Biden said the US would continue to evacuate US citizens and US Afghan allies from Afghanistan. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP via Getty Images Hide caption
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP via Getty Images
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP via Getty Images
President Biden said Sunday that the US has evacuated nearly 28,000 people from Afghanistan since August 14, including around 11,000 people in about 36 hours over the weekend.
In a televised address from the White House, Biden reiterated that “every American who wants to go home comes home,” despite a hasty US withdrawal that has left thousands of US citizens and US Afghan allies trying to get out to flee a country that is now under Taliban control.
Biden said the government’s first priority in Kabul was to get American citizens out as quickly as possible, and the US had added a “safety zone” around the airport. The US has used phones, emails, and other forms of communication to locate Americans and try to get them onto American grounds, he said.
“It’s an incredible operation,” said Biden. But, he added, “the evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul will be tough and painful” no matter when it began. “There is no way to evacuate so many people without pain and loss,” said Biden.
Thousands of Afghans, including many who helped the US military in the war, are crammed outside Kabul airport, risking being beaten by Taliban fighters in hopes of getting a flight out of the country. Some were trampled or suffocated in the crowd. The airport is controlled by the US military, but the Taliban are in control of the rest of the city and most of the country.
On the previous Sunday, the White House announced that 23 U.S. military flights had evacuated around 3,900 people from the country from Saturday to Sunday and 35 coalition planes had evacuated an additional 3,900 people.
The US has expanded the security zone to include Kabul Airport
The US has expanded the “safe zone” around the airport to increase access for people trying to leave the country, Biden said, but did not go into details of what exactly that means. “We’re working hard to make sure we have a chance to get them out,” including changing the “gate operations,” which is why they’ve been able to increase the number of people getting out, he said.
The Taliban have promised to allow US citizens and Afghans to leave the country safely to transit, but people have often been stopped or beaten when trying to get to the airport. The Taliban have set up checkpoints.
In talks with the Taliban, they were “cooperative to expand part of the perimeter” around the airport, said Biden.
When asked by a reporter whether Biden can trust the Taliban promises, he replied, “I don’t trust anyone, including you,” he said.
If the Taliban want to help the Afghan people, they need additional help, including economic aid, Biden said. “The Taliban have said – we’ll see whether they mean business or not – they are looking for legitimacy,” he said. According to Biden, the Taliban do not want the US to completely remove its diplomatic presence. But at the moment, he said, “it’s all just talk”.
So far, Taliban militants have not taken any action against US forces and “by and large” kept their statements about travel permits for Americans, Biden said. “And we’ll see. We’ll see if what they say turns out to be true or not.”
Biden also repeatedly stressed the danger that American troops and innocent civilians continue to face. “We still have a long way to go and a lot can go wrong.” Terrorists, including ISIS and its Afghan subsidiary known as ISIS-K, could “try to take advantage of the situation – including trying to strike from a distance,” he said.
Planes don’t come straight to America
Planes don’t fly direct to the United States, but rather to processing stations in two dozen countries on four continents, Biden said. This will allow the US to sort and process the evacuees and provide a safe place for special immigrant visa applicants and others to complete their papers while the US conducts security and background checks, he said.
The US has also activated the first stage of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program, which was conceived after the Berlin Airlift in World War II and relies on the voluntary efforts of commercial airliners to fly people from rescue stations to the US or a third country.
Aircraft taking off from Kabul land at military bases and transit centers around the world, where the US is conducting security clearing for anyone who is not a US citizen or legal permanent resident, Biden said. “Once reviewed and cleared, we will welcome these Afghans who have helped us in the war effort over the past twenty years to their new home in the United States. Because that’s us. This is America.”
Biden said he still hopes to meet the August 31 evacuation deadline from Kabul, despite previously saying it could be extended.