Biden Says U.S. Is Committed to Evacuating Afghan Refugees
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden said he is strongly committed to evacuating both Americans and Afghan allies following the Taliban takeover that plunged Kabul into violent chaos.
Biden, speaking to reporters Friday after an address from the East Room of the White House, said he would mobilize “every resource necessary” to evacuate Americans, and confirmed that he was making the same pledge to Afghan asylum seekers.
“Let me be clear: Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home,” Biden said. Afghan allies who assisted the U.S. are “equally important, almost” as American citizens seeking to leave, he added.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were briefed by their national security team earlier in the day, amid deepening criticism over the administration’s handling of the withdrawal from the country and mayhem outside the Kabul airport.
The administration said it had secured safe passage from the Taliban for those looking to leave, but there have been reports of violence. The crowd of thousands gathered outside the airport has spurred some U.S. lawmakers to fault the U.S. visa processing effort.
“We 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 said.
He said he understood that those with U.S. passports were being allowed through Taliban checkpoints, but said the U.S. would “do whatever needs to be done” so Americans can exit the country.
But he also acknowledged that U.S. troops were unlikely to expand the perimeter around the airport, and that a crush of refugees surrounding the facility could make it difficult for Americans to get through.
Biden also said he couldn’t “promise what the final outcome will be, or that it will be without the risk of loss.” And he said the U.S. doesn’t currently know how many American citizens looking to leave remained in the country, though he added that the administration was working to determine that number.
The U.S. has evacuated approximately 13,000 people since Aug. 14, including 5,700 on Thursday, and facilitated the departure of additional charter flights. Biden has said U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan until all Americans who seek to leave are able to, even if the evacuation extends beyond his Aug. 31 deadline for troops to withdraw.
The president also dismissed criticism that the U.S. should have acted more quickly to evacuate Americans after reports that a group of diplomats in Kabul filed a dissent cable warning that the Taliban was gaining ground fast.
“I made the decision. The buck stops with me. I took the consensus opinion,” Biden said. “The consensus opinion was, that in fact, it would not occur, if it occurred, until later in the year.”
The president was previously scheduled to travel to his home in Delaware for the weekend, but the White House announced Friday he would remain in Washington for at least one more night.
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