President Joe Biden speaks about the evacuation of American citizens, their families, SIV applicants and vulnerable Afghans in the East Room of the White House, Friday, August 20, 2021, in Washington. Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken listen.
Manuel Balce Ceneta | AP
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden said flights from Afghanistan resumed Friday afternoon and he promised to get out of the country any Americans who wanted to leave.
Almost as important as the liberation of the Americans is the evacuation of US military translators and others who have helped American troops, the president said.
Biden said at the White House that over 18,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan since late July and 5,700 in the last 24 hours.
Biden’s remarks come as U.S. forces evacuate as many people as possible before setting a self-imposed deadline of August 31 to leave Afghanistan.
The president said the end of August was the planned departure day. “I think we can make it by then, but we will make that judgment over time,” he said.
No flights left Kabul Airport for at least 8 hours because Qatar was at capacity, two US officials told NBC News. According to Reuters, the State Department is expected to announce flights from Kabul can land in Europe as the US looks to other locations to dispatch planes.
The president defended his decision to withdraw US forces despite the mounting humanitarian crisis following the Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan, arguing that there was no way “to get out of it without chaos”.
Thousands of Afghans have fled the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul to seek a flight out of the country after the Taliban swept the country.
Evacuees populate the interior of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft that is bringing about 640 Afghans to Qatar from Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15, 2021.
Courtesy Defense One | Handout via Reuters
Earlier this week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters that the Pentagon was unable to safely escort Americans to the airport for evacuation.
“I currently do not have the opportunity to expand operations into Kabul,” said Austin when asked about those who cannot reach the airport gates because they are behind Taliban checkpoints.
The US is relying on an agreement with the Taliban to ensure safe passage for Americans. While the State Department has declared that the Taliban have met their obligations to ensure safe transit for US citizens, some Afghan nationals are being held up by the militants.
Biden said he did not plan to extend the US security perimeter beyond the airport as it would have “unintended consequences”.
“We are in constant contact with the Taliban leadership in Kabul and with the Taliban leadership in Doha,” he said. “And we coordinated what we do.”
Read more about developments in Afghanistan:
A boy is processed through an Evacuee Control Checkpoint (ECC) during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan August 18, 2021. Photo taken on August 18, 2021.
US Marines | Reuters
The Pentagon has said its goal is to move around 5,000 to 9,000 people from Kabul every day. US Army Major General William “Hank” Taylor said Thursday that the speed of departure depends on who is allowed to leave the country by the State Department.
Taylor expects a departure speed of one US military cargo plane per hour. The Pentagon has moved about 5,000 US soldiers to Kabul to provide security and help with the evacuations.