US President Joe Biden answers questions about the ongoing US military evacuations of US citizens and vulnerable Afghans in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on August 20, 2021.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images
President Joe Biden said Sunday that the US “has a long way to go and much could go wrong” with the chaotic evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies from Kabul following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan a week ago.
“The evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul will be hard and painful, no matter when it started or when we started,” the president said during a press conference at the White House.
“It would have been true if we had started a month ago or a month from now. There is no way to evacuate that many people without pain, ”said Biden.
The Biden administration is facing criticism of its handling of the entire US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The withdrawal, announced earlier this year, has been ravaged by chaos.
Thousands of people overcrowded Kabul airport, and some even fell to their deaths after clinging to the outside of a US military plane while attempting to leave the country. According to the British military, seven Afghan civilians were killed trying to enter Kabul airport.
The president said US forces continue to make progress in evacuating Kabul. Up to 33,000 people have been evacuated since July, 28,000 of them since August 14 and 11,000 at the weekend, Biden said.
The president reiterated that the Americans were the first priority for evacuating from Afghanistan and promised that “every American who wants to go home comes home”. Biden said his administration was in discussions about extending the deadline for leaving Afghanistan on August 31, but “our hope is we don’t have to extend”.
Biden also defended his decision to withdraw the US from the country, arguing that it was the “logical, rational and correct decision”.
US Defense officials said Sunday that the military is looking for alternative ways to get people to the airport safely as ISIS is targeted against the airport. The U.S. embassy in Afghanistan on Saturday warned American citizens not to travel to the airport due to security threats at the gates.
The Pentagon on Sunday ordered US commercial airlines to provide aircraft to transport people who have already flown out of the country to military bases in Europe and the Middle East.
The president stressed that planes taking off from Kabul do not fly directly to the US, but land at military bases and processing centers around the world. Security clearances are in place at these locations for anyone who is not a U.S. citizen, he added.
Biden’s job admission rates have fallen amid the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan. A poll published by NBC News on Sunday shows the vast majority of adults surveyed say they disapprove of the president’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan, with only 25% saying they are okay with how he’s handling it.
Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said in an interview with Fox News on Sunday that 8,000 people have been evacuated from Kabul on 60 flights in the past 24 hours.
The US has also reached an agreement with about two dozen countries on four continents that are helping, or soon to help, people brainwashed out of Kabul, Blinken said.
– CNBC’s Leslie Josephs and Brian Schwartz contributed to the coverage