Chaos has enveloped Kabul after Afghanistan’s president fled the country over the weekend and the Taliban seized control of the presidential palace, all but ending America’s 20-year campaign as it began: under Taliban rule.
As the crisis intensifies, with images from Kabul showing Afghans storming the airport tarmac and climbing onto military planes after the U.S. assumed control of the airport, President Joe Biden briefly left Camp David to address the nation from the White House on Monday.
The Pentagon said that 6,000 U.S. troops were being sent to the country’s capital as the military races to evacuate people from an increasingly chaotic Kabul. Despite criticism, the Biden administration is sticking by its decision to withdraw troops from the country by Aug. 31, ending America’s longest war.
At 4:19 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Monday, President Joe Biden concluded a speech defending his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan, tapping his binder on a podium in the East Room of the White House for emphasis.
By 4:57 p.m., the presidential helicopter, Marine One, was in the air, headed for the presidential retreat, Camp David. For Biden, there was no looking back.
As Biden withdrew to Camp David, his administration officials were left in Washington to field the lingering questions the president did not address: What exactly will be the fate of endangered Afghans struggling to leave the country? And why was the administration so surprised by the speed of the Taliban’s takeover?
Even members of Biden’s own party are raising questions about the intelligence on Afghanistan. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.,chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, proposed investigating what led to the government’s underestimation of the Taliban advance.
-ABC News’ Sarah Kolinovsky
The State Department confirmed Tuesday that all U.S. Embassy personnel have been evacuated from Kabul — leaving a small core group based at the airport — and the priority has shifted to evacuating U.S. citizens and Afghans who helped the U.S.
To that end, the embassy has notified the first group of U.S. citizens to travel to the airport for evacuation flights.
While the Taliban have provided assurances that they will allow safe passage of civilians to the airport, it has been reported that people have been beaten or blocked by Taliban fighters.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a briefing Tuesday that officials don’t take the Taliban at their word and will monitor the situation, but the U.S. is not providing safe passage for those leaving the country.
A U.S. official confirmed that an email went out to Americans who have been notified that says: “the United States government cannot guarantee your security as you make this trip.”
While most embassy personnel have left, the State Department is sending some diplomats into the country, including consular affairs personnel, to help with evacuation efforts. Among those is Ambassador John Bass, who was the most recent Senate-confirmed U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, serving from 2017 to 2020. He is there to coordinate the evacuation effort, while Ambassador Ross Wilson, technically the charge d’affaires at the embassy, remains in charge of the U.S. mission.
The Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations is reviewing what happened Monday when a C-17 plane was swarmed by hundreds of people at Kabul’s airport and, later, human remains were found in the plane’s wheel well after it landed in Qatar.
A dramatic video taken earlier Monday showed some people clinging to the plane as it taxied down the runway in Kabul.
A defense official said the individuals swarming the plane had breached the runway from the civilian side of the airport. Air operations were suspended for hours at the airport Monday because of the crush of Afghan civilians desperate to leave Kabul.
“OSI is leading the review in coordination with the U.S. Air Force’s Air Mobility Command and international partners since it involves the loss of life on U.S. military aircraft,” Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek said in a statement. “OSI’s review will be thorough to ensure we obtain the facts regarding this tragic incident. Our hearts go out to the families of the deceased.”
-ABC News’ Luis Martinez
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a briefing from the agency on Tuesday that the U.S. remains cautious, yet prepared after the Taliban said it will allow for the safe passage of Americans and Afghans who aided in the U.S. mission to leave the country.
“We have also said there has been engagement with the Taliban on the ground in Kabul. This is a military-led channel. It’s a channel that is tactical, that, again, is focused rather squarely on issues like safe passage for civilians,” Price said. “It is manifestly in our interests to have these open channels of dialogue with the Taliban.”
He said the government has received “assurances” but acknowledged the U.S. response in the coming days will depend on the group’s actions.
“We’re going to be looking for the follow-through. We’ll be looking for the deeds,” Price said.
He also said the State Department is dispatching career diplomat John Bass, who formerly served as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, to Kabul “to lead logistics coordination and consular efforts,” as the race to evacuation thousands continues.