President Joe Biden has pledged to Americans still trapped in Afghanistan: “We will get you home.”
Biden’s comments at a White House news conference on Friday come as the US government struggles to ramp up a massive airlift clearing Americans, other foreigners and vulnerable Afghans through the Kabul airport and rescuing them following a Taliban takeover of the country.
Biden is facing criticism for a chaotic and often violent scene outside the airport as crowds struggle to reach safety inside. He called the past week “heartbreaking,” but insisted his administration was working hard to smooth and speed the evacuations.
“I don’t think anyone of us can see these pictures and not feel that pain on a human level,” Biden said, but “now I’m focused on getting this job done.”
As many as three flights out of Kabul were expected in the next few hours, going to Bahrain and carrying perhaps 1,500 evacuees in all, said an official. Some 5,700 had been flown out overnight.
With desperate crowds thronging Kabul’s airport, and Taliban fighters ringing its perimeter, the US government renewed its advice to Americans and others that it could not guarantee safe passage for any of those desperately seeking seats on the planes inside.
The August 31 deadline “is contributing to the chaos and the panic at the airport because you have Afghans who think that they have 10 days to get out of this country or that door is closing forever,” said Republican Peter Meijer, who served in Iraq and also worked in Afghanistan to help aid workers provide humanitarian relief.
While Biden has previously blamed Afghans for the US failure to get out more allies ahead of this month’s sudden Taliban takeover, US officials told The Associated Press that American diplomats had formally urged weeks ago that the administration ramp up evacuation efforts.
Biden has said that the chaos that unfolded as part of the withdrawal was inevitable as the nearly 20-year war came to an end.
He said he was following the advice of Afghanistan’s US-backed president, Ashraf Ghani, in not expanding US efforts to fly out translators and other Afghans in danger for the past work with Americans any earlier. Ghani fled the country last weekend as the Taliban seized the capital.
Biden also said that many at-risk Afghan allies had not wanted to leave the country. But refugee groups point to years of backlogs of applications from thousands of those Afghans for visas that would let them take refuge in the United States.