Facing mounting bipartisan pressure and an astonishing level of criticism from the corporate media, President Biden took to the podium for the second time this week to address the nation about the disaster unfolding in Afghanistan. On Monday, he returned from Camp David to deliver remarks and took no questions. Various administration spokespeople have made statements and taken questions this week. All refused to guarantee the evacuation of all Americans or allied Afghan citizens.
Biden was flanked today by Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. He said that he had just met with the national security leadership team and provided an update on the current evacuation effort. He also discussed the collaboration with our NATO allies and took questions from selected reporters.
The president noted there are currently 6,000 troops on the ground, with 13,500 Americans and eligible Afghanis evacuated since August 4. That makes a total of 18,000 since mid-July. Thousands more have left on private charters flights that America is facilitating. The operation commander lifted a brief hold on outbound flights this morning but has ordered them to resume.
On Thursday, the military took 5,700 evacuees out of the country. The State Department is attempting to verify the number and location of Americans still in Afghanistan. President Biden said America is working closely with the other NATO countries to facilitate the evacuation of their citizens through the airport. While he made no guarantees about the outcome, Biden vowed that every American who wants to leave will be able to.
He said the Taliban know that America will meet any attack on our troops or interference with the evacuation operation with a swift and forceful response. America is also on alert for any threat from the ISIS fighters released from prison following the Taliban takeover. Biden emphasized that ISIS and the Taliban are not allies. Secretary Blinken is working with NATO partners to ensure terrorist groups cannot use Afghanistan to facilitate attacks.
The G-7 will meet next week to determine a united approach to Afghanistan and management of the anticipated refugee crisis as Afghanis flee Taliban rule. Biden has spoken with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Emmanuel Macron. Biden acknowledged that the images from the last week have been heartbreaking and reiterated his case for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.
Zeke Miller from the Associated Press asked President Biden about the criticism from our allies about the chaotic departure. The president said he was unaware of any complaints and repeated his commitment to evacuate all Americans, SIVs, and other vulnerable Afghans. When asked if American would maintain its presence after August 31 to evacuate people, Biden said he expects to finish before that date.
America no longer has an embassy in Afghanistan. A reporter from Bloomberg asked how counterterrorism operations in the country could continue. Biden said dealing with terror threats would be conducted the same way as in other countries where we do not maintain a military presence.
ABC and NPR reporters challenged Biden’s characterization of the evacuation operation. One said there are verified reports of Americans and SIVs not being able to access the airport. Another reporter noted news of chaos on the ground. Biden said that these individuals need to get to the airport with their families, but expanding the perimeter would put troops in additional danger.
When a reporter from NPR asked him about a leaked dissent memo from the State Department, Biden insisted that the decision about the manner and timing of withdrawal was a consensus view. When asked why evacuations didn’t begin earlier, Biden blamed the Afghan military collapse. He said that if the Afghan military had stayed to fight, the situation would be different.
In the last 24 hours, an increasingly bleak picture is emerging on the ground. Thursday evening, photos emerged of a baby being handed over razor wire to American soldiers. CNN’s Clarissa Ward provides excellent coverage from the Kabul airport.
Video shows a toddler being handed over the Kabul airport wall to US troops.
— CNN International (@cnni) August 20, 2021
Ward reports that chaos, loud noise, filth, and debris surround those who have made it into the airport. “I’m watching children coming up to me, being like, ‘Please can you get me some food.’ So, it’s clearly not working. Why did it have to be that way?”
Most of America is asking the same question. The U.S. is instructing American citizens and those we promised to evacuate to make their way to the airport in increasingly dangerous conditions. Meanwhile, there are credible reports that the Taliban is going door to door and using checkpoints to identify and, in some cases, execute Afghans who may have worked with the U.S. or our allies.
President Biden will remain at the White House rather than returning to his home in Delaware this weekend. You can watch the full address here: