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'We will get you home': Biden promises safe evacuations for Americans, Afghan translators

President Joe Biden
Posted at 11:24 AM, Aug 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-20 16:54:42-04

At a press conference on Friday, President Joe Biden committed to bringing home every American citizen and Afghan translator who assisted the military despite the chaotic conditions surrounding the airport in Kabul.

"We will get you home," Biden said.

Biden said his administration plans to honor the "same commitment" for both U.S. citizens, Afghans who have applied for special immigrant visas, journalists who remain in the country and some Afghan women who may fear living under Taliban rule.

His promise comes as the military struggles to evacuate people from Kabul. Biden noted there was an hours-long "operational pause" in evacuations Friday, as there was no room to drop off evacuee arrivals in third-party countries.

On Friday, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the halt lasted six to seven hours. He told reporters during the briefing that before he came in to talk to the media, three flights had left Qatar and one had left Kabul and there was a potential flight getting ready to leave.

Biden said that despite the pause, 5,700 people were evacuated Friday, which is at the low end of the Pentagon's estimates for evacuation capacity. At a briefing on Thursday, the Pentagon projected the military could evacuate anywhere between 5,000 and 9,000 people a day.

Biden also said Friday that a total of 13,000 people had been evacuated from Kabul since Aug. 14, when the airport protection mission began. That works out to an average of just over 2,000 a day.

Kirby added that on Friday during the briefing that the U.S. military retrieved "a small number of people" close to the Kabul airport perimeter and brought 169 of them inside.

Biden said they were Americans, the Associated Press reported.

Officials have said that the biggest concern in conducting evacuations is getting people to the airport and ready to fly. Reports indicate that the Taliban have set up checkpoints throughout the city, preventing some from reaching the airport.

Biden said Friday that intelligence officials "have no indication" that American citizens with passports were having trouble reaching the airport. He did not address reports indicating that Afghans seeking to leave the country have not been as fortunate.

On Friday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said they had received "only a small number of reports from American citizens that their access has been impeded in some way" or faced "hardship or resistance" but that they're taking the reports very seriously.

While the U.S. has agreed to vacate Afghanistan by Aug. 31 in a peace agreement with the Taliban, Biden has expressed a willingness to move that deadline back to evacuate more people. On Friday, the president said that he believed the Pentagon would complete the evacuation mission by then but noted that officials would continue to monitor the situation in the coming days.

Biden also did not rule out ordering missions to extract Americans and Afghans from Kabul to get them to the airport, saying that "we are considering every option and opportunity to get people to the airport."

But on a call with House members on Friday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Americans have been beaten by the Taliban in Kabul.

Kirby, who could not confirm the reports, but said if they were true called them "unacceptable."

On Friday, Price said a dozen countries were partnering with the U.S. in relocation efforts for Americans and Afghans from Kabul.

“Over the past several days, we have mobilized a global effort through diplomatic channels to evacuate US citizens, personnel from partner nations, and of course at risk Afghans from Kabul,” Price said Friday during the briefing.

Price said Bahrain, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Qatar, Tajikistan, Turkey, the UAE, the United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan have been or will soon help transition Americans and others through their territories to safety.

In an interview with ABC News that aired on Thursday, Biden defended the troop drawdown, blaming the Taliban takeover not on faulty intelligence or poor decision making but a lack of fight from Afghan army.

"When you had the government of Afghanistan, the leader of that government, getting in a plane and taking off and going to another country, when you saw the significant collapse of the Afghan troops we had trained, almost 300,000 of them, just leaving their equipment and taking off. That's what happened; that's simply what happened," Biden said. "...the idea that the Taliban would take over was premised on the notion that somehow the 300,000 troops we had trained and equipped was going to just collapse, that they were going to give up. I don't think anyone anticipated that."

He also said he felt his hands had been tied by a peace deal signed between the Taliban and the Trump administration in 2020, and Trump's decision to call home thousands of troops prior to leaving office.