President Joe Biden left open the possibility of extending the Aug. 31 deadline for the full removal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
“There’s discussions going on among us and the military about extending,” he said. “Our hope is we will not have to extend.”
While saying there had been progress this weekend in evacuating people out of Afghanistan, he added: “We have a long way to go. And a lot could still go wrong.”
The scene at Hamid Karzai International Airport remains frenzied, with seven people killed as crowds try to get out of the country, the British military reported on Sunday.
On Saturday, troops from several nations tried to control the crush of people pressing to get into the airport, as temperatures hit the mid-90s. It wasn’t immediately clear whether those killed had been physically crushed or died from other health conditions. A NATO official told Reuters on Sunday that 20 people have died in the last week at the airport amid the evacuation.
Biden acknowledges ‘pain and loss’ of evacuations
President Joe Biden said Sunday the United States had evacuated 11,000 people from Afghanistan in roughly 30 hours but acknowledged “heartbreaking” images from the Kabul airport as Afghan families seek to flee.
“There’s no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss and heartbreaking images on television. It’s just the fact,” Biden said Sunday.
“I will say again today what I’ve said before: any American who wants to get home, we’ll get you home,” Biden said. He said the United States is working to get people to the airport in Kabul, but declined to offer any details of the plan for safety reasons.
Biden warned that the security situation in Afghanistan is changing, noting that some terrorists, such as ISIS-K, may seek to exploit the situation at the Kabul airport and target innocent Americans and Afghans.
“We’re under no illusions about the threat,” he said.
Biden pushed back on concerns from GOP critics who say Afghans coming to the United States are not being properly vetted. Biden said flights from Afghanistan are not going directly to the United States. He noted that special immigrant visa applicants are being moved from Afghanistan to other allied countries like Qatar, Germany, Kuwait and Spain for their safety and “to complete their paperwork.”
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The president said that once Afghan applicants have been vetted, then “we’ll welcome these Afghans who’ve helped us for the last 20 years, because that’s who we are.”
Biden called attention to the Defense Department ordering the emergency use of 18 U.S. commercial aircraft to transport Afghan evacuees to the U.S. after they’ve flown out of Kabul. Biden said the operation is modeled off the Berlin Airlift following World War II and won’t strain commercial flights.
“It’s a voluntary program for our commercial airlines, and we’re grateful for those airlines,” Biden said.
The chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal has resulted in a hit politically for Biden, whose approval rating has dropped below 50% in multiple polls. The findings have found American support withdrawing out of Afghanistan but disapprove of Biden’s handling of he operations.
“I had a basic decision to make,” Biden said when asked about his sagging numbers. He said he could have increased the military presence to remain in Afghanistan or end a 20-year war that has cost billions and killed more than 2,400 service members. “I decided to end the war.”
Biden said the U.S. has made a “number of changes” to ensure Afghans are able to safely get to the airport including extending the “safe zone” around the airport, a move he said the Taliban has cooperated on.
“We are working diligently to make sure we increase the ability to get them out,” Biden said. “We’ve changed the gate operations and a whole range of things.”
– Rebecca Morin and Joey Garrison
Journalists in Afghanistan:Amid Taliban takeover, fear Afghanistan’s media landscape will ‘disappear’
Resistance to Taliban in Aghanistan’s northern provinces
The Taliban are holding talks with Afghan officials from previous governments on a political transition and say they will restore peace and security after decades of war. Afghan officials familiar with the talks say the Taliban have said they will not announce a government until after the Aug. 31 deadline for the U.S. troop withdrawal.
But they already face stirrings of resistance.
In Baghlan province, some 75 miles north of Kabul, fighters calling themselves the “People’s Uprising” claimed to have seized three districts in the Andarab Valley, nestled in the towering Hindu Kush mountains.
Khair Mohammad Khairkhwa, the former provincial head of intelligence, and Abdul Ahmad Dadgar, another leader in the uprising, said Taliban fighters had burned down homes and kidnapped children. Two other officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, made similar allegations. The Taliban did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the nearby Panjshir province — the only one yet to fall under Taliban control — a group of militia leaders and officials from the ousted government have pledged to defend it against the Taliban, who circulated video showing their fighters heading toward the region. The province is a stronghold of the Northern Alliance fighters who joined with the U.S. to topple the Taliban in 2001, and Ahmad Massoud, the son of a famous Northern Alliance commander assassinated days before the 9/11 attacks, has appeared in videos from there.
But it appears unlikely a few thousand guerrilla fighters will soon succeed where the Afghan national security forces failed despite 20 years of Western aid, assistance and training.
– Associated Press
Baby born on US military plane out of Kabul
An American transport plane landed in Germany with one more passenger than departed from Kabul, Afghanistan.
An Afghan woman gave birth on the plane, which landed Saturday at Ramstein Air Base.
“During a flight from an Intermediate Staging Base in the Middle East, the mother went into labor and began having complications,” the Air Mobility Command, a division of the U.S. Air Force, wrote in a tweet about the flight.
Both mother and baby are in good condition, according to the tweet.
– Matthew Brown
GOP blasts Biden for withdrawal situation
President Joe Biden could’ve moved the deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Rep. Liz Cheney said Sunday.
“There’s no question,” the Wyoming Republican said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” “You know, President Biden is the president of the United States, and he’s had no problem in reversing course on other things. … He’s reversed a number of decisions of the Trump administration.”
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., blasted Biden’s adherence to a withdrawal deadline that was extended about four months from a deadline deal struck by the Trump administration with the Taliban.
“August 31 was a stupid, arbitrary, politically driven deadline. The Taliban needs to know they don’t dictate the timetable on American lives,” Sasse said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Noting he was against Biden’s withdrawal plan, Sasse said Biden needs to be forceful in his dealings with militants in Afghanistan and anything that stands in the way of that plan.
“The president’s plan is to leave Afghanistan, but he needs the Taliban to know and al-Qaida and the Haqqani network and al-Qaida allies and ISIS to understand that he may well change his mind on the departure, if any fire comes down on Americans for evacuating our people.”
– Katie Wadington
White House not ruling out additional troops in Afghanistan as evacuation continues
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the U.S. has “sufficient forces” on the ground in Afghanistan to execute the ongoing evacuation before the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, but he wouldn’t rule out sending additional troops.
“Every single day the president asks his military commanders, including those at the airport and those at the Pentagon, whether they need additional resources, additional troops,” Sullivan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “So far, the answer has been ‘no,’ but he will ask again today.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” said approximately 8,000 people have been evacuated on 60 flights in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 30,000 on both military and charter flights since the end of July.
But chaos has continued at the Kabul airport, where large crowds are trying to get out of the country, resulting in seven deaths, the British military reported on Sunday.
Sullivan said the U.S. will have a “swift and forceful response” if the Taliban disrupts the evacuation. He said the U.S. hasn’t offered the Taliban anything in return as part of the militant group’s agreement to not interfere.
“This isn’t some kind of quid pro quo. We haven’t made any commitments,” Sullivan said. “We have laid out our expectations. We have explained to them that the United States of America intends to evacuate any American who wants to leave, as well as Afghans at risk. We intend to follow through on that. And we intend to ensure that they follow through on that.”
– Joey Garrison
Journalists in peril:Amid Taliban takeover, fear Afghanistan’s media landscape will ‘disappear’
Biden to offer Afghanistan update on Sunday afternoon
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden will update Americans at 4 p.m. Sunday on efforts to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies from Afghanistan.
Biden is scheduled to meet with his national security team to receive intelligence, security and diplomatic updates on Afghanistan, the White House said. He then will deliver remarks on the evacuation of American citizens, special immigrant visa applicants and their families and other vulnerable Afghans.
Biden also will provide an update on his administration’s response to Hurricane Henri.
U.S. forces are scrambling to quickly evacuate Americans and Afghan allies before the United States’ Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw all its troops. Crowds of people desperate to flee the country and Taliban checkpoints have complicated the U.S. evacuation.
Flights out of Afghanistan were delayed Saturday because of problems finding accommodations for the flood of refugees being flown out of Kabul. All gates at the Kabul airport were closed Saturday because of a backup at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, according to a Defense Department official who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Most U.S. military evacuation planes fly from Kabul to Qatar, and the inability to handle more evacuees there is causing a ripple effect.
– Michael Collins
US commercial airlines joining evacuation efforts
The Defense Department on Sunday signaled it will enlist commercial air carriers to assist in evacuation efforts out of Kabul.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin activated 18 aircraft to help the State Department with its airlift as part of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.
The addition of 18 commercial aircraft — three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines — is not expected to strain commercial flights, Kirby said. Those planes will not fly into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. “They will be used for the onward movement of passengers from temporary safe havens and interim staging bases,” according to Kirby’s statement.
Civilian aircraft have been activated now three times: in support of Operations Desert Shield/Storm (August 1990 to May 1991) and for Operation Iraqi Freedom (February 2002 to June 2003).
– Katie Wadington
Ex-British PM Tony Blair blasts US withdrawal
LONDON – Tony Blair, the British prime minister who deployed troops to Afghanistan 20 years ago after the 9/11 attacks, says the U.S. decision to withdraw from the country has “every Jihadist group round the world cheering.”
In a lengthy essay posted on his website late Saturday, the former Labour Party leader said the sudden and chaotic pullout that allowed the Taliban to reclaim power risked undermining everything that had been achieved in Afghanistan over the past two decades, including advances in living standards and the education of girls.
“The abandonment of Afghanistan and its people is tragic, dangerous, unnecessary, not in their interests and not in ours,” said Blair who served as prime minister during 1997-2007, a period that also saw him back the U.S.-led war in Iraq in 2003.
“The world is now uncertain of where the West stands because it is so obvious that the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan in this way was driven not by grand strategy but by politics,” he added.
Blair also accused U.S. President Joe Biden of being “in obedience to an imbecilic political slogan about ending ‘the forever wars’, as if our engagement in 2021 was remotely comparable to our commitment 20 or even 10 years ago.”
The former prime minister, whose reputation in the U.K. took a dive from the failure to find the alleged weapons of mass destruction that were cited as justification for U.S. coalition’s invasion of Iraq, said Britain has a “moral obligation” to stay in Afghanistan until everyone who needs to be evacuated is taken out.
– The Associated Press