(CNN) – President Joe Biden tried to put an optimistic face in the face of the chaotic evacuations taking place at the Kabul airport, where US forces are rushing to get US citizens and vulnerable Afghans out of the country.
Speaking from the White House, Biden tried to project calm at the end of what has been a difficult week for his administration. The president took on criticism about the end of the longest war in the United States and injected into his statements more empathy for the suffering of Afghans than he had shown in two previous appearances.
Still, some of his comments did not square with the conditions CNN witnessed on the ground, and Biden appeared to dismiss international protests about how the United States handled the end of the war.
Offering a snapshot of the evacuation mission, Biden recounted the valiant efforts of US troops in recent days. While you report from the field indicate that the situation outside Hamid Karzai International Airport is becoming increasingly desperate, Biden said the United States is conducting “one of the largest and most difficult airlifts in history.”
“Let me be clear: Any American who wants to come home, we will bring you home,” Biden said. He later vowed to evacuate all Afghans who helped in the war, and said the United States was also working to find flights for vulnerable women, journalists and others who may be targeted by the Taliban.
“I can’t promise what the bottom line will be … or that it will be without risk of loss,” Biden said. “But as commander-in-chief, I can promise you that I will mobilize all the necessary resources and, as an American, I thank the brave men and women of the American military who are carrying out this mission. They are incredible.”
Biden’s response to criticism
The president’s speech comes after days of strong criticism for how his administration prepared for the fall of Afghanistan’s civilian government, which unleashed chaotic and violent scenes as thousands of people tried to access the airport to leave the country.
Biden said Friday there would be “plenty of time to criticize and question this operation” but insisted that for now he was focused on “getting this job done.”
He was flanked by top members of his national security team, including Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, an indicator that he continues to trust the people who are navigating the crisis.
Biden primarily focused on the evacuation of US citizens and their families, applicants for special immigrant visa programs, and other vulnerable Afghans. Although he tried to give a positive view of the evacuation, the reality on the ground is much worse. Afghans in Kabul are facing huge crowds and scenes of violence to reach the airport gates, and after arriving they have to wait for hours.
CNN’s Clarissa Ward reported that in more than eight hours no flight left Kabul airport on Friday. Biden referred to this pause during his remarks, saying that flights in Kabul were stopped for “a few hours this morning to make sure we could process evacuees arriving at transit points.” The president said the order had already been given to resume outbound flights and that the United States had evacuated 5,700 people on Thursday.
The president stressed that the United States is doing everything possible to safely evacuate its Afghan allies, partners and Afghans who may be targeted by the Taliban due to their association with the United States.
“The United States remains committed to these people and includes other vulnerable Afghans, such as women leaders and journalists,” Biden said.
He added that the United States is in constant contact with the Taliban, working to ensure that civilians have safe passage to the airport, and said that the United States communicated that any attack on US forces or disruption of their operations at the airport will have a “response. fast and forceful “.
“The past week has been heartbreaking,” Biden said. “We’ve seen heartbreaking images of panicky people acting out of sheer desperation. You know, it’s completely understandable. They’re scared. They’re sad. They’re not sure what will happen next. I don’t think any of us can see these images and not feel that. pain on a human level, “he said.
Still, he stood firm in his final decision to end the 20-year war.
“What interest do we have in Afghanistan right now, with al Qaeda gone?” He asked. “We went and did the mission. They have known my position for a long, long time.”
Tents are needed for the thousands of Afghans who remain exposed to the scorching sun at Kabul airport for hours, Ward reported. Mothers are particularly affected by the sweltering heat. CNN found people at the airport who have been waiting there for two days.
The US embassy warned Friday morning of lingering security concerns getting to the Kabul airport. He also said that due to large crowds and security concerns, “doors can open or close without warning.”
The goal of daily evacuations has not been achieved
White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told CNN on Friday that the White House does not have a precise number of Americans still in Afghanistan. He said the administration is still trying to account for Americans who may have left the country before August 14 without notifying the US embassy.
The Pentagon said Thursday that the US military had increased the pace of evacuations. The United States evacuated about 3,000 people from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Thursday, and about 14,000 people since the end of July, according to a White House official.
Biden, who met with senior officials in the Situation Room on Wednesday, made clear that he wants all flights leaving the airport to be at maximum capacity. One official cautioned that given the chaotic nature of the evacuation, just because such a presidential directive exists does not always mean that it will occur on all flights.
The US military expects to move 5,000 to 9,000 people a day, but they have failed to reach that goal since the evacuation process began.
Engagement with Afghan Allies
Biden suggested in an interview with ABC this week that he is willing to keep US forces in Afghanistan until all US citizens who want to leave are out of the country, but he failed to make a similar commitment to America’s Afghan partners. On Friday he said he is committed to getting America’s Afghan allies out of the country.
“There is nothing more important than getting the American citizens out. I admit it. But they are just as important, almost, as all those we call SIVs. [visas para inmigrantes especiales, por sus siglas en inglés], which actually helped us, “he said.” They were translators. They were in battle with us. They were part of the operation, “he added.
The president said Americans should expect all US citizens in Afghanistan to be evacuated before Aug. 31, the deadline the administration set for ending the country’s longest war. Biden said a meeting of the Group of Seven would be convened next week to coordinate “our unified approach on Afghanistan and (politics in a) future.” He noted that he had spoken directly with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Emmanuel Macron.
CNN’s Allie Malloy and Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report.
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