President Joe Biden said U.S. troops in Afghanistan face mounting danger as they rush to complete evacuations by an Aug. 31 deadline, with aid agencies warning of a looming humanitarian crisis for the population left behind.
Earlier in the day, Biden met virtually with fellow “Group of 7” leaders to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.
Following the Taliban’s lightning-fast takeover of the country, Biden ordered U.S. troops to evacuate thousands of U.S. citizens and vulnerable Afghans from Kabul.
Biden has asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken to update the nation with a detailed report on exactly how many Americans are still in Afghanistan, how many have been gotten out and what is the projection for concluding evacuations by the Aug. 31 deadline.
The administration has remained in regular contact with the Taliban as the evacuations continue and CIA Director William Burns met with the Taliban’s de facto leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar, on Monday in Kabul.
Burns is the highest-ranking American to meet with the Taliban since Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed to the terms of surrender negotiated by the Trump administration in February of 2020.
“I’ve met this morning with my counterparts in the G7, as well as heads of the United Nations, NATO, and the European Union,” said Biden. “I expressed my thanks for the solidarity we have seen as we’ve stood up an unprecedented global effort. I updated our partners on the significant progress we’ve made in the past 10 days.”
“As of this afternoon, we’ve helped evacuate 70,700 people, just since August the 14th; 75,900 people since the end of July,” said Biden, during remarks delivered from the Roosevelt Room at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, August 24, 2021. “Just in the past 12 hours, another 19 U.S. military flights, 18 C-17s, and one C-130 carrying approximately 6,400 evacuees and 31 coalition flights carrying 5,600 people have left Kabul — just in the last 12 hours.”
Biden said a total of 50 flights removed 12,000 more people from the war-torn country since an update in the morning. The president and administration officials have repeatedly said the aim is to leave Afghanistan by August 31, but the U.S. would ensure any American citizen who wants to return home will be flown out of the country.
“These numbers are a testament to the efforts of our brave service women and men, to our diplomats on the ground in Kabul, and to our Allies still standing with us,” said Biden. “And we had a productive discussion, and there was strong agreement among the leaders about — both about the evacuation mission underway, as well as the need to coordinate our approach to the Afghan — to Afghanistan as we move forward.”
“First, on evacuation, we agreed that we will continue to close — our close cooperation to get people out as efficiently and safely as possible,” said Biden. “We are currently on a pace to finish by August the 31st. The sooner we can finish, the better. Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops.”
Biden said the completion by August 31st depends upon Taliban cooperation to allow access to the airport for those who America is transporting out, suggesting that any disruptions to U.S. operations could keep troops on the ground longer but that is an option that carries some risks for all involved.
“In addition, I’ve asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timetable should that become necessary,” said Biden. “I’m determined to ensure that we complete our mission — this mission. I’m also mindful of the increasing risks that I’ve been — I’ve been briefed on and the need to factor those risks in.”
“There are real and significant challenges that we also have to take into consideration ,” said Biden. ” The longer we stay, starting with the acute and growing risk of an attack by a terrorist group known as ISIS-K, an ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan — which is the sworn enemy of the Taliban as well — every day we’re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both U.S. and Allied forces and innocent civilians.”
“Additionally, thus far, the Taliban have been taking steps to work with us so we can get our people out, but it’s a tenuous situation,” said Biden. “We already had some gun fighting break out. We run a serious risk of it breaking down as time goes on.”
Taliban officials have made it clear that they want no U.S. troops in Afghanistan after August 31, and at least one spokesperson warned there would be “consequences” if the U.S. or United Kingdom were to keep forces in the country beyond the end of the month.
“Second, the G7 leaders, and the leaders of the EU, NATO, and the U.N., all agreed that we will stand united in our approach to the Taliban ,” said Biden. ” We agreed the legitimacy of any future government depends on the approach it now takes to uphold their international obligations, including to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a base for terrorism.”
“And we agreed that none of us are going to take the Taliban’s word for it. We will judge them by their actions,” said Biden. “And we will stay in close coordination on any steps that we take moving forward in response to the Taliban’s behavior.”
“At the same time, we renewed our humanitarian commitment to the Afghan people and supported a proposal by the Secretary-General Guterres of the United Nations-led international response with unfettered humanitarian access in Afghanistan,” said Biden.
“Third, we talked about our mutual obligation to support refugees and evacuees currently fleeing Afghanistan. The United States will be a leader in these efforts and will look to the international community and to our partners to do the same,” said Biden. “We’re already seeing our Allies’ commitment. They’re bringing their — they’re bringing to their countries the Afghans who served alongside their forces as translators or in their embassies, just as we’re bringing to the United States those Afghans who worked alongside our forces and diplomats. We’re continuing that effort.”
Biden headed off xenophobic Republican lies and took a shot at former President Donald Trump, although he did not mention him by name.
“We’re conducting thorough security screening in the intermediate stops they’re making for anyone who is not a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident of the United States,” said Biden. “Anyone arriving in the United States will have undergone a background check.”
“And — and we must all work together to resettle thousands of Afghans who ultimately qualify for refugee status. The United States will do our part. And we are already working closely with refugee organizations to rebuild a system that was purposefully destroyed by my predecessor,” said Biden.
Biden said world leaders “agreed to stay vigilant against terrorist threats that have metastasized around the world.”
“We went to Afghanistan with our allies in 2001 for clear reasons: One, to get the people who attacked us on 9/11 and to get Osama bin Laden, and to make sure that Afghanistan was not used again as a base from which to attack the United States or our Allies. We achieved that objective. We delivered justice to bin Laden more than a decade ago,” said Biden. “But the current environment looks very different than it did in 2001, and we have to meet the challenges we face today.”
“We run effective counterterrorism operations around the world where we know terrorism is more of a threat than it is today in Afghanistan, without any permanent military presence on the ground. And we can and will do the same thing in Afghanistan with our over-the-horizon counterterrorism capability,” said Biden. “Cooperation with our closest partners on our enduring counterterrorism mission will continue to be an essential piece of our strategy.”
“In short, we all — all of us agreed today that we’re going to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our closest partners to meet the current challenges we face in Afghanistan, just as we have for the past 20 years,” said Biden.