President Joe Biden committed Friday to evacuating Afghan military allies and other vulnerable Afghans alongside American citizens and green card holders amid mounting chaos in the nation now under the control of the Taliban.
In remarks on Friday, Biden defended his administration’s evacuation efforts, noting that 5,700 people were flown out of Kabul on Thursday. Biden also defended the U.S. effort to ensure that American citizens can leave the country safely. He said forces were considering “every opportunity and every means” to get U.S. citizens to the airport, and the Taliban is letting them through checkpoints.
“Let me be clear. Any American who wants to come home — we will get you home,” Biden said.
“We’re going to do everything, everything that we can to provide safe evacuation for Afghan allies, partners and Afghans who might be targeted because of their association with the United States,” Biden said.
The president said he hadn’t heard of issues getting American citizens or green card holders to the airport in Kabul, but he didn’t address reports that Afghans are having a similar problem, in part because driving to the airport would take them through Taliban checkpoints. Some Republicans in Congress have said some Americans are also struggling to make it to the airport.
Rep. Mike D. Rogers, R-Ala., the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement after Biden’s remarks that the president is ignoring reality. “There are thousands of Americans in Taliban-controlled territories around the country, and the Biden-Harris administration cannot provide an accurate accounting of how many Americans are left,” he said.
As many as 20,000 applicants for the special immigrant visa program and their families remain in Afghanistan, as well as scores of women leaders, journalists, activists and others thought to be at risk of persecution from the Taliban. Since the Afghanistan government’s collapse on Aug. 15, reports have surfaced of Taliban soldiers retaliating against Afghans associated with the U.S. despite public assurances that they would not do so.
At least 2,000 special immigration visa applicants and family members have already arrived in the U.S., and a State Department spokesperson said earlier this week that hundreds more would be arriving soon. But critics have said the administration is taking far too long to decide the fate of such applicants, raising pressure to get them out of Afghanistan first and do the vetting later.
The tumultuous withdrawal from Afghanistan has drawn criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike. Lawmakers have sent multiple letters to the White House and the relevant agencies urging more action to protect Afghan allies, and several Democratic committee leaders have promised hearings on what went wrong.
Biden also said that expanding the perimeter outside the airport “is likely to draw an awful lot of unintended consequences” from people who are not the Taliban. He again defended his decision to withdraw U.S. military forces after a 20-year conflict, arguing that searing images of desperate Afghans seeking escape would have resulted from any drawdown, no matter the circumstances.
“There’s no way in which you’d be able to leave Afghanistan without there being some of what you’re seeing,” he said.