Days after heart-wrenching videos appeared of Afghan nationals clinging onto US aircraft in Kabul, US President Joe Biden said that mass evacuation from Afghanistan is on but there will be “risk of loss”.
Biden had to cut short his holidays to address the crisis as he came under increasing pressure to bring back US citizens and also protect Afghans who are afraid of an imminent Taliban takeover.
Speaking to media persons in the White House on Saturday, Biden said, “Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home…Make no mistake, this evacuation mission is dangerous. It involves risks to our armed forces and it’s being conducted under difficult circumstances,” Biden said, adding that the US had rescued 13,000 people to date.
The US president said the country’s military is prepared to evacuate 50,000-odd Afghan allies, but repeated his commitment to bring back American citizens on “priority”.
“I cannot promise what the final outcome will be or that it will be without risk of loss. But as commander in chief, I can assure you that I will mobilise every resource necessary,” Biden said.
While Biden said there is no need to send additional troops to bring back US nationals, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Friday that Taliban fighters were beating up Americans trying to leave Afghanistan.
In the face of criticism, Biden continued to defend his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and said that the U.S. has made “significant progress” in its evacuation efforts since chaos broke out at the Kabul airport a few days back.
“This is one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history, and the only country in the world capable of projecting this much power on the far side of the world with this degree of precision is the United States of America,” Biden said.
“There’s no way we would have been able to leave Afghanistan without there being some of what you’re seeing now,” he added.
Commotion at the Kabul airport for about a week clearly indicates that the US and its allies are struggling to leave Afghanistan.
According to reports, crowds of evacuees inside the capital’s airport swelled to nearly 10,000 people, straining supplies of water and other essentials. Many thousands more waited outside, a short distance from Taliban checkpoints.
Biden said that thousands of US nationals, including Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants and their families, have been evacuated on private charter flights facilitated by the U.S. government.
The SIVs include the Afghans who worked alongside the U.S., served alongside Americans, “provided invaluable assistance to the U.S. such as translators and interpreters”.
The United States, he said, has secured the Kabul airport, enabling flights to resume, not just military flights, but civilian charters and from other countries and the NGOs taking out civilians and vulnerable Afghans.
“We have almost 6,000 troops on the ground, including the 82nd Airborne, providing runway security, the Army 10th Mountain Division standing guard around the airport, and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit assisting civilian departure,” he said.
The President reiterated his commitment to help those who helped the US. “We’re going to do everything, everything that we can to provide safe evacuation for our Afghan allies, partners, and Afghans who might be targeted because of their association with the United States,” he said.
(With inputs from agencies)