(Washington) Joe Biden said Friday that the massive evacuation operation at Kabul airport was “one of the most difficult in history”, of which he could not guarantee “the final outcome” as thousands of American and Afghan civilians try to pass the airport to flee land after the Taliban’s return to power.
Posted on Aug 20, 2021 at 11:09 am Updated at 3:42 pm
Cyril JULIEN Agence France-Presse
These evacuations were suspended for several hours at the Afghan capital’s airport due to the congestion of American bases in the Gulf, particularly in Qatar, where the evacuees are initially on their way, a Pentagon official admitted on Friday.
This airlift is “one of the most important and difficult in history” and the United States is the “only country” that can organize it, Biden said during a speech at the White House in which he announced that 13,000 people from the US military have been evacuated since operations began on August 14th.
“I cannot promise what the end result will be,” nor that there will be no “risk of loss” to human life, the president said, however, assuring that Washington’s allies would not question the American “credibility” of the US carrying out this Operation despite the recent chaos at the airport.
US soldiers left Kabul airport to rescue 169 people nearby, the Pentagon said on Friday.
Most of the evacuees are American citizens who are admitted by the Taliban. But many Afghans, especially those who have worked for the United States and have special immigrant visas (SIVs) for themselves and their loved ones, do not have access to the grounds secured by more than 5,000 US military personnel.
These civilians fear reprisals from the Taliban, who have nevertheless promised amnesty to those who collaborated with foreign troops. Others, human rights activists, journalists or political activists, are considered “vulnerable” because they too are targets of Islamists.
“They are almost as important” as American citizens, Biden assured, hinting that the United States was “in constant contact” with the Taliban to “ensure that civilians have safe airport access.”
The US government has come under fire for lack of preparation in the face of the influx of exile candidates, which has been causing chaos on and around the international airport since Sunday.
On Monday, in a first brief television intervention, the American president “firmly” defended his decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, where they had fought for twenty years, by August 31.
Two days later, in an interview with ABC, Joe Biden stated that the American withdrawal had invariably caused some form of “chaos” in the country.
Pictures of panicked civilians huddling outside gates or trying to cling to planes about to take off shocked American opinion, which up until this week was largely in favor of troop withdrawal as the Biden administration went smoothly and promised organized evacuations.
More “national interest”
Joe Biden promised that “all Americans who want to go home will come home” without confirming that the army will stay in Kabul after August 31.
“Leaving Americans to die is an unforgivable breach of duty that will remain a disgrace,” said former Republican President Donald Trump in a statement on Friday and again called for the “resignation” of his successor.
However, it was he who initially decided to withdraw with an even tighter schedule.
In the Democratic camp, too, it was regretted that the government had not foreseen the consequences of this withdrawal and the collapse of the Afghan regime in just ten days.
However, Joe Biden again defended his withdrawal decision, stating that Afghanistan no longer threatened the “national interest” of the United States.
“We went to Afghanistan with the express aim of getting rid of al-Qaeda and having Osama bin Laden, we did,” he recalled.
But since then, “the terrorist threat has metastasized to far greater dangers” from ISIS and al-Qaeda and their supporters outside Afghanistan, he said.
About 5,700 people were evacuated by the US military within 24 hours, the White House said after the president’s address.
A total of around 18,000 people have left the country thanks to American planes since the end of July.
The United States plans to evacuate a total of more than 30,000 Americans and Afghan civilians through its bases in Kuwait and Qatar.