Washington: US President Joe Biden, rejecting criticism of his handling of the chaotic US pullout from Afghanistan, has warned that the operation to evacuate thousands through Kabul airport carries risks and promised Americans there that “we will get you home”.
Biden, in a speech and answering questions from reporters on Friday local time, dismissed criticism that the administration misjudged the speed with which the Taliban would take over Afghanistan and that he was slow to start the evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies of the 20-year-long US presence there.
US President Joe Biden said the evacuation at Kabul airport was being conducted under dangerous circumstances.Credit:Bloomberg
Biden called the airlift one of the largest, most difficult of its kind. Amid US concerns about the possibility of a militant attack in Kabul, Biden said the operation is risky.
“Make no mistake, this evacuation mission is dangerous. It involves risks to our armed forces and it’s being conducted under difficult circumstances. 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,” he said.
The United States is desperately trying to evacuate thousands of people from Afghanistan by an August 31 deadline, although Biden said this week that US troops at Kabul airport providing security for the evacuation could stay longer if necessary.
Biden is counting on co-operation from the Taliban, the Islamist militant group that the United States fought. The Taliban ousted the Kabul government a week ago as US forces withdrew, plunging Biden into his biggest foreign policy crisis.
Biden said US officials are in constant contact with the Taliban. He warned the group that “any attack on our forces or disruption of our operations at the airport will be met with a swift and forceful response”.
“Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home,” he said.
He also vowed to get out as many Afghan allies as possible. Many are facing difficulties getting past Taliban checkpoints to the Kabul airport for evacuation flights.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers say Biden did not act swiftly enough to withdraw vulnerable people from Afghanistan in the face of the rapid Taliban advances.
Bolstering the critics’ case was disclosure of an internal “dissent” memo dated July 13 from some diplomats at the US embassy in Kabul. They warned of swift gains by the Taliban coupled with a collapse of Afghan security forces, according to a source familiar with the situation who confirmed an account of the document published by the Wall Street Journal.
The memo came less than a week after Biden said a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was “not inevitable”.
The source said the dissent cable was acted upon, saying it called for an airlift operation, which was announced a day after the cable was received.
White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told MSNBC on Friday that Biden’s focus “is on getting every single American out of Afghanistan who wants to get out of Afghanistan and getting our Afghan allies as well”.
The White House has promised a review of the administration’s performance in the crisis, but a source said this has been set aside for now while attention is paid to the evacuations.
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