President Joe Biden, rejecting criticism of his handling of the chaotic U.S. pullout from Afghanistan, warned on Friday (August 20) that the operation to evacuate thousands through Kabul airport carries risks and promised Americans there that “we will get you home.”
“I cannot promise what the final outcome will be,” he said.
Biden, in a speech and answering questions from reporters, dismissed criticism that the administration misjudged the speed with which the Taliban would take over Afghanistan and that he was slow to start evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies of the 20-year long U.S. presence there.
Biden called the airlift one of the largest, most difficult of its kind. Amid U.S. 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 mobilize every resource necessary,” he said.
The United States is desperately trying to evacuate thousands of people from Afghanistan by an Aug. 31 deadline, although Biden said this week that U.S. troops at Kabul airport providing security for the evacuation could stay longer if necessary.
Biden is counting on cooperation from the Taliban, the Islamist militant group that the United States fought. The Taliban ousted the Kabul government a week ago as U.S. forces withdrew, plunging Biden into his biggest foreign policy crisis.
Biden said U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
(Production: Deborah Lutterbeck)