President Biden gave an update Friday on the evacuation of US citizens and Afghan allies out of Kabul, an effort he called “one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history.”
Biden said that as of Friday, the US has evacuated 13,000 people from Kabul since the airlift began on August 14th. Early on Friday, there was a pause in flights out of Kabul due to the processing facility in Qatar being filled to capacity. Flights resumed after a few hours. An airbase in Bahrain was made available, and the US is preparing one of its bases in Germany to take evacuees.
The president said that there are almost 6,000 US troops at the Kabul airport, which is about how many the Pentagon had approved for deployment. US warplanes are also flying above Kabul. Biden said the US flew overwatch for a French convoy that was headed from their embassy to the airport.
Biden said the US is in “constant contact with the Taliban” to facilitate the safe passage of US citizens to the airport. Biden said he knew of no “instances” where Americans with passports had issues getting to the airport, although Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin reportedly told lawmakers in a briefing Friday that there were instances where Americans were harassed or beaten by the Taliban.
“We’re also aware that some people, including Americans, have been harassed and even beaten by the Taliban,” Austin said in the briefing, according to Politico. But Austin added that “with the exception of those cases, we continue to see Americans and appropriately credentialed Afghans continue to move through.”
Biden said in one instance, the US military helped 169 US citizens get over the wall into the Kabul airport. When asked to elaborate, the president said the Americans didn’t have trouble getting through Taliban checkpoints but that they got caught up in a crowd immediately outside the airport.
At this point, the US doesn’t know exactly how many Americans are left in Afghanistan. Earlier estimates put the number between 10,000 and 15,000. Biden said the US was working on getting an exact number. “we want to get a strong number as to exactly how many people are there, how many American citizens, and where they are,” he said.
Earlier this week, Biden said the US troops would stay in Afghanistan until every US citizen that wants to leave gets out, even if that means keeping them in beyond his August 31st withdrawal deadline. When asked Friday if that commitment extends to Afghans that helped the US war effort, Biden said, “Yes. We’re making the same commitment.”