U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Friday addressed the nation for the second time on the situation in Afghanistan, promising that “any American who wants to come home, we will get you home.”
The American leader made the same commitment to Afghan nationals who stood by the United States, and helped U.S. troops during the war that has lasted 20 years and claimed the lives of over 200,000 people.
He described scenes of ‘desperate people’ in Afghanistan as ‘gut wrenching’ but insisted that leaving Afghanistan now is the right thing to do.
President Biden explained to the nation that terrorism is in numerous places and getting stuck in one country for 20 years and spending trillions of dollars there is not in the interest of the United States.
He also debunked claims that the intelligence assessment on Afghanistan warned that the Taliban would take the country within days or that Afghan forces trained by the United States for 20 years would refuse to fight or that President Ashraf Ghani would flee the country, saying that the consensus assessment was that the country may fall to the Taliban within months, a window that would have allowed the United States and allies to carry out safe evacuations from Afghanistan.
President Biden, flanked by Vice President Kama D. Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, delivered remarks on Friday afternoon, and announced that more than 18,000 people had been evacuated since July, while about 13,000 had been evacuated since Saturday. The President added that 5,700 people were evacuated on in the past 24 hours, adding that there were nearly 6,000 troops in Kabul.
The President said the evacuees include American citizens and permanent residents, as well as their families.
“It includes SIV applicants and their families — those Afghans who have worked alongside us, served alongside of us, gone into combat with us, and provided invaluable assistance to us, such as translators and interpreters,” he said. “The United States stands by its commitment that we’ve made to these people, and it includes other vulnerable Afghans, such as women leaders and journalists.”
He added, “In fact, working in close coordination with the management of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, we have successfully evacuated all 204 of their employees in Afghanistan on U.S. military aircraft earlier this week.”
On the earlier chaos at Kabul airport, the President said things were returning to normal.
“We have established the flow of flights, and we’ve increased the number of people we are moving out of the country,” he said. “We paused flights in Kabul a few hours this morning to make sure we could process the arriving evacuees at the transit points, but our commander in Kabul has already given the order for outbound flights to resume.”
Despite President Biden’s reassurances that Afghans will also be helped to flee Afghanistan, Paul O’Brien, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) said Mr. Biden’s speech did not go far enough.
“Vulnerable Afghans at risk were looking for reassurance from President Biden. They didn’t get it. They want to know that they’ll be processed for departure regardless of their eligibility for narrow and complicated visa programs,” O’Brien wrote. “They want to know that they’ll be able to reach the airport in safety. They want to know that the US will keep running evacuations until they and their family have had a chance to flee from harm’s way.”
He said President Biden could have used his speech to reassure them, but he didn’t, adding that “Amnesty International USA is going to keep pressing the White House until we get the right answer.”
“The administration must secure the airport and evacuate the most vulnerable Afghans, get more people on every plane, do it faster and spend however much time it takes,” O’Brien added.