- National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says the US has no head count on Americans in Afghanistan.
- NATO ministers call for inclusive new Afghan government that doesn’t harbor terrorists.
- Amnesty International says the Taliban has killed ethnic Hazaras.
Evacuations from Afghanistan are continuing on Friday, with President Joe Biden vowing to get out “any American” in Afghanistan who wants to leave the country in the wake of the Taliban takeover..
On Thursday alone, about 5,700 people were evacuated by military transport planes. That includes 350 U.S. citizens, family members, special immigrant visa applicants and their families and other vulnerable Afghans, according to a White House official.
But Biden acknowledged evacuation flights had been paused for a “few hours” Friday because of processing delays.
The White House said President Joe Biden on Thursday spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron about Afghanistan. The two will be among leaders meeting next week at a virtual G7 gathering, where the U.S. withdrawal after two decades in the country will be a top concern.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met virtually with foreign ministers of the G7 nations – which include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom – plus the High Representative of the European Union about Afghanistan, according to the State Department.
Since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, at least 2,443 service members have died from that war. Read their names in USA TODAY’s special “In Memoriam” section.
Future of Afghanistan: ‘It’s just rubbish’: Experts doubt Taliban’s promises on women and girls
Panicked – and often starving and dehydrated – Americans and Afghans alike are finding it hard to get through Taliban checkpoints leading into and out of the airport, according to some current and former U.S. officials assisting in rescue efforts.
“From what I can see right now, it appears to be getting worse,” one staffer for Sen. Tom Cotton, R.-Ark., said Friday about the fast-changing situation on the ground. He was part of a team effort by Cotton’s office to help Americans and allied Afghans get out, after the senator – himself a U.S. military veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – issued a public offer of assistance.
Americans and Afghans who succeed in passing through the Taliban checkpoint gantlet must then somehow push through the packed crowds desperately trying to get through a handful of U.S. military-controlled airport gates to relative safety.
Videos show gunfire outside the airport, stampedes at the gates and even desperate Afghans trying to deliver their young children to safety by any means necessary – including throwing or handing some over barbed-wire fences.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan acknowledged that the U.S. rescue effort continues to be “a risky operation” even though the Biden administration had established contact with the Taliban to allow for the safe passage of Americans and Afghans at risk to the airport. “That being said,” he told NBC News’ Lester Holt on Thursday evening, “we can’t count on anything.”
— Josh Meyer, Tom Vanden Brook and Kristine Phillips
President Joe Biden vowed to help Americans struggling to get to Kabul airport Friday, vowing to evacuate “any American” trapped in Afghanistan as the U.S. restarts flights out of a nation now under Taliban control.
Biden acknowledged U.S. forces in Afghanistan had to pause evacuation flights from Kabul for a “few hours” this morning over processing delays, but announced 5,700 people from Afghanistan had been airlifted Thursday.
The president also revealed American forces have had to go “over the wall” to rescue 169 Americans in recent days amid scenes of chaos and violence just outside Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International airport, where evacuation flights are taking place.
Crowds of people desperate to flee the country and Taliban checkpoints have complicated the U.S. evacuation push. U.S. forces are scrambling to quickly evacuate Americans and Afghan allies before the United States’ Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw all its troops.
Biden vowed to evacuate Americans who are struggling to the airport and said he’s committed to helping special immigrant visa applicants and other at-risk Afghans who fear retaliation by the Taliban.
“Any American who wants to come, we will get you home,” he said during remarks at the White House Friday.
The 5,700 people evacuated Thursday represented a significant jump in the number of people airlifted but well short of the 5,000 to 9,000 passengers a day the military has said it has the capacity to airlift. American forces have evacuated 13,000 people since last Saturday, he said.
Biden said he believed American forces could complete evacuations by the end of the month but that the administration would “make that judgement as we go.”
“This is one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history and the only country in the world capable of projecting this much power – on the far side of the world, with this degree of precision – is the United States of America,” he said.
Biden has forcefully defended his decision to pull out of Afghanistan despite a chorus of bipartisan criticism for the administration’s handling of the withdrawal and delays in evacuating vulnerable Aghans who helped in the U.S. war effort. He’s insisted the U.S. was prepared for such dire scenarios such as the Taliban’s takeover but conceded the administration was surprised how quickly the Afghan government collapsed.
“I cannot promise what the final outcome will be, and what it will be. That it will be without risk of loss,” Biden said. “But as commander in chief, I can assure you that I will mobilize every resource necessary.”
The president echoed comments he made to ABC News earlier this week, contending the chaotic scenes outside the airport were inevitable as the 20-year-war draws to a close.
“There’s no way in which you’d be able to leave Afghanistan without there being some of what you’re seeing now, ” he told reporters.
At the same time, the president has shifted blame on the Afghan government for the unfolding crisis in Kabul, but current and former intelligence and military officials told USA TODAY the White House was warned ahead of time of the impending catastrophe.
Asked about a Wall Street Journal report that State Department officials in Afghanistan sent a dissent cable warning of the government collapse after the U.S. withdrawal, Biden said his decision was result of a “consensus opinion.”
“The consensus opinion was that in fact, it would not occur, if it occurred, until later in the year,” he said. “It is my decision.”
– Courtney Subramanian
Who are the Taliban and how did they come to power in Afghanistan?
Taliban means “students” in Pashto, and at one point, leaders of the group were American allies. Here’s how the Taliban conquered Afghanistan.
Just the FAQs, USA TODAY
Evacuation flights from Afghanistan are expected to resume after a brief pause caused by a back-up in processing people who were airlifted to third party countries, a senior administration official told USA TODAY.
“The commander on the ground has issued the order to recommence,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, Joint Staff vice director for logistics at the Pentagon, said in a news conference Friday that flights resumed after a six to seven hour pause due to capacity issues at a stopover location. Since the pause, one plane has left Kabul and another was preparing to leave, the general said. Taylor said there are about 5,800 troops on the ground.
With less than two weeks until the United States’ Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan, American forces have ramped up evacuation efforts in recent days. The U.S. airlifted 3,000 people by military transport overnight Thursday. That includes 350 U.S. citizens, family members, special immigrant visa applicants and their families and other vulnerable Afghans, according to a White House official.
In the last 24 hours, the U.S. also facilitated the departure of 11 charter flights. The U.S. has evacuated approximately 9,000 people since emergency evacuation operations began on Aug. 14.
– Courtney Subramanian and Ella Lee
Foreign ministers of NATO issued a statement on the situation in Afghanistan on Friday morning, calling an “immediate end to violence” and for the safe evacuation of citizens and Afghan allies.
“We also express deep concerns about reports of serious human rights violations and abuses across Afghanistan. We affirm our commitment to the statement by the UN Security Council on 16 August, and we call for adherence to international norms and standards on human rights and international humanitarian law in all circumstances,” the statement reads.
The statement demands that Afghanistan form an “inclusive and representative” government, noting “NATO has suspended all support to the Afghan authorities.”
“Any future Afghan government must adhere to Afghanistan’s international obligations; safeguard the human rights of all Afghans, particularly women, children, and minorities; uphold the rule of law; allow unhindered humanitarian access; and ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a safe haven for terrorists.”
White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield defended the Biden administration’s timing of the evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies from Kabul in an interview Friday morning with MSNBC, saying it was not begun earlier to keep the Afghan government intact.
“At any point that we began a mass evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies out of Afghanistan, it was going to signal the imminent collapse of the Afghan government, it was going to be a chaotic situation, whether it happened five months ago whether it happened five weeks ago, or whether it happened this week,” Bedingfield said. “So our effort was to continue to try to ensure that the Afghan government had every opportunity to remain in place.”
The U.S. military left Bagram Airfield in Kabul in early July. That meant any evacuation would need to take place at Hamid Karzai International Airport, which has both military and commercial services.
The U.S. does not have an accurate count of how many Americans are in Afghanistan and could be evacuated, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told “CBS Evening News” on Thursday.
Sullivan explained that while Americans are asked to register with the US Embassy when they enter the country, some don’t “unregister” when they leave or sign in to begin with.
Sullivan said the U.S. would try to reach all Americans in Afghanistan by combing an existing database of Americans who are there, and by broadcasting messages in as many ways as possible.
President Joe Biden is confident the U.S. will be able to extract all Americans by Aug. 31, Sullivan added.
President Joe Biden is expected to speak on the latest on the situation in Afghanistan at 1 p.m. today from the White House.
Earlier this week, in both public remarks and in an interview with ABC News, the president has stood by the assertion that the U.S. did not anticipate the Taliban would so swiftly rout the Afghan military and take over the country.
During the ABC interview that aired Thursday, Biden said the idea that the Taliban would gain control was based on the notion that the Afghan army – which was larger and much better equipped than the Taliban – would collapse.
“I don’t think anybody anticipated that,” Biden said.
KABUL, Afghanistan – Taliban fighters tortured and killed members of an ethnic minority in Afghanistan after recently overrunning their village, Amnesty International said, fueling fears that they will again impose a brutal rule, even as they urged imams to push a message of unity at the first gathering for Friday prayers since the capital was seized.
Terrified that the new de facto rulers would commit such abuses, thousands have raced to Kabul’s airport desperate to flee following the Taliban’s stunning blitz through the country. Others have taken to the streets to protest the takeover — acts of defiance that Taliban fighters have violently suppressed.
The rights group said that its researchers spoke to eyewitnesses in Ghazni province who recounted how the Taliban killed nine Hazara men in the village of Mundarakht on July 4-6. It said six of the men were shot, and three were tortured to death.
The brutality of the killings was “a reminder of the Taliban’s past record, and a horrifying indicator of what Taliban rule may bring,” said Agnes Callamard, the head of Amnesty International.
– Associated Press