President Joe Biden said the U.S. has expanded its efforts to help evacuate Americans who’ve struggled to reach the Kabul airport and may extend the Aug. 31 deadline for a full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“We’re working hard and as fast as we can to get people out,” Biden said Sunday at the White House. “That’s our mission, that’s our goal.”
The president declined to provide more detail about U.S. efforts to assist people outside of the Kabul airport perimeter. Biden said about 7,800 people were evacuated over the weekend, bringing the total since Aug. 14 to more than 25,000.
Biden’s remarks come just two days before a virtual meeting with Group of Seven leaders — the same group he promised in June that “critical U.S. enablers” would remain in place to keep Kabul safe following the drawdown of NATO forces, according to a British diplomatic memo seen by Bloomberg.
The chaos in Afghanistan and around the Kabul airport is fueling widespread criticism of Biden’s handling of the withdrawal of thousands of Americans and Afghans who helped U.S. forces over the past two decades and now face the risk of reprisal from the Taliban.
Between Aug. 21 and Aug. 22 at 3 a.m., 23 U.S. military flights evacuated about 3,900 people, and 35 coalition aircraft — including foreign military and commercial airlines — evacuated another roughly 3,900, according to a senior White House official. About 30,000 people have been evacuated since the end of July.
“We see no reason why this tempo will not be kept up,” Biden said.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said Sunday that the U.S. is placing “paramount priority” on defending crowds at the Kabul airport, and warned of the “acute” risk of a terrorist attack by Islamic State.
Earlier Sunday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that he activated stage one of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, which gives the military access to U.S. commercial airlines to assist with the evacuation effort. In a tweet Sunday, Austin said that aircraft from American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Atlas Air, Omni Air and Hawaiian Airlines are being used in the effort. They’re not flying into Kabul’s airport, instead flying passengers out of safe havens to interim staging bases, he said.
In recent days, Biden has held calls with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi, the White House said.
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