Politics

President Biden Attempts to Deflect Afghan Withdraw Criticism

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the crisis in Afghanistan during a speech in the East Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 16, 2021.
(Leah Millis/Reuters)

Addressing the nation following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan Monday, President Biden sought to deflect the criticism that the administration did not prioritize civilian evacuation ahead of formal military withdrawal.

Biden insisted that the evacuation of eligible Afghan citizens, including those who collaborated with the U.S. military, wasn’t executed sooner because “some of the Afghans did not want to leave earlier.”

“We were discouraged from organizing a mass exodus to avoid triggering a crisis of confidence,” he added.

He pointed to the fact that Operation Allies Rescue, which the U.S. launched weeks earlier, had already relocated thousands of Afghans and their families out of the country. The U.S. then expanded that program to include refugees who worked for U.S. non-governmental organizations, news agencies, and other outfits in Afghanistan, Biden said.

In addition to the would be Afghan refugees, there are also an estimated 10,000 U.S. civilians remaining in Afghanistan, according to the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin. Included in that number are some American journalists and aid workers who may wish to remain in the country, but there are also many U.S. civilians who have been instructed to shelter in place and are now unsure how they will escape the country.

During a press briefing following the president’s statement, State Department spokesman Ned Price fielded a question from a reporter who invoked the harrowing vision of desperate Afghans flooding the tarmac in Kabul to escape on a departing U.S. military jet. While he did not affirm Biden’s comments that many Afghans had not expressed an interest in leaving sooner, he echoed the president in discussing the United States’ other efforts on the refugee front.

He claimed that the U.S. had moved over 75,000 Afghans who had assisted the U.S. government over the last year. Citing Operation Allies Rescue, Price shared that there has been a “gargantuan U.S. effort” to process and adjudicate visa applicants and bring them to the United States, supported by resettlement agencies.

“We know there are other vulnerable Afghans,” he said, assuring that the administration is exercising all options to “bring as many as we can to safety.”

In the interim, Price said that U.S. forces, recently deployed to facilitate the evacuation, are attempting to reestablish control of the Kabul airport to resume flights, which the U.S. temporarily halted Monday amid the runway chaos. On Sunday, U.S. troops shot and killed two armed men who approached U.S. soldiers assisting with the evacuation.

Some Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill have condemned the United States’ departure from Afghanistan as haphazard in execution, claiming that arrangements for civilians’ safe passage should have preceded the official military withdrawal from the country.

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