The Biden administration said it is working to evacuate all Americans who want to leave Afghanistan before the Tuesday deadline, but it can’t guarantee safe passage for any people left behind.
For now, officials are holding on to “expectations” the Taliban will help facilitate the process once U.S. troops are gone, but reports claim the group has already blocked evacuations.
“Two private citizens involved in evacuation efforts tell me Talibs at the checkpoint near the Ministry of Interior are now turning away U.S. passport holders and Lawful Permanent Residents of U.S.,” CNN’s Jake Tapper tweeted on Friday.
Reports charge many are struggling to reach the airport, despite U.S. assurances the Taliban will grant them safe passage.
“These people are sitting ducks,” said Bradley Bowman, senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
The U.S. has evacuated more than 109,000 people since Taliban insurgents took control of Afghanistan in August, the White House said late Friday. By the end of the month, it will have completed one of the largest airlifts in history.
But the urgency of the approaching deadline grew palpable on Thursday when an attack at Kabul airport killed 13 U.S. service members, more than 100 Afghans, and wounded dozens more.
After the bombing, President Joe Biden said the U.S. would not be pushed around.
“Our mission will go on,” he said.
However, the president conceded safe passage for Americans and Afghans still in the country remains an open question.
“Getting every single person out is — can’t be guaranteed of anybody,” Biden said. On Friday, the president’s national security team warned “that another terror attack in Kabul is likely.”
Lawmakers have urged Biden to ensure no Americans are stranded, even if it means extending the deadline for withdrawal.
“Americans want us to stay until we get our people out, and so do our allies,” Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican, said this week. Biden should “tell the Taliban we’re getting our people out however long it takes.”
Sasse previously suggested Washington was “drifting” into a hostage situation.
At least 1,000 U.S. citizens are thought to still be in Afghanistan, though the actual number could be higher. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has contacted people it believes are in the country but depends on information from people who registered with them upon first arriving.
“Just over the last day, we evacuated more than 300 additional Americans,” press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday. The administration is in touch with roughly 500 more.
But she conceded some may not get out.
“I don’t think we can guarantee” that all Americans who want to get out after Aug. 31 will be able to, Psaki told reporters on Friday.
Up against the Tuesday deadline, the White House has been aiding these evacuations, urging reporters to reach out to officials directly with names of people stranded inside of the country.
Psaki said the administration is “focused on, committed to, and working toward” evacuating all Americans in time.
Thursday’s attack could slow the effort.
“The numbers of people, both foreigners and Afghans‚ being safely evacuated are likely to decline following the terrorist attack today, at least in the short term,” said Stephanie Foggett, the Soufan Group’s global communications director and a resident fellow at the Soufan Center.
Speaking to NPR, Sasse said that “unless something changes, it looks like the president and his team have a plan that is just to accept the risk that we will leave Americans behind.”
The withdrawal “makes Gen. Custer look like a brilliant planner,” Bowman said. “Everybody could have predicted what would happen.”
The frantic effort to complete the airlift has drawn criticism from all sides, as lawmakers rush to aid constituents who may have vulnerable relatives inside the country.
Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Congressional colleagues have been sending evacuation cases his way.
“I get texts every night, every hour, every half hour,” McCaul told the Associated Press.
Over two decades, tens of thousands of Afghans aided the U.S. military mission as advisers and interpreters. Many won’t get out.
Then there are Americans who officials are still trying to reach and those who do not want to leave.
“We are committed to bringing Americans who want to come home, home,” Psaki has said.
She told reporters Friday the State Department has been in “constant contact” with potential American evacuees, ramping up as Kabul’s security situation worsened. “We went and did another round … via email and Whatsapp” on Thursday, she said.
Still, Psaki suggested the Taliban would not harm Americans left behind at the end of the month, despite the group’s warning of “consequences” if troops stay past the Aug. 31 deadline.
“Well, that is certainly our expectation, yes,” Psaki said Friday.
For those outside of Kabul, there is the challenge of reaching the airport, among other difficulties.
The situation could turn perilous for Americans reliant on the Taliban for security.
The group was in charge of securing the Kabul airport perimeter, but the attacker’s breach on Thursday evidenced vulnerabilities.
U.S. officials and Taliban leaders are cooperating to complete the airlift, but the group has warned of “consequences” if troops stay past the Tuesday deadline.
Psaki said Friday the administration was “not predicting” a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan after the deadline, complicating later exits.
“There are no good answers from where we sit presently, but the choice may well be to reverse course on our planned exit or to leave many Americans behind and in harm’s way,” said Claire Finkelstein, the Algernon Biddle Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.
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Original Author: Katherine Doyle