Following the Taliban’s* takeover of Afghanistan in the wake of withdrawing US forces, President Joe Biden, under fire over the execution of the pullout, told reporters he would “mobilise every resource” to provide “safe evacuations,” while adding he had “no indication” of claims that the group was preventing Americans from reaching Kabul airport.
The Pentagon on Friday appeared to flatly contradict two claims just minutes after they were made by US President Joe Biden.
Flanked by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Biden delivered remarks on the US military’s ongoing evacuation efforts in Afghanistan.
In his speech from the East Room of the White House, the Commander-in-Chief declared success in ridding Afghanistan of Al Qaeda and dismissed earlier reports of Americans being prevented from reaching Kabul airport for evacuations.
When asked if US troops would be sent out of their base in Hamid Karzai International Airport to help Americans reach the evacuation site, Biden said:
“We have no indication that they haven’t been able to get in Kabul through the airport… We’ve made an agreement with the Taliban thus far, they’ve allowed them to go through, it’s in their interest for them to through.”
Minutes later, however, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, told House lawmakers in a briefing call that Americans trying to leave Afghanistan have been beaten by Taliban militants while trying to reach the sole evacuation point in Afghanistan that is not controlled by the Taliban*, according to sources cited by Politico.
During the conference call with members of Congress, which also reportedly involved Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, Austin is cited as saying:
“We’re also aware that some people, including Americans, have been harassed and even beaten by the Taliban. This is unacceptable and [we] made it clear to the designated Taliban leader.”
However, Austin is described as having stopped short of clarifying what efforts would be made to ensure Americans’ safe passage to the airport in Afghanistan’s capital city. He purportedly declined to “rule in or out” the possibility of US troops moving beyond the airport to help Americans and others reach the airport.
Austin was quoted as adding that “with the exception of those cases, we continue to see Americans and appropriately credentialed Afghans continue to move through.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, at a Defense Department Briefing later, when asked about Austin’s remarks, said:
“We’re certainly mindful of these reports and they’re deeply troubling and we have communicated to the Taliban that that’s absolutely unacceptable, that we want free passage through their checkpoints for documented Americans and – by and large – that’s happening.”
“There were reports of Americans being beaten by the Taliban in Kabul. Is the U.S. military under orders to stay at the airport and not go protect them?” pic.twitter.com/pH7X7hbqWX
— K Ø K E (@KokeTokyo) August 20, 2021
Kirby also said at the briefing that “we know that Al Qaeda remains… we have talked about it for some time,” adding that the US “intelligence gathering ability in Afghanistan is not what it used to be”.
“Biden has long been giving the green light to manufacture whatever talking points to fit his narrative. He has been called a walking gaffe machine for a reason. The problem is that what was once seen as an endearing characteristic of ‘Old Joe’ has now turned into a foreign policy and humanitarian nightmare with actual lives on the line,” says Melik Abdul, Political Commentator and GOP Strategist.
According to Abdul, Pentagon officials are now “backed into a corner and have no choice.”
“It’s one thing to loudly proclaim that the likelihood of the Taliban taking over is slim. But when that actually happens, there is nowhere to hide and the images of humans falling off of airplanes can’t be denied. The confidence leaders had in Biden is waning. Biden is proving that his almost 50 years in Washington has meant little beyond the symbolism. It goes to prove that electing a nicer, more responsible and respectful POTUS means little.”
During the briefing call, Gen. Mark Milley told lawmakers that the military would be increasing C-17 evacuation flights out of Kabul up from 12 daily to more than 30 in the coming days, according to sources. Austin is said to have confirmed that the US military “absolutely” agreed to evacuate top Afghan commandos who aided Americans during their mission in the country.
© AFP 2021 / NICHOLAS GUEVARA
This handout photo courtesy of US Marines Corps shows evacuees stage before boarding a C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, August 18, 2021
Earlier Friday, President Joe Biden for the first time committed to evacuating all Afghan allies of the US who want to leave the country, extending the same pledge he has previously made to Americans inside Afghanistan.
“There’s no one more important than bringing American citizens out, I acknowledge that. But they’re equally important, almost,” Biden told reporters.
Previously, Biden told ABC News in an interview Wednesday he would maintain the US troop presence in Afghanistan beyond the August 31 pullout deadline if evacuation operations were not yet completed.
The House briefing cited by US media outlets was the first of several in the coming days. Amid bipartisan condemnation of the Biden’s execution of the troop pullout, lawmakers have been seeking answers about Taliban’s lightning-swift power grab and the floundering US evacuation efforts.
Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) was cited by the New York Post as saying said that Biden’s “counterproductive” messaging has conflicted with media reports of the situation on the ground.
“There remains a massive gap between the message that President Biden shared with the American people and the reality on the ground. He says Americans are not having trouble accessing the airport, while the media is reporting of the Taliban roaming the streets beating Americans and our allies,” Gonzalez told The Post.
A Republican lawmaker was cited by the Post as saying the Friday conference call was cut short before all lawmakers could have their questions answered.
“The big thing for me is, there’s a huge gap between what Biden says on TV, and then what we hear in these calls,” said the source.
Professor Thomas Sutton, political analyst at Baldwin Wallace University in Ohio, believes that the Biden administration didn’t expect the Taliban to take control of Afghanistan so swiftly, therefore the officials react as “news unfolds.”
“This often means a president’s team does not take the time to develop a unified message. Further, there is clearly a ‘blame game’ taking place between the White House, the intelligence community, and the Defense Department. President Biden appears to think that if he continues to defend his decision while American personnel are evacuated from Afghanistan, that the media attention will fade after a few weeks,” Sutton says.
To date, at least four Democrat-led congressional committees reportedly intend to go ahead with hearings to investigate the Joe Biden administration over its conduct regarding the events in the South Asian country.
During the Friday conference call, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy reportedly branded the withdrawal an “enormous mistake” while urging Lloyd Austin to reopen Bagram Air Base.
© REUTERS / Mohammad Ismail
An Afghan National Army soldier stands guard at the gate of Bagram U.S. air base, on the day the last of American troops vacated it, Parwan province, Afghanistan July 2, 2021.
The base was shut down and abandoned earlier this year amid the US pullout. Bagram, with its two runways, was suggested as a way to accelerate the evacuations of Americans and Afghan allies.
WATCH: #TX13 constituents, including a woman & 3 small children, experienced this at a check point outside of the Kabul airport Wednesday.
— Ronny Jackson (@RepRonnyJackson) August 20, 2021
“We will work hard to evacuate as many people as we can between now and when we have to stop. If I’m given more time, I will take more time. … It’s unclear whether or not we’ll be able to do that,” Austin was cited as saying.
Joe Biden earlier vowed he would keep troops in Afghanistan beyond August 31 if the evacuations weren’t completed by then. Biden also said earlier that the US was “considering every opportunity and every means by which we could get folks to the airport.” There is currently no clarification whether that would entail sending American troops outside of the airport perimeter.
Regarding the plight of those who were successfully airlifted out of Afghanistan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken allegedly told lawmakers in the Friday conference call that more countries has offered to house Afghan evacuees in addition to those that have already begun transporting Americans and Afghans inside their territory.
The latter include Bahrain, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Qatar, Spain, Tajikistan, the United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan. The countries that have agreed to join the effort, according to Blinken, include Albania, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Mexico, Romania, Qatar, Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan and Ukraine.
© REUTERS / US AIR FORCE
A U.S. Air Force security forces raven, assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, maintains a security cordon outside a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft in support of Operation Allies Refuge at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 20, 2021.
Earlier, a reported backlog on Friday at Al Udeid Air Base, in Qatar, where passengers were flown to be processed, had resulted in a seven-hour pause on flights from Kabul. After the hiatus, flights out of the airport resumed.
*The Taliban and al-Qaeda are listed as terrorist organisations in Russia.