Biden says US will evacuate thousands of Americans from Afghanistan
President Biden on Monday said that the U.S. intends to evacuate from Afghanistan thousands of American citizens who have been living and working in the country, warning the Taliban of a devastating response if these efforts come under attack.
“We have made it clear to the Taliban, if they attack our personnel or disrupt our operation, the U.S … response will be swift and forceful,” he said. “We will defend our people with devastating force if necessary.”
Biden said the U.S. would expand refugee access to include other vulnerable Afghans not already covered by special immigrant visas, volunteers for nongovernmental organizations and personnel from U.S. news agencies.
American citizens, their families and Afghans at risk of violence from the Taliban are stranded in Afghanistan amid the Taliban’s quicker-than-anticipated takeover of the country.
U.S. military and civilian flights have stalled amid scenes of chaos at Hamid Karzai International Airport, which is under the control of at least 6,000 U.S. forces. Thousands of desperate Afghans overran the tarmac in an attempt to flee the country.
American citizens stuck in Afghanistan who have reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and the State Department have been sent an automatic email directing them to fill out a repatriation form and await further instructions.
Biden, reading from prepared remarks in the East Room of the White House, addressed criticism that the U.S. waited too long to begin evacuating allied civilians by shifting blame to the Afghan government and those on the ground.
“I know there are concerns about why we did not begin evacuating Afghan civilians sooner. Part of the answer is that Afghans did not want to leave earlier, still hopeful for their country,” Biden said. “And partly because the Afghan government and its supporters discouraged us from organizing a mass exodus to avoid triggering, as they said, a mass crisis of confidence.”
An American citizen stranded under Taliban control in Afghanistan and sheltering in place described the situation as of Monday evening as calm but tense.
The citizen expressed hope in public statements from Taliban officials that they will not carry out campaigns of violence despite reports from across the country of Taliban fighters occupying people’s homes and forcibly marrying off women and girls.
“The people who are very scared are small kids, girls and women. These are the people who are very scared, very frightened so far,” the citizen said, requesting that any and all identifying information not be published for fear of the person’s safety.
Because the Taliban takeover happened so quickly, the citizen’s scheduled commercial flight was canceled, and the person is avoiding the airport amid chaotic scenes of stampeding crowds and reports of people shot dead.
“In five days everything changed,” the citizen said. While a curfew is in place overnight, the citizen said that electricity and the internet are working and that the family is keeping up with the events by watching American news. The citizen has reached out to the U.S. Embassy and the State Department and filled out a repatriation form.
The citizen had returned to Afghanistan earlier this year in an effort to begin the immigration process for other family members, including single, educated women, who are fearful of a Taliban takeover that would institute a repressive rule stripping women of freedom of movement, education and work.
“It’s not only my sisters. There are thousands of other girls that are very scared of the current situation,” the citizen said.
“I’m very concerned about them. I wrote a letter to the U.S. Embassy. I told my other friends in case you can do anything for them,” the citizen added.
Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has appealed to Americans stuck in the country to reach out to his office as part of efforts to aid their evacuation.
His office has received hundreds of inquiries since posting a bulletin over the weekend, Cotton spokeswoman Caroline Tabler told the Hill.
His staff worked throughout Sunday night to collect information, passing it to the State Department and keeping in touch with concerned families and individuals to provide any updates.
“I think our biggest challenge, or what we’re hearing on the ground, is Americans stuck behind Taliban checkpoints and unable to get to the airport,” said Tabler. “I think that is what we’re dealing with the most and people are the most scared about.”
The U.S. has reportedly come to an agreement with the Taliban to allow the safe passage of Americans, foreign nationals and vulnerable Afghans to the airport for evacuation.
In addition to Americans, the Biden administration is working to evacuate more than 80,000 Afghan civilians who worked with the U.S. or international organizations and risk retribution from the Taliban.
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.