Biden administration officials in a Friday afternoon call with lawmakers were more forthcoming then they've been publicly about problems on the ground that are making it difficult to get people to the Kabul airport and out of the now Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Navy probe reveals disastrous ship fire response Pentagon says almost half of Afghan evacuees at US bases are children Russian fighters escort US bombers over Black Sea MORE told lawmakers he was “aware” that some Americans and Afghans seeking to travel to the Kabul airport “have been harassed or even beaten by the Taliban.”
Austin also indicated a willingness to expand the perimeter beyond the airport‚ something observers are hopeful could help secure the area.
“I haven't ruled out any particular option going forward,” he said, adding later, “If I believe a different course is warranted, I will absolutely recommend that to the president.”
The officials also acknowledged some criticism of how the administration has handled evacuations was legitimate.
Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenNuclear watchdog: US, Iran entering 'decisive' period on resuming talks Sullivan raised normalizing relations with Israel during meeting with Saudi crown prince: report Democrats call for State to lift ban on embassies discussing same-sex marriage MORE told lawmakers there are some “very legitimate questions about whether or not we should have gotten more people out sooner, we will have that discussion at the right time,” according to a source familiar with the call.
Blinken and Austin were joined on the call by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark MilleyMark MilleyPoll: New Hampshire Senate race tight Republicans would need a promotion to be 'paper tigers' We've left Afghanistan — but its consequences are just starting to arrive MORE to discuss plans to evacuate more than 10,000 Americans from the country along with some 80,000 Afghans, including allies that assisted the military as well as their families.
The administration is facing mounting pressure from lawmakers unhappy with the evacuation so far. News coverage of the evacuation has also been critical.
The comments by the officials differed in tone and content from remarks earlier Friday by President BidenJoe BidenBiden: Democrats' spending plan is 'a bigger darn deal' than Obamacare Biden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Biden: Comment that DOJ should prosecute those who defy subpoenas 'not appropriate' MORE, who at one point claimed “where we have seen challenges for Americans we have thus far been able to resolve them” even as reporting on the ground indicated chaos at the airport.
While the Biden administration has said it brokered an agreement with the Taliban to allow passage to the airport, many in Kabul are having difficulty arriving.
People must run a gantlet of Taliban checkpoints to get to the airport, with reports of beatings, whippings and intimidation. Those fleeing must hide critical documents needed to get on a flight to get past the Taliban.
“We intend to judge what they do, not what they say,” Blinken said on the call.
Officials on the call said they had evacuated 5,743 people in the last 24 hours despite a more than six-hour suspension of flights at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Friday morning.
That brings the total numbers of evacuated Americans up to 2,200, just a few hundred increase from the total 1,792 citizens that had been evacuated as of Thursday.
The administration faces complications with its evacuation efforts, including from the Taliban, and Blinken warned that expanding the perimeter would present significant risks, including for evacuees.
“Any clash with the Taliban could escalate rapidly and stall the evacuation,” he said.