President Joe Biden has met with his national security team to discuss the chaotic situation in Afghanistan after cancelling his weekend trip home to Delaware.
Biden spoke with his team at the White House Situation Room about the ongoing evacuation efforts, counterterrorism operations, and intensive diplomatic efforts to finalize agreements with a third-party country transit hub to help American, who were warned on Saturday not to travel to Kabul airport.
Biden discussed the matters with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and National Intelligence Director Avril Haines.
Vice President Kamala Harris joined the meeting by video teleconference during her trip to Singapore.
The president met with his team Saturday morning to discuss the situation in Afghanistan
The White House did not indicate whether the president planned to travel on Sunday. The trip would have been his 19th to his home state since taking office.
The Taliban takeover of Afghans last Sunday has consumed his administration, which was caught off-guard by the development and is scrambling to evacuate thousands of Americans, Afghans who assisted the U.S. during the war, and others.
‘Let me be clear, any American who wants to come home, we will get you home,’ Biden had pledged.
On Saturday, The U.S. Embassy issued a warning to all American in Afghanistan not to go to Kabul airport – the only way out of the country – because of ‘security threats’ outside its gates a day after President Biden vowed to bring citizens and Afghan allies home.
The U.S. Embassy issued a stern warning to Americans on Saturday not to go to Kabul airport – which is the only way out of the country – because of ‘security threats’ outside its gates a day after President Biden vowed to bring citizens and Afghan allies home
Afghans continued to wait around the Hamid Karzai International Airport on Saturday despite no signs that international flights will take off outside of Kabul
The trip planned for Saturday would have been Biden’s 19th trip to Delaware since taking office. Biden, pictured above on Friday, addressed the situation in Afghanistan on TV
‘Because of potential security threats outside the gates at the Kabul airport, we are advising U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates at this time unless you receive individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do so,’ the Embassy warning says.
The warning was issued less than 24 hours after Biden said there was ‘no indication’ that the Taliban was stopping Americans and their allies from reaching the airport and promised to get everyone home.
Biden said he planned to ‘mobilize every force necessary’ to get Americans and their allies outside of Afghanistan despite admitting he doesn’t know how many Americans were left and he ‘cannot promise what the final outcome will be’.
It is estimated that as many as 15,000 U.S. citizens remain in Afghanistan.
David Marshall Fox, an American who moved to Afghanistan in 2013, has been trying to get out of Afghanistan with his three-year-old son.
In an interview with ABC News, he said the U.S. Marines sent warning shots in the air and threw flashbang grenades to get the crowd to back up.
‘I was yelling, “Americans. Americans here,”‘ Fox said while gesturing with his arm that he was pointing at himself and his son. ‘I made eye contact with (a Marine), and he just says, “Get back. Get back now.” And the Marines are firing warning shots in the air and throwing flashbangs.
‘And every time the Marines fired a volley of warning shots, the whole crowd would just surge back, and I was holding this little boy and trying to keep my balance.
During Friday’s speech, Biden said there was ‘no indication’ that the Taliban was stopping Americans and their allies from reaching the airport and promised to get everyone home
Tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan are waiting to see if Biden will deliver on his promise with the August 31 troop withdrawal deadline fast approaching
US soldiers stand guard behind barbed wire as Afghans sit on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on August 20
But the August 31 troop withdrawal deadline is fast approaching, and the president hasn’t committed to extending the deadline, despite the UK urging Biden to delay the withdrawal to help with the airlifting of as many as 6,000 British nationals and locals.
NATO has begged the Biden administration to keep a troop presence on the ground for as long as possible, the Pentagon said just minutes later that Al Qaeda is present in parts of Afghanistan and there are multiple reports insurgents are using checkpoints to block safe passage to the airport.
Over the last 12 hours, videos started emerging showing the pandemonium and occasional violence outside the airport.
Meanwhile, evacuation efforts can be described – at best – as chaotic. Some outgoing flights were far from full because of Taliban checkpoints and bureaucratic challenges.
Then a backlog at the transit facility in Qatar, which is one of the main countries welcoming refugees, stalled flights for hours on Friday.
A defense official said about 5,7000 people, including about 250 Americans, were flown out of Kabul in 16 C-17 transport planes. The previous two days, about 2,000 people were airlifted.
U.S. Marines with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command, provide assistance during an evacuation of Kabul airport
U.S. and Afghan citizens alike continue to travel to the airport in hopes of being evacuated
‘This is one of the largest difficult airlifts in history and the only country in the world capable of projecting this much power on the far side of the world with this degree of precision is the United States of America,’ Biden said on Friday.
During the Friday address, he was asked if he was also committed to get out the Afghans who supported the U.S. war effort, with thousands still stranded on the ground because of the drawn out visa process and the delay in getting them evacuated.
‘Yes, we’re making the same commitment. There’s no one more important than bringing American citizens out, I acknowledge that, but they’re equally important almost is all those [special immigrant visas], as we call them, who in fact helped us – they’re translators, they went into battle for us, they were part of the operation,’ Biden answered.
He also said the U.S. was trying to get out Afghans working at non-governmental organizations, women’s organizations, and others.
While dismissing a question about Afghans falling from aircraft posed Wednesday by ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos – the one sit-down he did with press all week – on Friday Biden finally addressed the visuals.
‘The past week has been heartbreaking. We’ve seen gut-wrenching images of panicked people acting out of shear desperation,’ he said. ‘It’s completely understandable, they’re frightened, they’re sad.’
‘I don’t think anyone, anyone of us can see these pictures and not see that pain on a human level,’ he added.
Pentagon contradicts Biden MINUTES after his fumbling speech by saying Americans HAVE been attacked by the Taliban on the way to Kabul airport and al-Qaeda IS still operating in Afghanistan
Minutes after President Biden on Friday said the mission to destroy Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was a success and that he knew of no circumstances where Americans had been unable to reach Kabul airport, he was flatly contradicted by the Pentagon.
Al Qaeda remains present in Afghanistan, said Department of Defense spokesman John Kirby during a briefing, and yes, he was aware of reports of Americans being beaten by the Taliban as they tried to reach safety.
The contradiction will raise further doubt about whether Biden is in control of the White House messaging operation, let alone the chaotic effort to bring Americans home.
He cancelled plans to return home to Wilmington on Friday evening as officials scrambled to give off an air of urgency.
He even answered questions about Afghanistan for the first time in 10 days after delivering a speech in the East Room of the White House.
Would he send troops out of their base in Hamid Karzai International Airport to help stranded Americans reach safety, he was asked.
‘We have no indication that they haven’t been able to get in Kabul through the airport,’ he said.
‘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.’
But a different view emerged in reports of a briefing call that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin held with lawmakers, telling them that Americans had been beaten as they tried to reach the airport.
And officials at the Pentagon confirmed they were aware of Americans reporting being attacked.
‘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,’ said Kirby.
The gaffe followed a difficult week for the White House. Biden has been under intense pressure for holing up at Camp David at the weekend and staying largely out of sight during the week.
An interview with ABC News, designed to regain the initiative, was widely panned.
And on Friday Biden’s comments about Al Qaeda, as he defended his decision to pull out U.S. troops, will also be seized on by fact checkers.
‘We went to Afghanistan for the express purpose of getting rid of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, as well as getting Osama bin Laden,’ he said. ‘And we did.’
Fast forward a few minutes and the Pentagon was saying something different.
‘We know that Al Qaeda is a presence, as well as ISIS, in Afghanistan,’ said Kirby
‘And we’ve talked about that for quite some time. We do not believe it is exorbitantly high.’
When pressed, he tried to close the gap between Biden’s comments and his, saying: ‘what we believe is that there isn’t a presence that is significant enough to merit a threat to our homeland as there was back on 9/11, 20 years ago.’
However, terrorism experts have long said Al Qaeda continues to enjoy close relations with the Taliban.
Just this week, a Pentagon watchdog said the Taliban had been providing safe haven to the terrorist group all along.
A report by the Lead Inspector General for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel – the name of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan – said terrorist networks including ISIS had made the most of the Department of Defense’s drawdown.
‘Additionally, the Taliban continued to maintain its relationship with al Qaeda, providing safe haven for the terrorist group in Afghanistan,’ it said.
Osama bin Laden plotted the 9/11 terror attacks from Afghan soil, triggering the 2001 invasion by U.S. troops.
He was finally hunted down and killed by Navy Seals in neighboring Pakistan 10 years later.
Disrupting his network in Afghanistan has been a key part of the U.S. and NATO mission.