The White House refused again to address the Taliban’s threat that it will take action against US troops if everyone isn’t out by August 31, with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan diverting questions on the subject to President Joe Biden, who won’t even take reporters’ questions on the crisis.
The Taliban’s spokesman issued the sternest threat yet to Biden on Monday morning, saying there will be ‘consequences’ if US troops – who are holed up at the airport in Kabul evacuating tens of thousands of people and fending off an increasingly desperate crowd – don’t leave in the next eight days.
Biden and his administration have no idea how many Americans remain trapped in Afghanistan, unable to get to the airport to get on an evacuation flight out.
With no numbers on how many Americans remain in the country, much less where those Americans are, it’s growing increasingly unlikely that they will be able to fulfil their promise of getting everyone out in eight days. The longer the US citizens remain behind enemy lines in Kabul, the more perilous their situation becomes.
But the President is refusing to address the increasingly dangerous situation and his team of advisors are not offering any solid information on how they’re going to address it either.
Biden turned his back on reporters on Monday after giving a COVID speech, walking away while the angry journalists cried out for answers on what he was doing to solve the escalating crisis.
Shortly afterwards, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan swerved the issue again at a briefing and Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary, snapped at a reporter for referring to Americans still in Kabul as ‘stranded’.
‘I think its irresponsible to say that Americans are stranded. They are not. We are committed to bringing Americans who want to come home, home,’ she said.
Sullivan said it would be down to Biden whether troops stayed past the August 31 deadline and then refused to give information on what kind of talks US military bosses were having with Taliban chiefs to diffuse the situation.
Sullivan did admit that the reason they don’t know how many Americans are still in Afghanistan is that the only way they keep track of them is by email and if a person leaves the country without ‘checking out’ officially with the embassy first, they don’t know if they’re still on the country or not.
‘We ask them to register with the embassy…many have left without de-registering,’ he said.
While US officials race to try to track down the remaining citizens, there is a crowd of 20,000 at the airport demanding to be put on flights out of the area.
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National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan refused to say whether US troops would stay in Afghanistan after the Taliban’s August 31 deadline, instead passing the issue off to President Biden who is refusing to take questions on the subject or address it
President Biden spoke briefly about COVID on Monday but refused to address the Afghanistan crisis or take reporters’ questions. He walked away as journalists cried out for answers
As the White House refuses to answer questions, time is running out on the ground to get Americans in Kabul out and any vulnerable Afghan who wants to escape before the August 31 deadline. Above, US Marines at the airport on Sunday
There are thousands of people still at the airport waiting to be put on flights out to anywhere before the Taliban takes over for good. Many aren’t being allowed on because they don’t have the right paperwork
Thirty-three C-17 jets are on the way to the airport that could carry 600 passengers each – 19,800 total – out of the dangerous city, but CNN cites an unnamed official who said the policy was changing to only allow US citizens, foreign citizens from other NATO countries, or Green Card holders through the gates.
No one from the White House, State Department or Pentagon has been able to give a number for how many American citizens remain in Afghanistan. It’s unclear if or when the US will start flying Afghans out again.
Taliban spokesman Dr Suhail Shaheen (pictured) has warned of ‘consequences’ if Western forces stay beyond the end of the month
‘We’ve been able to evacuate several thousand Americans,’ Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Monday morning without giving a number for how many remain stuck.
He added that Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans would still be processed to put vulnerable Afghans on flights.
‘Afghans in need are still being processed and facilitated. The goal is to get as many people out as fast as possible. The focus is on doing this as best we can by the end of the month,’ he said.
Biden had said he was confidant he would be able to rescue all remaining US citizens by August 31 and that he would do his best to get as many vulnerable Afghans out as possible, but there has been no promise the US will stay past the deadline to save Afghan refugees once all Americans are out.
Between Sunday morning and Monday morning, 10,400 people were removed from Kabul on 28 US flights, an average of 371 passengers per plane on flights that can hold 600.
This letter is a Taliban death warrant for the brother of an Afghan translator who helped the US in the war
Other NATO flights evacuated another 5,900 people.
On every US evacuation flight so far, the majority of the passengers have been Afghans. Some went to Qatar, others are in Germany and the first planes have now arrived at airbases in Texas, where refugees will be housed at Fort Bliss.
Despite the huge numbers of people leaving every day, the crowd size at the airport in Kabul is unrelenting and becoming more aggressive.
The hold-up is largely down to paperwork backlogs on the ground, with some people unable to board flights unless they are given visas. An unnamed source cited by CNN on Monday said it would take four days to make a dent in the numbers outside the airport walls.
The chaos was worsened over the weekend when the State Department started administering nameless, digital SIV visas to Afghan refugees on smartphones and computers.
The refugees screenshotted the documents and shared them with friends and family, which resulted in thousands turning up with approval to board flights.
‘I don’t think consular, or the administration frankly, realizes how badly they f*****d up by sending that stupid visa and letting everyone in for 24 hours straight.
‘Some people are saying there’s no way they’ll get even those currently on airport out of here in four days,’ the source said.
In the city, the Taliban – which had promised to be more moderate and modern – is already resorting to medieval violence.
Leaders have issued a death sentence for the brother of one Afghan translator who was able to get out.
Taliban fighters stand guard as Afghans gather outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport to flee the country, in Kabul on on August 21
It reads: ‘You have been accused of helping the Americans. You are also accused of providing security to your brother, who has been an interpreter.’
This morning, the German military tweeted that one member of the Afghan security forces at the airport in Kabul had been killed and three others were wounded by ‘unknown attackers’.
Speaking last night about the situation in Afghanistan, Biden turned on his heel and ignored a reporter who shouted ‘Mr President what about ISIS and the threat Americans face now?’ at the conclusion of the press conference about the crisis.
Moments before the reporter asked her question, the president said ‘Thank you,’ in an apparent signal that the press conference had ended.
But he has since taken heat from viewers and commentators who said the question was a sufficiently important one to merit an answer.
Biden’s snub came just hours after his own national security adviser Jake Sullivan told NBC News that there is a ‘genuine threat’ ISIS could attack the evacuation effort at Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul.
Sullivan, who also raised the prospect of sending US troops back into Kabul, said: ‘I know that the scenes around the airport are heartbreaking, large crowds of people wanting to leave
‘I know that there is complexity and there is turbulence on the ground and in Kabul, and it’s very risky and dangerous because there’s a genuine threat from ISIS. That is the reality of what we are up against, and I’m not going to sugarcoat that reality.’
The tragic scenes around the airport have transfixed the world, as Afghans poured onto the tarmac last week and some clung to a U.S. military transport plane as it took off, later plunging to their deaths. At least seven people died that day, in addition to the seven killed on Sunday.
The Taliban blame the chaotic evacuation on the U.S. military, saying there’s no need for Afghans to fear them, even though their fighters shoot into the air and beat people with batons as they try to control the crowds outside the airport perimeter.
US and German forces joined in a gun battle this morning at Kabul airport after Afghan guards and unknown assailants exchanged fire, with one guard killed, the German army said. Pictured: British and Canadian soldiers help an Afghan climb up on the wall of a canal at Kabul Airport this morning
Kabul airport has seen chaotic scenes as tens of thousands of foreigners and Afghans seek to flee Afghanistan after the Taliban swept back to power more than a week ago. Pictured: British and Canadian soldiers stand guard near a canal at Kabul airport as a crowd of Afghans wait nearby
The shooting near the military side of the airport came as the Taliban sent fighters to the north of the capital to eliminate pockets of armed resistance to their lightning takeover earlier this mont
The Taliban have pledged amnesty to those who worked with the U.S., NATO and the toppled Afghan government, but many Afghans still fear revenge attacks. There have been reports in recent days of the Taliban hunting down their former enemies. It’s unclear if Taliban leaders are saying one thing and doing another, or if fighters are taking matters into their own hands.
US soldiers engage in deadly dawn firefight at Kabul airport
US and German forces joined in a gun battle this morning at Kabul airport after Afghan guards and unknown assailants exchanged fire, with one guard killed, the German army said.
The gunfire broke out near the airport’s northern gate, where at least seven Afghans died a day earlier in a panicked stampede of thousands of people trying to flee the country. The circumstances of the shooting, which occurred around dawn, remained unclear.
The U.S. military and NATO did not immediately acknowledge the shooting. There was no comment from the Taliban.
The shooting near the military side of the airport came as the Taliban sent fighters to the north of the capital to eliminate pockets of armed resistance to their lightning takeover earlier this month.
The Taliban said they retook three districts that fell the day before and had surrounded Panjshir, the last province that remains out of their control.
It follows an address last night by President Biden in which he revealed U.S. forces may stay beyond his evacuation deadline of August 31 during a speech last night as he tries to accelerate the operation to rescue Americans after days of chaos and crushes at Kabul airport.
The President confirmed during the press conference that as many as 11,000 people had been evacuated from the airport in the last 36 hours – and that the US has so far transported around 33,000 to safety, including 2,500 Americans.
He said that U.S. forces had expanded the perimeter around the airport amid fears terrorists may seek to exploit the operation by attacking Americans or Afghan civilians.
Over the weekend, Biden also revealed U.S. forces may stay beyond his deadline of Aug. 31 during a speech on Sunday evening he tries to accelerate the operation to rescue Americans after days of chaos and crushes at Kabul airport.
He said that U.S. forces had expanded the perimeter around the airport amid fears terrorists may seek to exploit the operation by attacking Americans or Afghan civilians.
But things were moving in the right direction with some 33,000 people brought to safety, he said.
‘Let me be clear – the evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul is going to be hard and painful,’ Biden said during a speech in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
‘No matter when it started, when we began, it would have been true if we had started a month ago, or a month from now.
‘There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss and heartbreaking images you see on television. It’s just a fact.’
Biden said that as many as 33,000 people had been evacuated since July, including some 11,000 during a single 36-hour period.
Defense officials ‘hope’ they will not have to extend the evacuation operation, he added, but ‘there are going to be discussions I suspect on how far along we are in the process.’
It comes as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pleaded with President Biden to delay the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
As the desperate evacuation continues, the PM will use a virtual meeting of world leaders tomorrow to push for more time to save people from the clutches of the – something the president has so far refused to commit to.
Defense minister James Heappey said this morning that 1,800 eligible citizens and 2,275 local allies had been identified, but more were coming forward all the time. ‘We will get out as many as we possibly can,’ he told Sky news.
However, ministers admitted the rescue mission is reliant on the American military retaining control of Kabul airport. Along with losing key air support, British military officials fear Islamic State (IS) may also target UK soldiers at Kabul airport in suicide bomb attacks.
Mr Johnson said last night: ‘It is vital that the international community works together to ensure safe evacuations, prevent a humanitarian crisis and support the Afghan people to secure the gains of the last 20 years.’
As the airlift continues, the U.S. government has activated the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program, requesting 18 aircraft from U.S. carriers to assist in transporting Afghan refugees after they are evacuated to other countries. The voluntary program, born in the wake of the Berlin airlift, adds to the military’s capabilities during crises.
Early Monday, a Delta Air Lines flight landed in Dubai and later took off for Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, where evacuees are crowded into hangars. A steady stream of military transport planes continue to fly people out of Kabul to airfields across the Mideast.
There also have been concerns that a local Islamic State affiliate might target the crowds outside the airport with suicide bombers or fire missiles at U.S. aircraft. Military planes have been executing corkscrew landings, and other aircraft have fired flares upon takeoff, measures used to prevent missile attacks.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, the Taliban have faced limited armed resistance from fighters in Baghlan province, some 75 miles north of Kabul.
Biden said that as many as 33,000 people had been evacuated since July, including some 11,000 during a single 36-hour period. He also said that as many as 2,500 Americans have already been transported to safety
The fighters claimed to have seized three districts in the Andarab Valley on Sunday, but the Taliban said Monday that they had cleared them out overnight.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the group’s forces have surrounded nearby Panjshir, the only one of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces yet to fall to the militants.
Several Taliban opponents have gathered there, including Amrullah Saleh, the vice president in the toppled government who claims to be the acting president under the constitution. Ahmad Massoud, son of the slain commander of the Northern Alliance militias that partnered with the U.S. to drive the Taliban from power in 2001, is also in Panjshir.
In interviews with Arab media outlets over the weekend, Massoud said his fighters would resist any attempt to take the province by force but were open to dialogue with the Taliban.
Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said there had been no fighting in Panjshir yet and that his group is seeking a ‘peaceful solution’ to the standoff.
It comes as damaging US cables revealed staff working at the American Embassy in Kabul are ‘deeply disheartened’ by the Biden Administration’s withdrawal, with some even saying ‘it would be better to die under the Taliban’s bullet’ than attempt to flee to safety.
The jarring statement was part of a diplomatic cable from Afghan US Embassy staff, who said they’ve been separated from their children, according to NBC News, which obtained the message.
‘Happy to die here, but with dignity and pride,’ another embassy staffer said, while a third accused the U.S. of prioritizing Afghan government elites with vast wealth and the connections to safely flee.
Another message sent via cable shared the horror would-be evacuees were met with when they arrived at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai Airport. Staff were warned to prepare for ‘difficult conditions,’ with the cable adding: ‘However, no one anticipated the brutal experience that occurred.’
Disturbingly, one Afghan embassy staffer revealed his home had been vandalized with spray paint, in what he fears was a marking left by a Taliban fighter to flag the property up for a future visit.
The cables were exposed after it was revealed around 300 Afghans asked to get out of Kabul airport and return to their Taliban-run cities because the conditions have spiraled out of control, a State Department official said.
Temperatures have been between 85 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit around the airport – essentially a dustbowl – nearly every day as the desperate mob of tens of thousands of people with young kids try to save their families from Taliban attacks, stampedes or being crushed against the airport gates.
A child drinks water in Kabul, which has been between 85 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit nearly everyday for the last two weeks, as dehydration and heat exhaustion set in
Pictures like this of a US Marine comforting an infant while they wait for the mother during the evacuation is the seldom scenes glimpses of humanity during dangerous times
A child and a US Marine pour water on each other to protect against dehydration and heat exhuastion as temperatures in Kabul climb over 90 degrees Fahrenheit
US troops are doing what they can to help US civilians and their Afghan allies prevent dehydration and heat exhaustion, with items like water bottles in short supply and needing to be rationed out.
One US Marine filmed giving water to six young children is being hailed as a hero, but many say that small act of kindness further serves to emphasize the scale of the human catastrophe unfolding.
Another picture that has been widely shared on Twitter and other social media platforms shows a different Marine assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) comforting an infant while they wait for the child’s mom during processing.
But these fleeting moments are like specs of light swallowed up by a black hole.
‘We’ve seen wrenching images of people hurt, even killed that hit you in the gut,’ Secretary Blinken told FOX News.
‘And it’s very important to make sure to the best of our ability, because it’s such a volatile situation, that we do something about the crowding at the gates of the airport, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.’
President Joe Biden said during a Sunday press briefing that about 11,000 people have been evacuated in the last 36 hours, but at least seven people have been crushed to death, including a two-year-old child.
And now terrorist threats – particularly from the local affiliate of ISIS, which are enemies of both the U.S. and the Taliban – are making the evacuation more complicated, the scene tenser and ramping up the urgency to get people out of the country.
There’s concern that ISIS leaders see this as an opportunity to kill Americans while challenging Taliban for control of Afghanistan.
That threat prompted the US Embassy to issue a warning Saturday telling Americans not to brave the chaos around the airport unless they have been told to report.
In the ensuing hours, details emerged that evacuation flights were dropping flares and making steep combat landings after warnings that terrorists of the Islamic State might try to shoot down a plane.
To hasten the evacuation pace, six commercial airlines have agreed to help the US government transport people out of Kabul.
On Sunday, the US called up 18 civilian aircraft from United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air and others to carry people from temporary locations after they landed on flights from Afghanistan, leaning on the industry it last called on during the Iraq War in 2003, Reuters reported Sunday evening.
The move highlights the difficulty Washington is having carrying out the evacuations following the Taliban’s swift takeover.
American and Delta said they would start relief flights on Monday.
Meanwhile, British soldiers desperately shouted for medics and stretchers, as unconscious people were carried away, many being pronounced dead and covered in white sheets, according to a Sky News report on Saturday.
Other paratroopers tried to pull people – including young children – from the chaos, and stood atop compound walls, spraying the crowd with hoses to try and cool them down, as medics dashed between casualties.
There were also scenes of people left injured and bloodied, sat amongst piles of papers and discarded clothes near the site, while others stood shoulder to shoulder, amid sounds of screams and gunshots, the Sun reports.
Tweeting from the airport this afternoon, journalist Kim Sengupta said he had witnessed ‘four people, all women, die from the heat and crush’.
Sky News’ chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay also reported that people at the front of the crowd of thousands were being ‘crushed to death’, in what he described it as ‘the worst day by far’ at Kabul airport.
In a sign the crisis at Kabul is deepening, Germany’s government today warned that access to the airport is not often possible’ and that the area remains ‘extremely dangerous’.