US President Biden warns lives could be lost in massive Kabul airlift operations


WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden has said that the mass evacuation from Kabul, one of the largest and most difficult airlifts in history, is not without risk of loss of lives, but vowed to bring all Americans and partners home from Afghanistan, as his administration grappled with the fallout from the chaotic exit.
Biden’s remarks on Friday come as the US rushed to airlift as many people as possible out of the Afghan capital ahead of a self-imposed deadline to depart Afghanistan by August 31.
In a speech delivered from the White House, Biden said the United States has evacuated more than 18,000 people since July and approximately 13,000 since the airlifts began on Saturday.
Biden continued to defend his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and said the US has made “significant progress” in its evacuation efforts since chaos broke out at the Kabul airport on Monday.
“This is one of the largest, most 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.
“Let me be clear. Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home.”
Taking questions from reporters, the president said the US military would make the “same commitment” to 50-65,000 Afghan allies hoping to leave, but the evacuation of American citizens was the “priority”.
However, he then acknowledged: “Make no mistake, this evacuation mission is dangerous. It involves risks to our armed forces and it’s being conducted under difficult circumstances.
“I cannot promise what the final outcome will be or that it will be without risk of loss. But as commander-in-chief, I can assure you that I will mobilise every resource necessary,” he said.
His remarks came as Americans and others struggled to get out of Afghanistan amid chaos at the Kabul airport, nearly a week after the Taliban insurgents seized control of the capital.
According to reports, crowds of evacuees inside the capital’s airport swelled to nearly 10,000 people, straining supplies of water and other essentials. Many thousands more waited outside, a short distance from Taliban checkpoints.
Biden said thousands have been evacuated on private charter flights facilitated by the US government including American citizens and permanent residents as well as their families.
It also includes Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants and their families, the Afghans who have worked alongside the US, served alongside Americans, “one into combat with us, and provided invaluable assistance to the US such as translators and interpreters”, he said.
The United States, he said, has secured the Kabul airport, enabling flights to resume, not just military flights, but civilian charters and from other countries and the NGOs taking out civilians and vulnerable Afghans.
“We have almost 6,000 troops on the ground, including the 82nd Airborne, providing runway security, the Army 10th Mountain Division standing guard around the airport, and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit assisting civilian departure,” he said.
Biden asserted that the United States stands by its commitment that it has made to vulnerable Afghans such as women leaders and journalists.
Working in close coordination with the management of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the US has successfully evacuated all 204 of their employees in Afghanistan on US military aircraft earlier this week, he said.
“We’ve established the flow of flights, and we’ve increased the number of people we’re moving out of the country. We paused flights in Kabul a few hours this morning to make sure we can process the arriving evacuees at the transit points. But our commander in Kabul has already given the order for outbound flights to resume,” he said.
Even with the pause, the US moved out 5,700 evacuees Thursday, he said, adding his administration is working to ascertain the exact number of Americans in Afghanistan.
A day earlier, among the many Americans evacuated, there were 169 Americans who got over the wall into the airport using military assets, he said.
“We’re also facilitating flights for our allies and our partners and working in close operational coordination with NATO on this evacuation. For example, we provided overwatch for the French convoy bringing hundreds of their people from the French Embassy to the airport. These operations are going to continue over the coming days before we complete our drawdown,” he said.
“We’re going to do everything, everything that we can to provide safe evacuation for our Afghan allies, partners, and Afghans who might be targeted if — because of their association with the United States,” he said.
“There’s no way we would have been able to leave Afghanistan without there being some of what you’re seeing now,” he added.

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