President Joe Biden reiterated Friday, Aug. 20, a pledge that the US would get all American citizens and their families out of Afghanistan. A deal brokered between the US and the Taliban this week promises safe passage to Hamid Karzai International Airport for Americans, he said. But that arrangement doesn’t pertain to vulnerable Afghans, many of whom are being actively hunted by the Taliban, according to a wide range of reporting in the region.
In his presidential address, Biden said the situation in Kabul had improved in the last few days. With approximately 6,000 US troops on the ground, the evacuation efforts at the airport have achieved some sense of a steady rhythm. Biden said 13,000 Americans and at-risk Afghans have been flown out of the country, including 5,700 on Thursday.
But tens of thousands of Afghans continue to wait and pray outside the airport for a way out. And while the president acknowledged the growing humanitarian crisis in Kabul, he dodged questions surrounding reports of Taliban fighters preventing people from reaching the airport.
Biden repeatedly said the US was in constant communication with the Taliban. He also said, to the best of his knowledge, there have been no issues with US citizens and their families getting past Taliban checkpoints to reach the airport.
However, US authorities are unsure of how many Americans may still be in the city, he said.
Biden acknowledged that getting to the airport was proving to be a very different task from getting into the airport. Earlier this week, US forces had to help 169 Americans scale the airport perimeter wall to get them into the airport.
“Let me be clear: Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home,” Biden said. He did not make a similar guarantee to the many Afghans seeking to flee the country after assisting the US in its war efforts over the last two decades.
Across the country, hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes in recent weeks as the Taliban conquered city after city and province after province on its march to Kabul. Armed militants also seized control of the motorways and borders, forcing Afghans to seek a last, best chance at escape in Kabul.
Scenes of panic and chaos played out at the airport in Kabul as crowds of people desperate to escape Afghanistan rushed onto the tarmac.
— The New York Times (@nytimes) August 16, 2021
But a series of desperate videos emerging from the airport have shocked much of the American public and the world. Videos circulating on social media earlier this week show parents passing children to the hands of American soldiers along the airport’s walls. A now-infamous video showed crowds swarming around an Air Force C-17 as it taxied to take off. Human remains were discovered in the underbelly of one American aircraft that left Kabul early in the week. A young Afghan soccer star was caught on camera as he fell to his death after trying to cling to a plane.
Biden referenced the flood of images in his remarks, noting that they depicted how desperate many are to leave in the chaotic aftermath of Taliban seizure.
“The past week has been heartbreaking. We have seen gut-wrenching images of panicked people acting out of sheer desperation,” Biden said. “You know, it’s completely understandable — they’re frightened, they’re sad, they’re uncertain of what happens next. I don’t think any one of us can see these pictures and not feel that pain on a human level.”