Afghanistan updates: Biden speaks to nation on military withdrawal

Written by on August 31, 2021

Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, boards a C-17 cargo plane at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Maj. Gen. Donahue is the final American service member to depart Afghanistan, Aug. 30, 2021. – U.S. Central Command

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — With the U.S. military and diplomatic withdrawal now complete after 20 years in Afghanistan, the Taliban has taken over the country, including the Kabul airport, the site of an often-desperate evacuation effort the past two weeks.

But even as the last American troops were flown out to meet President Joe Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline, other Americans who wanted to flee the country were left behind and the Biden administration is now focused on a “diplomatic mission” to help them leave.

When President Joe Biden sat down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the White House on Aug. 18, he said he was committed to keeping the U.S. military in Afghanistan as long as needed. “If there are American citizens left, we’re going to stay until we get them all out,” he said.

Here are the latest developments. All times Eastern.

Aug 31, 3:51 pm
‘It was time to end this war’: Biden

In his address to the nation, the president said it was time to end the war.

“We succeeded in what we set out to do in Afghanistan over a decade ago. Then we stayed for another decade. It was time to end this war,” he said. “This is a new world: Al-Qaida affiliates in Syria and ISIS attempting to create a caliphate in Syria and Iraq and establishing affiliates across Africa nation. The fundamental obligation of a president, in my opinion, is to defend and protect America. Not against threats of 2001 but against the threats of 2021 and tomorrow.”

“That is the guiding principle behind my decisions about Afghanistan,” he added. “I simply do not believe that the safety and security of America is enhanced by continuing to deploy thousands of American troops and sending billions of dollars.”

Aug 31, 3:51 pm
Biden says 90% of Americans who wanted to leave were able to leave

Biden touted efforts to get out Afghans who helped the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and said, “Now we believe that about 100 to 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan, with some intention to leave.”

“Most of those who remain are dual citizens, long-time residents who had earlier decided to stay because of their family roots in Afghanistan,” Biden said. “The bottom line, 90% of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave. And for those remaining Americans, there is no deadline. We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out.”

Aug 31, 3:35 pm
Biden addresses nation following US withdrawal

In his first formal remarks since the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan, the president said, “The extraordinary success of this mission was due to the incredible skill, bravery and selfless courage of the United States military and our diplomats and intelligence professionals.”

“For weeks they risked their lives to get American citizens Afghans who helped us, citizens of our allies and partners and others onboard planes and out of the country,” he continued. “And they did it facing a crush of enormous crowds seeking to leave the country. And they did it knowing ISIS-K terrorists, sworn enemies of the Taliban were lurking in the midst of those crowds.”

Aug 31, 2:53 pm
McConnell blasts Biden for breaking promise, leaving Americans behind

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized President Biden, claiming he broke his “promise” to get every American who wanted to leave Afghanistan out of the country before the U.S. military left, saying Biden’s “reckless withdrawal has created a humanitarian disaster and emboldened the terrorists.”

“Two weeks ago, President Biden specifically promised he wouldn’t pull out before every American who wanted out had gotten out. By their own admission, the Biden Administration has now broken that promise,” McConnell said Tuesday at an event in Ashland, Kentucky.

In an exclusive interview on Aug. 18 with ABC’s George Stephanopolous, Biden said that “If there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay to get them all out.”

At the event, McConnell also warned of the continued threat from the Taliban, adding, “This fight will not end just because our politicians want it to go away.”

Aug 31, 2:19 pm
Scenes from Kabul the day after the US military withdrawal

Scenes around Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Tuesday showed Taliban fighters appearing to wear Afghan National Army uniforms after the militant group took control of the airport following the U.S. military’s full withdrawal from the country — a far different picture from the days preceding.

Resources left behind in the wake of mass evacuations, including equipment stamped with American and Afghan national flags, littered the area where U.S. troops recently stood guard. Taliban fighters have apparently since seized some equipment distributed to the Afghan army by the U.S. before it collapsed.

As the 20-year war came to a close on Monday, the Pentagon said that the cost, in human lives, was 2,461 troops killed and more than 20,000 injured.

Since the evacuation mission began, 6,000 citizens and more than 123,000 people — Afghan “friends and allies” — were flown out of Afghanistan by the U.S. and partners, but 100 to 200 American citizens still wanting to leave remain, officials said, as well as thousands of Afghans who worked with the U.S. and fear reprisal from the Taliban.

Aug 31, 2:02 pm
House GOP promising investigation into Biden’s withdrawal decision

GOP Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said Republicans had sent letters to the Department of Defense, the Department of State and the intelligence community asking agencies to preserve documents relating to the Afghanistan withdrawal for what they said would be a future investigation.

“We want the Democrats to join us but we are going to do it with or without, exercising our constitutional authority of oversight to get to the bottom of how this got so wrong,” McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said at a news conference on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

The announcement comes after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Friday there would be “a day of reckoning” for Biden, promising an investigation into the withdrawal. Other GOP House members criticized Biden’s withdrawal, with Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., saying “this disaster is solely the responsibility” of Biden, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

Aug 31, 11:57 am
Harris presides over Senate passage of bill assisting Americans fleeing Afghanistan

Vice President Kamala Harris gaveled in a pro forma session of the Senate on Tuesday morning, to enable the passage of a bill that will help with the repatriation of Americans coming from Afghanistan, according to a White House aide.

The bill provides emergency, temporary assistance for Americans returning from Afghanistan. It was passed without any objection at roughly 10:30 a.m. and will now head to the president’s desk since it originated in and already passed the House.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday there is still a “small number of Americans — under 200, and likely closer to 100 — who remain in Afghanistan and want to leave.”

Aug 31, 10:18 am
Taliban spokesperson congratulates nation on ‘freedom,’ American defeat

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told Taliban soldiers at a press conference hours after the last U.S. soldiers left the airport in Kabul that they had secured victory for the whole of the Afghan nation.

“Due to the sincerity, perseverance, and patience of our elders, we gained our freedom. I congratulate all of you and our nation on this freedom, and I hope that Afghanistan will never be occupied and that it will be free, prosperous, and the home of Afghans, and that there will be an Islamic government,” he said, according to a translation of his remarks from Reuters.

Mujahid said the Taliban wanted to sustain good relations with the rest of the world, that Afghanistan was not a country for occupying forces, and that Americans were defeated and could not achieve their goals.

“The nation has suffered a lot, and they have been repressed because of the occupation, have seen problems for 20 years, and can no longer tolerate misbehavior. Therefore, I call on all our militaries to treat the people well because the people have the right to peace, to unite, and we are the servants of the nation, not to dominate the people,” he said.

Aug 31, 10:04 am
Biden to defend Afghanistan withdrawal in speech to nation

President Biden is expected to defend his decision on Afghanistan when he speaks at 2:45 p.m. from the White House — a day after the last U.S. troops left in accordance with his self-imposed deadline but also while other Americans who wanted to leave were left behind to deal with an uncertain fate.

In an exclusive interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan offered more defense for the administration’s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal, perhaps foreshadowing Biden’s remarks this afternoon.

Though Stephanopoulos pressed him for details on the plan to evacuate the remaining Americans, which Secretary of State Antony Blinken said is “under 200,” Sullivan repeated they will use “every available diplomatic means with the economic leverage that we have,” but he did attempt to take credit for the successful evacuations — and even pinned some of the blame on the remaining Americans who weren’t able to make it out.

“We do believe that there is an important dimension of humanitarian assistance that should go directly to the people of Afghanistan.”

National Security Adviser @JakeSullivan46 speaks on working with the Taliban after Afghanistan withdrawal.

— Good Morning America (@GMA) August 31, 2021

“We got out between 5,500 and 6,000 people — Americans from Afghanistan — we got out 97 or 98% of those on the ground and the small number who remain, we contacted repeatedly over the course of two weeks to come to the airport to come to a rally point. 5,500 or more did that,” Sullivan said.

In response to criticism from many Republicans lawmakers like Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, Sullivan contended that only the president, as commander in chief, knows what it is to make these hard decisions.

“Those criticizing are not the ones who have to sit in the Situation Room and make the hard calls about the threats that we face and the objectives we’re trying to obtain and President Biden made that hard call and it is a call he believes will ultimately serve the interests of our people, all of our citizens and our country,” he said.

He also insisted aid will not be given to the Taliban unless they adhere to international obligations.

“It will be about whether they follow through on their commitments, their commitments to safe passage for Americans and Afghan allies. Their commitment to not allow Afghanistan to be a base from which terrorists can attack the United States or any other country,” Sullivan said.

Aug 30, 9:19 pm
Taliban wield American-supplied equipment, uniforms after withdrawal

Moments after the last U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan, Taliban fighters entered the Kabul airport, wielding American-supplied weapons, equipment and even uniforms.

Aug 30, 8:59 pm
Military releases image of last soldier out of Afghanistan

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, of the 82nd Airborne Division, was the last American service member to depart Afghanistan, according to Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command.

“On the last plane out was General Chris Donahue, the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and my ground commander, and he was accompanied by our — our charge d’affaires, Ambassador Ross Wilson, so they came out together,” McKenzie said at the Pentagon briefing. “So the state and defense team came out on the last aircraft and were in fact the last people to step on the ground.”

Aug 30, 8:04 pm
US engaging Taliban, but not recognizing it

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. will continue to engage the Taliban going forward — engagement that will be “driven by one thing only — our vital national interest.”

“The Taliban seeks international legitimacy and support. Our message is any legitimacy and any support will have to be earned,” he said. “The Taliban can do that by meeting commitments and obligations on freedom of travel; respecting the basic rights of the Afghan people, including women and minorities; upholding its commitments on counter-terrorism; not carrying out reprisal violence against those who choose to stay in Afghanistan; and forming an inclusive government that can meet the needs and reflect the aspirations of the Afghan people.”

But the Taliban have already violated many of those — denying freedom of travel to some, violating their commitments on counter-terrorism, carrying out reprisal violence and more.

Aug 30, 7:37 pm
Commitment to Afghans who worked with US ‘has no deadline’: Blinken

For Afghans who worked alongside the U.S. who wanted to leave but weren’t able to get out, the U.S. would continue to try to help them, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in remarks Monday evening.

“Our commitment to them has no deadline,” he said.

To that end, he thanked Qatar and Turkey for trying to make the Kabul airport operational soon, allowing safe passage to these people.

“This would enable a small number of daily charter flights, which is a key for anyone who wants to depart from Afghanistan moving forward,” Blinken said. “We’re also working to identify ways to support Americans, legal permanent residents and Afghans who have worked with us to depart via land routes.”

But he tempered expectations.

“We have no illusion that any of this will be easy,” Blinken said. “Or rapid. This will be an entirely different phase from the evacuation that just concluded. It will take time to work through a new set of challenges.”

Aug 30, 5:01 pm
Number of Americans left in Afghanistan in the ‘low 100s’

There are still Americans left in Afghanistan that the United States is trying to get out of the country, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, said.

“I believe our Department of State is going to work very hard to allow any American citizens that are left, and we think the citizens that were not brought outnumber in the low — very low 100s,” McKenzie said. “I believe that we’re going to be able to get those people out.”

There were no evacuees left at the airport when the last U.S. flight left, he said.

McKenzie also said the U.S. would also “negotiate very hard, and very aggressively, to get our other Afghan partners out.”

Aug 30, 4:35 pm
All US troops have departed Afghanistan: Pentagon

All U.S. troops have departed Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense, concluding America’s military ground presence there and its longest war.

Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, made the announcement from the headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, in Tampa, Florida, after being introduced in the Pentagon Briefing Room by press secretary John Kirby.

Acknowledging that the withdrawal has been completed, McKenzie said the last U.S. military plane has cleared Afghan airspace.

He said that the U.S. military’s 20-year mission in Afghanistan is over.

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