Afghanistan updates: Biden to address nation as pressure builds to speed evacuations

Written by on August 20, 2021


(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Chaos has enveloped Kabul after Afghanistan’s government’s collapsed and the Taliban seized control, all but ending America’s 20-year campaign as it began: under Taliban rule.

On Thursday, protests broke out in Kabul with Afghan men and women waving the nation’s flag in defiance of the Taliban on Afghanistan’s Independence Day.

The U.S. has evacuated approximately 9,000 people since Aug. 14, according to a White House official, with 3,000 people evacuated Thursday and double that number slated to be flown out Friday. Pentagon officials have said their focus remains on maintaining the airport perimeter and increasing the number of evacuees out of Kabul.

President Joe Biden returned to Washington from Camp David on Wednesday and sat down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the White House, the president’s first interview since the withdrawal from Afghanistan. He is expected to address the nation on evacuation efforts Friday.

The Pentagon has said that 6,000 U.S. troops have been deployed to the country’s capital as the military races to evacuate people. Despite criticism, the Biden administration is sticking by its decision to withdraw troops from the country, though Biden told Stephanopoulos troops might stay beyond the original Aug. 31 date if it takes longer to get all Americans out of the country.

Here are some key developments. All times Eastern:

Aug 20, 11:45 am
White House tries to spin Kabul airport, embassy evacuation as successful planning

White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield defended the government’s response to the Afghanistan crisis and touted the airport evacuations as a success.

“We have taken control of the airport. Flights are leaving regularly. I would say that’s not something that happens without planning. That’s not something that just happens,” she said on MSNBC Friday morning.

“The president planned for multiple contingencies, that’s why he prepositioned troops in the Gulf who are able to move in immediately after Kabul fell, take control of the airport and begin to set up flights to get people out of the country,” she added.

Bedingfield also touted the fact that the U.S. Embassy was cleared without loss of life, despite the fact that crucial documents for Afghan allies, like passports, were destroyed, according to a Democratic lawmaker’s office. The destruction of passports could make it more difficult for Afghan allies to get evacuated, putting them in even more danger.

“48 hours after the fall of Kabul we evacuated all of our embassy personnel to the airport without a shot fired,” Bedingfield said. “That’s not something that just happens, that requires foresight and planning and that’s what President Biden and his team did.”

Aug 20, 11:29 am
DHS personnel deployed to Qatar to help processing Afghans

Agents from Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and officers from Transportation Security Agency have been deployed to Doha, Qatar “to conduct processing, screening, and vetting, with the goal of bringing to the United States Afghans who have worked for and on behalf of the United States and other eligible vulnerable Afghans in coordination with Department of Defense and Department of State,” a CBP spokesperson told ABC News on Friday.

Aug 20, 11:10 am
Pentagon requests to ‘reprogram’ $400M to pay for transport, housing of Afghan refugees

The Pentagon submitted a request to the House and Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday to “reprogram” $400 million to pay for the transport and housing of Afghan refugees.

A House Armed Services Committee aide confirmed the news, which was first reported in Punchbowl News.

“The Committee has received and is in the process of reviewing the reprogramming request from the Department,” HASC spokesperson Monica Matoush told ABC News in a statement.

This request comes on top of the $1.1 billion already approved by Congress in the security supplemental package for the “Special Immigrant Visa” program.

“Chairman Smith has been following the developments in Afghanistan very closely and continues to believe that our current focus must be the rapid evacuation of U.S. personnel, Afghan nationals that have supported the military, as well as their families, and other Afghan nationals that may be in danger due to their work on humanitarian or human rights issues. The Committee will keep this priority in mind as the reprogramming request is evaluated,” Matoush added.

Aug 20, 10:33 am
Biden to brief nation Friday as 6,000 slated to be evacuated from Afghanistan

As chaos continues to unfold in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden will address the nation at 1 p.m. on evacuation efforts amid mounting pressure to get Americans and Afghans who have supported the U.S. out of the embattled country.

After about 3,000 people were evacuated Thursday, the State Department said another 6,000 are slated to be evacuated on 20 flights Friday. Between 5,000 to 7,000 people will have to be evacuated daily to beat the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, Biden told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos Wednesday.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with their national security team to be briefed on the evolving situation on the ground in Afghanistan on Friday before Harris departs on a foreign trip to Asia in the evening, and the House and Senate will also receive unclassified briefings at 2 p.m. and 3:15 p.m., respectively.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby will also hold a briefing with Maj. Gen Hank Taylor at 2 p.m.

Aug 20, 9:08 am
Biden administration grapples with slow Afghanistan evacuations

Members of Congress will get more details on the state of affairs in Afghanistan in unclassified briefings Friday amid bipartisan calls for Americans and Afghan allies to be evacuated from Kabul faster after the Taliban takeover.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley will speak with members of the House of Representatives. Senators will also receive a briefing.

The briefing comes after another chaotic day at Kabul’s airport. The State Department said Thursday that 6,000 people were cleared to be flown out on 20 flights on Friday — the max capacity for each.

The number evacuated will have to be 5,000 to 7,000 per day to beat the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, President Joe Biden  Wednesday.

In order for that to happen, though, those looking to flee the ravaged nation need to be able to access the airport and there is currently no clear plan to resolve that. State Department spokesman Ned Price had a sobering message for those hoping for a safe route.

“At this point, we don’t have the resources to go beyond the airport compound,” Price told reporters Thursday.

While talks continue with the Taliban about allowing safe passage to the airport, no resolution has yet been reached.

Aug 20, 1:25 am
US evacuated about 3,000 people from Kabul on Thursday

The U.S. evacuated approximately 3,000 people from the airport in Kabul on Thursday as thousands clamor to get out of the country in the wake of the Taliban taking over the government.

The White House confirmed the latest number of evacuees early Friday, among them nearly 350 U.S. citizens. The others on the 12 C-17 flights were family members of U.S. citizens, special immigration visa applicants and their families and vulnerable Afghans, a White House official said.

The official said 9,000 people have been evacuated since Aug. 14 and 14,000 since the end of July.

Not included in those totals were 11 charter flights facilitated by the U.S. military, the official said.

President Joe Biden is scheduled to discuss the evacuations from Afghanistan in an address Friday afternoon.

Aug 19, 8:13 pm
Consular surge will only be as high as 40 people total: Sources

The State Department announced earlier this week that it is “surging” staff to the international airport in Kabul to assist with the massive efforts to evacuate as many as 15,000 U.S. citizens and tens of thousands of Afghans who helped the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

But the total number of consular officials who will help process people will only be as high as 40 people in total, according to two sources familiar with the plans — raising questions about whether that is enough staff to process the tens of thousands left to evacuate.

The State Department declined to confirm how many consular officials would be based at Kabul airport, but referred questions to spokesperson Ned Price’s comments earlier on Thursday.

“We’re always going to be evaluating what we could be doing differently, what we could be doing more effectively. If it turns out that we need additional consular capacity in Kabul, we won’t hesitate to do that, but right now we are confident that … with the additional reinforcements, we’ll have what we need,” he told reporters.

In comparison, there are more than 5,200 U.S. troops on the ground, securing the airport and evacuating Americans and Afghans on military cargo aircraft. The military is able to airlift between 5,000 and 9,000 people per day, Gen. Hank Taylor told reporters Thursday, but they have not had that many evacuees ready to go.

Crowds are unable to access the airport, blocked by massive congestion and Taliban fighters beating back crowds. U.S. forces have also deployed tear gas and fired into the air to disperse crowds. Over the last 24 hours, Taylor said, only 2,000 passengers were taken out.

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