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Biden finally takes questions on Afghanistan, says Kabul evacuation ‘one of the most difficult airlifts in history’

Biden finally takes questions on Afghanistan, says Kabul evacuation ‘one of the most difficult airlifts in history’
US President Joe Biden took questions from the press about the unfolding evacuation from Kabul, only to repeat talking points from earlier and make an emotional appeal to Americans to support him in ending the war.

Scheduled to appear at 1pm local time at the White House, Biden ran almost an hour late, eventually addressing the press flanked by masked-up Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He tried to put a brave face on the situation, saying the US has “made significant progress” in evacuating Americans from Kabul.

“This is one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history,” he said, adding that the US is the “only country in the world capable of projecting this much power” at such a distance, referring to the almost 6,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne, 10th Mountain and 24th Marine Expeditionary divisions currently guarding the Hamid Karzai International Airport.

Almost 13,000 people have been evacuated so far – including 5,700 on Thursday – but flights had to be “paused” for hours on Friday until more evacuees could be “processed,” Biden said. In addition to Americans, the US is looking to evacuate not just Afghan interpreters (recipients of ‘SIV’ visas), but also women leaders and NGO workers who might be threatened by the Taliban government.

Let me be clear: any American who wants to come home, We’ll get you home.

Biden repeated multiple times that the US military is in “constant contact” with the Taliban, and insisted that they were letting people with US passports through their checkpoints, though multiple reporters disagreed. He also described the evacuation mission as “dangerous” and risky to US forces, noting he can’t promise there won’t be casualties. 

Any attack or disruption by the Taliban would be met with “a swift and forceful response,” he said, but added that the US forces were also on the lookout for Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorists in the area, whom he described as the “sworn enemy of the Taliban.”

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Bringing up “gut-wrenching images of panicked people acting out of sheer desperation,” Biden said he didn’t think anyone could react to them without feeling pain. In Wednesday’s interview with ABC, however, Biden’s own response was to say “that was four days ago! Five days ago!”

On two occasions, Biden brought up his late son Beau – who was deployed to Iraq as a military lawyer, and died of cancer in 2015 – to show that he carries the “burden” of ordering troops into and out of battle.

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Unlike his appearances on Monday and Wednesday, when he addressed Afghanistan and the Covid-19 pandemic, Biden took questions from the press this time. He called on a handful of prearranged reporters from major outlets, but struggled to answer their questions.

“I have seen no question of our credibility from our allies around the world,” Biden said in response to the very first question. “As a matter of fact, the exact opposite I've gotten.”

He followed that up by repeating Monday’s arguments for ending the war, before admitting he forgot the first part of the question – about getting Afghans who wanted to leave out alongside US citizens.

Asked about how confident he was that the US would be able to react to a possible terrorist resurgence, given the unexpected collapse of the Afghan government and the Taliban takeover, Biden called that “apples and oranges” and reverted to talk about the US’ “over-the-horizon” capability to deal with terrorists.

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He also dismissed a recently revealed “dissent cable” from the State Department, saying he got “all kinds of advice” and went with the “consensus opinion” about what would happen, before adding, “I made the decision. The buck stops with me.”

While French, German and British troops have ventured into Kabul to escort their citizens to the airport, Biden has not committed to having the US troops do the same – hinting at one point that all options were on the table, but then trying to explain why that wasn’t feasible. He did note that US forces at the airport provided “overwatch” to the allies, and helped 169 Americans get “over the wall” and into the compound, rather than face Taliban checkpoints.

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