WASHINGTON — (TNS) The Biden administration said it has cleared the way for Americans to travel to the Kabul airport to evacuate Afghanistan, citing assurances from the Taliban that they’ll allow for safe passage.
U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday that Americans in the besieged city should try to head to the airport, though the State Department cautioned they should shelter in place until they received a communication from the embassy.
The U.S. is working with the Taliban to address reports of checkpoints and physical violence against some trying to get there, Sullivan said.
“The Taliban have informed us that they are prepared to provide the safe passage of civilians to the airport, and we intend to hold them to that commitment,” Sullivan told reporters at the White House.
Desperate scenes played out at Kabul’s international airport on Monday as thousands rushed to exit Afghanistan after Taliban fighters took control of the capital, with the Associated Press reporting at least seven people were killed in the melee.
With land borders now under the control of the Taliban, the airport is the last remaining exit point and there are fears that option may close soon. Videos circulating on social media showed hundreds of people swarming the tarmac as countries including the U.S. seek to evacuate their diplomats and other nationals.
The U.S. evacuation operation could last until the end of the month, according to the White House.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said earlier Tuesday that the U.S. expects it can fly out between 5,000 and 9,000 people per day. About 11,000 Americans have self-identified as still in the country, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. It’s not clear how many Afghans who assisted the U.S., along with other allies, are trying to evacuate.
Earlier Tuesday, the White House said civilians and military flights had resumed and around 700 people — including 150 Americans — had been moved out of the country in the past 24 hours. Some 3,500 U.S. troops are currently on the ground securing the airport, with more expected to arrive in the coming days.
President Joe Biden has come under bipartisan criticism for the chaotic scene in Afghanistan, where Taliban fighters toppled the government and seized control ahead of the planned U.S. military withdrawal later this month.
“We did not anticipate that it would happen at the speed,” Sullivan told reporters during a news conference at the White House. “Though we were planning for these potential contingencies.”
Biden convened his principal advisers last Wednesday evening to discuss the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, Sullivan said. Thursday morning, Biden gave the order to bring in troops to secure the evacuation and draw down the embassy in Kabul, Sullivan said. The president was engaged “hour-by-hour” on the developments, he added.
Biden said Monday that he stood “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw American troops by Afghanistan by the end of the month despite the “far from perfect” scenes on the ground.
“This wasn’t just a choice between saving those women and girls and not saving those women and girls,” Sullivan said.
(By Justin Sink, Bloomberg News via Tribune News Service)