Facing intense criticism from all sides over the incompetent effort to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies out of Afghanistan, President Joe Biden addressed the nation Friday to give an update on the evacuation effort.
The president said that nearly 6,000 troops were deployed on the ground in Kabul and have secured the airport and enabled international flights out of the country to resume. He would not commit, however, to using U.S. troops to go into Kabul and extract Americans who have not been able to reach the airport. In fact, he claimed that there was "no indication" American citizens were having trouble reaching the airport, a claim that is not based in reality.
"This is one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history. And the only country in the world capable of projecting this much power on the far side of the world, with this degree of precision, is the United States of America," Biden boasted.
"We've already evacuated more than 18,000 people since July and approximately 13,000 since our military airlift began on August the 14th. Thousands more have been evacuated on private charter flights facilitated by the U.S. government," the president said.
"The United States stands by its commitment to these people," Biden added.
Flights from the Kabul airport were briefly paused on Friday after a facility in Qatar where refugees were being transported for processing reached capacity. But Biden said that flights out of Afghanistan had resumed by the time he began speaking, as his administration had worked to set up a new space where refugees could be processed in Bahrain.
The president reiterated that the U.S. government does not know exactly how many Americans were in Afghanistan when evacuation efforts began. He said his administration was working to count how many Americans have been evacuated and how many remain.
"We're going to do everything, everything that we can to provide safe evacuation for our Afghan allies, partners, and Afghans who might be targeted because of their association with the United States," Biden said.
"Let me be clear: Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home," Biden promised, before hedging expectations. "Make no mistake: This evacuation mission is dangerous. It involves risks to our armed forces and its being conducted under difficult circumstances. I cannot promise what the final outcome will be or that it will be without risk of loss, but as commander-in-chief I can assure that I will mobilize every resource necessary and as an American I offer my gratitude to the brave men and women of the U.S. armed forces who are carrying out this mission."
The president said his administration is in "constant contact" with the Taliban to ensure the safe passage of Americans to the airport. Answering a question from a reporter, Biden said there was "no indication" that any American with a U.S. passport has not been able to get to the airport safely.
ABC News Senior Correspondent Ian Pannell, reporting from the ground in Afghanistan, said Biden's claim is "just totally not" what is happening.
"Last night on 'World News' we had American citizens who had exactly that experience. They tried to get to the airport, they had waved their American passports ... they were beaten by the Taliban with the rubber fan belt from a vehicle," Pannell said.
Reports indicate that the Taliban has also been blocking Afghans from reaching the airport, breaking their commitments to the U.S. The Biden administration said Thursday it was aware of "congestion" around the airport hampering evacuation efforts, an interesting way to describe Taliban soldiers using gunfire to disperse crowds of people.
Facing demands to go get the trapped Americans, Biden would not commit to sending U.S. troops into Kabul to extract U.S. citizens who have not been able to reach the airport, as British and French forces have done for their citizens.
The president vowed that any attack by the Taliban on U.S. forces working to secure the evacuation of American citizens "will be met with swift and forceful response."
Biden also said that he's been in contact with international leaders and that there will be a G7 summit next week to discuss ongoing evacuation efforts.
He also dismissed criticisms from the international community, saying there's "no question of our credibility from our allies around the world," despite the fact that the U.K. Parliament voted Wednesday to hold Biden in contempt for his handling of the situation in Afghanistan.
"There'll be plenty of time to criticize and second-guess when this operation is over. But now, now I am focused on getting this job done," Biden said.
Biden's remarks, follow several days of chaos at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, where thousands of desperate refugees and American citizens have sought flights out of the country to flee the radical Islamist regime that came to power on Sunday. Biden's administration has lagged in approving visas for evacuees, and horrific images and videos have surfaced showing Afghans clinging to departing U.S. military aircraft and falling to their deaths after they failed to secure passage aboard.
Administration officials said Thursday that 7,000 people had been evacuated from Kabul since Sunday, with 5,200 American troops on the ground in Afghanistan assisting and providing security at the airport. Those American troops were joined by 600 Afghan security forces soldiers, who have proven willing to continue the fight against the Taliban.
Defense Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters Thursday that the U.S. is capable of airlifting between 5,000 and 9,000 out of Afghanistan each day, but so far been unable to do so because the bases where refugees are taken for processing have reached capacity and an unknown number of Americans who want to be evacuated are unable to reach the airport.
Asked how many Americans are still in Afghanistan, Kirby said, "I don't know."
In his first remarks on the situation Monday in Afghanistan, Biden defended his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from the conflict there, asserting that "there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces."
Biden said that his national security team had been "clear-eyed about the risks" of leaving Afghanistan, though just one month prior Biden assured the American people that it was "highly unlikely" that the Taliban would take control of the country.
The president blamed Afghanistan's political leaders for giving up the fight and fleeing the country and the Afghan military for collapsing unexpectedly. But U.S. intelligence officials had warned that a rapid collapse of the Afghan military and government was imminent, warnings that were seemingly ignored. NBC News reported that multiple military officials had wanted to begin evacuating vulnerable Afghans as early as May, but were prohibited from doing so.
The president argued that he did not order an evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies sooner to avoid triggering a "crisis of confidence" in the Western-backed Afghan government. Biden also said Monday that Afghan civilians were at fault for the evacuation debacle because they "did not want to leave early."
In a Wednesday interview with ABC News, Biden said that the current situation was unavoidable.
"The idea that somehow, there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing — I don't know how that happens," Biden said.
He reiterated this point on Friday.
"If we had decided 15 years ago to leave Afghanistan, it would have been really difficult. If we decided five years ago, if we continued the war for another decade and tried to leave — there's no way in which you'd be able to leave Afghanistan without there being some of what you're seeing now," Biden said.
"But what we've done so far is we've been able to get a large number of Americans out, all our personnel at the embassy out, and so on. And thank God, so far, knock on wood, we're in a different position."
The president was scheduled to go to his home in Wilmington, Delaware, Friday to continue a vacation that was interrupted by the crisis in Afghanistan. Biden postponed his departure to give his speech and will instead return to vacation on Saturday, remaining in Delaware through the weekend.