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Democratic lawmaker says US military isn't responsible for getting Americans to Kabul airport safely

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Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A Democratic lawmaker on the House Armed Services Committee said Thursday that the U.S. military is not responsible for guaranteeing the safety of American citizens still trapped in Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of the country.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) told CNN in an interview that "it makes no sense whatsoever" to send U.S. troops into Kabul to extract American citizens or residents who have so far been unable to travel through Taliban checkpoints to the international airport for extraction.

"The people in Kabul and in other parts of [Afghanistan] are going to have to do the best they can to get [to the airport]," said Garamendi, the chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness. "There is no way the American military should use military force to go to someone's house or some building somewhere to extract people. That will create a very significant problem and a very significant loss of life on both sides."

"To provide safe passage from parts of a huge city? No way — not sensible," he added.

Evacuation efforts are still underway to extract the thousands of American citizens who were left behind in Afghanistan after President Joe Biden began withdrawing U.S. forces.

The Biden administration was caught unprepared when the Taliban seized control of Kabul on Sunday, defeating the Afghan security forces that Biden had promised would be capable of continuing the fight in the country's civil war without direct U.S. military support.

Though the administration is currently running flights out of the country from Kabul's airport, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin acknowledged Wednesday that the U.S. military does not have the capability to guarantee the safety of Americans who are unable to reach the airport.

"I don't have the capability to go out and extend operations currently into Kabul," Austin told reporters.

"And where do you take that? How far can you extend into Kabul and how long does it take to flow those forces in to be able to do that?" Austin asked.

The administration announced Thursday that 7,000 people had been evacuated from Kabul since Sunday when the Taliban seized control. There are 5,200 American troops deployed in the country assisting with evacuation efforts, and Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. is capable of airlifting between 5,000 and 9,000 people out of the country each day.

But asked how many Americans are still in Afghanistan, Kirby said, "I don't know."

The State Department estimates there are between 5,000 and 10,000 American citizens in Afghanistan, but the exact number is unknown because the government doesn't keep track of which Americans travel overseas.

The Biden administration is relying on an agreement with the Taliban that American citizens who wish to leave the country may travel to the airport unmolested. But the State Department said Wednesday that the radical Islamist militants are breaking their word and blocking Afghans from reaching the airport.

A State Department spokesman told reporters the Biden administration is "aware of congestion around the airport," as an unknown number of Americans remain trapped and in danger being killed by terrorists.

Anything Else?

CNN counterterrorism analyst and former CIA operative Phil Mudd anticipated Garamendi's remarks with callous comments of his own while defending the Biden administration's handling of evacuation.

Appearing on CNN's "Prime Time" with host Chris Cuomo, Mudd said that the State Department shouldn't make an attempt to go get the American citizens who are not able to travel to the airport.

"I wouldn't offer them safe travel," Mudd said, explaining that he thinks it's a bad idea for the U.S. military to attempt to extract American citizens to the airport.

"Let me give you the bottom line. We don't want 5,000 Ubers a day from the airport in Afghanistan going to pick up people who identify with the U.S. and then risking firefights with Taliban along the way. One wrong shot, the Taliban start shooting, the U.S. military shoots back, remember Black Hawk Down, Somalia, U.S. military forces are dragged through downtown Kabul," Mudd said.

He also said that "the Taliban appears to think it's okay to let people go," referring to the agreement the Biden administration made, and that Biden's success or failure should be measured by how many Americans get out in the coming days.

By way of contrast, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) pleaded with Biden to rescue Americans from the hostage situation his incompetence placed them in.

"Dishonor is a choice," Sasse wrote to the president Thursday. "Naively hoping the Taliban gives Americans and our allies safe passage to Kabul's airport is not a plan — it's a hostage situation. We have better options. Give American troops the power to push back the airport perimeter and create safe, American-controlled corridors to the airport. We cannot wait for Americans to find their own way. Go get them. It's the duty of the commander-in-chief."

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