AGENCIES | NEWYORK TIMES | WASHINGTON — President Biden said on Wednesday that the United States was committed to evacuating every American out of Afghanistan, even if that may mean extending the military mission beyond his Aug. 31 deadline for a total withdrawal.
“If there are American citizens left, we’re going to stay to get them all out,” Mr. Biden said during an interview on ABC News.
“So Americans should understand that troops might have to be there beyond Aug. 31?” asked the interviewer, George Stephanopoulos.
“No,” Mr. Biden replied. “Americans should understand that we’re going to try to get it done before Aug. 31.” But he then said, “If we don’t, we’ll determine at the time who’s left.”
Mr. Biden, as he did earlier in the week, offered a strong defence of his administration’s handling of the military withdrawal, which has plunged Afghanistan into chaos.
“The idea that somehow there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing — I don’t know how that happens,” he said, according to a transcript provided by the network.
Mr. Stephanopoulos asked Mr. Biden whether in making the decision to withdraw forces from America’s 20-year war in Afghanistan he had “priced in” the risk that United States citizens and Afghan allies would struggle to evacuate the country, putting them in danger from Taliban forces who might try to exact revenge.
The president initially answered “yes,” and then added: “Now exactly what happened, I’ve not priced in.”
In the days since Kabul fell to the Taliban on Sunday, thousands of Americans and Afghans have surged toward the airport, seeking flights out of the country. Taliban forces outside the airport have been brutally stopping many people at checkpoints. Many others have made it to the airport perimeter only to be turned away.
Mr. Biden insisted in the interview that the Taliban had agreed to let U.S. citizens get through to the airport.
“Look, one of the things we didn’t know is what the Taliban would do in terms of trying to keep people from getting out,” he said. “What they would do. What are they doing now? They’re cooperating, letting American citizens get out, American personnel get out, embassies get out, et cetera.”
That was not the case, he acknowledged, for the thousands of Afghans who helped U.S. and NATO forces over the years and now have a target on their back.
“They’re having — we’re having some more difficulty having those who helped us when we were in there,” the president said.
The president insisted that the administration had acted swiftly to evacuate the American Embassy in Kabul without losing any lives.
And though the world has looked on in horror, he appeared dismissive of the images of United States military planes taking off with Afghans clinging to their sides. Some plunged to their deaths.
“That was four days ago, five days ago!” Mr. Biden said.
Mr. Stephanopoulos asked whether what happened was a “failure of intelligence, planning, execution or judgment,” deflected to the broader issue of his decision to end the war.
“Look, it was a simple choice, George,” Mr. Biden said. “When you had the government of Afghanistan, the leader of that government, get in a plane and taking off and going to another country, when you saw the significant collapse of the Afghan troops we had trained, up to 300,000 of them, just leaving their equipment and taking off — that was, you know, I’m not, that’s what happened.”
The Afghan American couple visiting Afghanistan for a wedding had finally made it through the Taliban checkpoints outside Kabul’s international airport, but the airport itself was still out of reach, a tall barricade of scraggly concertina wire separating them from American troops, their weapons at the ready.
A riveting video taken by the husband on Wednesday shows what happened next.
The woman, wearing a green head scarf, screams in terror as the American troops point their weapons at her through the barbed wire, plumes of smoke rising above their military formation. She yells over and over again the name of a U.S. military contact she had been given to ease her passage through the barricade and into the airport.
“I was calling my contact to pick me up and find me in the crowd,” the wife said later in an interview. The couple asked that their names not be used until they were safely out of the country.
The woman described having to fight her way through a crowd of Afghans who did not have U.S. citizenship, green cards or visas but were desperate to be evacuated.
“Pushing through the crowd was like killing yourself,” she said.
The couple were finally allowed into the airport, but the ordeal was not over.
Late Wednesday, they were still waiting for American military flights that were evacuating other United States citizens like them; green card holders; and people with special immigrant visas, including Afghans who worked as translators with the military and are now at risk from the Taliban.
The line they were in was hundreds of people long, she said.
The couple, who live in the Washington area, said they had failed repeatedly to make it to the airport over the past few days. So they decided to seek help from the office of Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican who has been vocal on the chaotic nature of the U.S. withdrawal. Mr. Cotton’s office provided the name of the contact at the airport military barricade, they said.
The couple shared the video with The New York Times about 2:30 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday — near midnight in Kabul, just after they had entered the airport.
Both are U.S. citizens of Afghan origin and dressed in traditional Afghan attire to ease their journey through Taliban checkpoints. But their clothing created further confusion in the fog of an already chaotic American evacuation effort.
Then they were in.
“I couldn’t stop my tears,” the wife said.