President Joe Biden said the Taliban is not a major threat to the United States and is allowing American citizens to get to the airport unimpeded for evacuations from Afghanistan, despite reports to the contrary.
At a press conference Friday, the president talked about the evacuation of Americans and Afghans amid the quick takeover by the Taliban.
Biden began by touting the “significant progress” made in getting people evacuated, stating that around 5,700 people, including 169 Americans "who got over the wall using military assets," were flown out of the country on Thursday.
As many as 10,000 to 15,000 Americans have yet to be evacuated from Afghanistan.
The president said the U.S. government "doesn't have the exact number" of Americans who are in Afghanistan or where they're located and is working to "verify" their whereabouts.
On Friday, the Kabul airport was shut down for more than eight hours amid concerns that the U.S. evacuation base in Qatar was quickly becoming overcrowded with Afghan refugees.
“We’ve secured the airport, enabling flights to resume,” said Biden. “Now we have almost 6,000 troops on the ground, including the 82nd Airborne, providing runway security.”
“This is one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history. And the only country in the world capable of protecting this much power on the far side of the world with this degree of precision is the United States of America.”
Biden said around 18,000 people had been evacuated from Afghanistan since July and 13,000 since their airlift began on Aug. 14., when the Taliban seized control of key areas in Afghanistan before taking control of Kabul on Sunday.
Biden took five questions from reporters, one of whom asked the president whether he will commit troops to Kabul to rescue Americans who have been unable to get to the airport to leave the country.
He responded by saying, “we have no indication that” Americans seeking to flee the country have been unable to safely reach the airport in Kabul.
“We’ve made an agreement with the Taliban,” answered the president. “They’ve allowed them to go through. It’s in their interests to let them go through. We know of no circumstance where American citizens are carrying an American passport, are trying to get through to the airport. But we will do whatever needs to be done to see to it that they get to the airport.”
On Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul sent out a security alert published online, noting that the U.S. “cannot ensure safe passage to the Hamid Karzai International Airport.
In response to a separate question about rescuing Americans stuck behind Taliban checkpoints, Biden said they are considering ways to evacuate those citizens, but added the U.S. wouldn't be expanding the securing perimeter outside the airport.
For his part, Biden said that the U.S. and allies will still stay vigilant regarding Afghanistan, both regarding potential terrorist threats and human rights abuses.
According to Biden, this would include bringing “international pressure on the Taliban with respect to the treatment of Afghan people overall, but including Afghan women and girls.”
When asked whether the aftermath of the withdrawal had damaged America's reputation, Biden replied: "I’ve seen no questioning of our credibility from our allies around the world. In fact, I've seen the exact opposite."
The question came after a former Obama administration official criticized those advising the president, even calling for their firing.
“President Biden needs to fire his national security adviser and several other senior leaders who oversaw the botched execution of our withdrawal from Afghanistan,” Brett Bruen, who served as the director of global engagement in the Obama White House, wrote in a USA Today op-ed on Monday. “He has to restructure how and with whom he is making foreign policy decisions, allowing for more input from career experts.”
In an interview with Fox News Thursday, Bruen added: “What we’re seen at the NSC (National Security Council) is a lot of political appointees, but not the folks who have the relevant experience.”
After a Cobra emergency committee Friday, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the fallout from the U.S. withdrawal has left Afghanistan in a “precarious" situation.
“So when the U.S. decides emphatically to withdraw in the way that they have then clearly we are going to have to manage the consequences,” Johnson said, according to The Telegraph.
The president was also asked about a leaked classified cable sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in July signed by 23 U.S. Embassy staffers in Kabul, raising concerns about a collapse of Afghan security forces and a Taliban takeover.
Biden said: "We got all kinds of cables, all kinds of advice. ... I took the consensus opinion ... that, in fact, it would not occur, and if occurred until later in the year."
Following the drawing down of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban quickly seized control of much of the country, eventually taking the capital Kabul and forcing the government to flee.
In response to the unexpected speed at which they retook the nation, large numbers of Americans, Afghan allies, and others have desperately tried to leave the country.
A return to Taliban rule for Afghanistan has led many to express concern over the treatment of women, as well as religious minorities, such as the small Christianity community.
On the website of the missionary group Frontier Alliance International, an anonymous pastor posted a statement saying the Taliban was already cracking down on Christians.
“The Taliban has a hit list of known Christians they are targeting to pursue and kill. The U.S. Embassy is defunct and there is no longer a safe place for believers to take refuge,” stated the figure, known only as “Pastor X.”
“All borders to neighboring countries are closed and all flights to and from have been halted, with the exception of private planes. People are fleeing into the mountains looking for asylum. They are fully reliant on God, who is the only One who can and will protect them.”