President Joe Biden said Sunday that the U.S. was considering extending evacuation efforts beyond his Aug. 31 deadline to exit Afghanistan as he defended his administration’s handling of the war’s final days.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Biden said discussions were happening “among us and the military about extending.”
“Our hope is that we will not have to extend,” he added.
Biden pointed to new numbers of evacuees as a contrast to the chaotic scenes at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, where thousands remain to be airlifted out of the country following the Taliban seizing control of vast swaths of territory earlier this month.
The president said the U.S. evacuated roughly 11,000 people in a 30-hour period over the weekend. He also said about 28,000 U.S. citizens, allies and Afghans have been secured since the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul last Sunday, adding that 33,000 people have been transported since July.
“We see no reason why this tempo will not be kept up,” he said, referring to the pace of evacuations this weekend.
But as his handling of the withdrawal has come under criticism from officials in both parties and foreign allies, Biden claimed that there was no way for it to have gone any smoother.
“Let me be clear, the evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul is going to be hard and painful no matter when it started or when we began,” he said. “Would’ve been true if we started a month ago or a month from now. There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss and heartbreaking images you see on television. It’s just a fact. My heart aches for those people you see. We are proving though that we can move thousands of people per day out of Kabul.”
The administration announced earlier Sunday that the U.S. will use commercial aircraft to help transport people once they have been evacuated from Afghanistan in an effort to expedite the process. Additionally, Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken pointed to new agreements with about two dozen countries to assist in transporting evacuees.
Earlier Sunday, a State Department diplomatic cable obtained by NBC News detailed the “brutal experience” local staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul faced when heading to the airport. The cable, sent Saturday, included staffers reporting being jostled, hit, spat on and cursed at by Taliban fighters at checkpoints near the airport, adding that criminals were taking advantage of the chaos while the U.S. military tried to maintain order “in an extremely physical situation.”
An NBC News poll released Sunday found that just 25 percent of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of Afghanistan. The same poll showed that 61 percent of Americans believe the 20-year war was not worth it. Additionally, a CBS News poll released Sunday found that 47 percent of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the war’s final days while 63 percent approve of removing U.S. troops from the country.
In response to question from a reporter about the CBS News survey results, Biden said the choice was to either to stay, sending more Americans into battle, or end the 20-year conflict.
“And I decided to end the war,” he said.
“When this is over the American people will have a clear understanding of what I did, why we did it, but look, that’s the job,” he added. “My job is to make judgments no one else can or will make. I made them. I’m convinced I’m absolutely correct in not deciding to send more young men and women to war for a war that is in fact no longer warranted.”
Biden suggested that U.S. adversaries are sad to see the U.S. leave.
“You’re sitting in Beijing or you’re sitting in Moscow. Are you happy we left,” Biden said, chuckling. “They’d love nothing better than for us to continue to be bogged down there, totally occupied with what’s going on. So the idea, I think that history is going to record this was the logical, rational and right decision to make.”
Source: CNBC News