Joe Biden delivers remarks on the U.S. military’s ongoing evacuation efforts in Afghanistan as he is joined by (lef to right) U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, U.S., Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan from the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
UPDATED 12:45 PM PT – Sunday, August 22, 2021
Top U.S. officials said they were doing everything possible to get as many Americans and Afghan allies out of Afghanistan amid a panicked rush on the airport in Kabul. As many as 20,000 people were reported to be in and around the airport in attempt to evacuate the city.
Nearly two dozen have reportedly been killed over the past week, with many being crushed during a stampede to the airport. In an interview on Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was focused on doing everything possible to get people out of the country.
However, he added one of the biggest challenges was the reality that an “insurgent group” was now in control of Afghanistan’s capital. Officials said an agreement was made with the Taliban to guarantee the safe passage of Americans to the airport.
Blinken went on to say commercial aircraft brought into the mix were not bringing people out of Kabul, but were flying them from different staging points around the world.
“Once they’re there, they’ll spend some time there where we can finish processing them, finish doing security and background checks, and then they move onto their ultimate destination,” he stated. “We need more planes in the mix to do that piece of it, to move them from these initial points of landing onto the places that they’ll ultimately resettle.”
18 aircrafts, including planes from American, Delta and United Airlines have been set to aid in the evacuation as part of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet. According to Blinken, the U.S. evacuated 8,000 people over the previous 24 hours with a total of around 30,000 since the end of July.
However, the resurgence of the Taliban has come with the threat of the resurgence of the Islamic State. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the U.S. was focused on the threat of an ISIS attack in Afghanistan.
On Sunday, Sullivan said the government has put the highest priority on stopping or disrupting potential Islamic State attacks.
“Our commanders on the ground have a wide variety of capabilities that they are using to defend the airfield against a potential terrorist attack,” he explained. “We are working hard with our intelligence community to try to isolate and determine where an attack might come from.”
Sullivan admitted he couldn’t give a precise number of Americans who remained in Afghanistan, but said it was believed to be several thousand. He said the goal was to move people as rapidly and safely as possible while adding the U.S. had the capacity to get large numbers of Americans safe passage to the airport.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has prepared to potentially extend the deadline of the final withdrawal from Afghanistan. Speaking on Sunday, Austin said the Biden administration would be updating the withdrawal date if the facts on the ground necessitated a longer stay.
When asked about the rushed evacuations, Austin said that nobody expected the country to fall to the Taliban in less than two weeks.
“It was very difficult to predict with accuracy. This all occurred in the span of about 11 days,” he stated. “Nobody predicted that the government would fall in 11 days.”
His comments come as reports in recent days detailed an internal State Department communication dated mid-July, which warned Secretary Blinken of the potential collapse of Afghanistan following the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The memo warned the Taliban was “well-positioned” to take over the nation.