WASHINGTON, D.C. – AUGUST 22: In this handout photo provided by the White House, Joe Biden meets with his national security team for an operational update on the situation in Afghanistan on August 22, 2021 at the White House. (The White House via Getty Images)
UPDATED 7:26 PM PT – Sunday, August 21, 2021
During an interview on Sunday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said it could be possible that more troops would be needed in Kabul as conflict ensues. Many have been critical of the U.S. troop withdrawal, including Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who said the U.S. should maintain a “light footprint there” in order to combat threats. Sasse also blamed Joe Biden for the peril he has put Americans in.
Reports said around 6,000 troops have been sent to Kabul to help with evacuations as Afghanistan has plunged into chaos since the Taliban took over. Additionally, other Biden administration officials have been closely monitoring the situation as new threats come into view.
Top U.S. officials assured they’re doing everything they can to get as many Americans and Afghan allies out of Afghanistan amid a panicked rush on the airport in Kabul. Recent reports said there’s as many as 20,000 people in and around the airport trying to get out of 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’s focused on doing everything possible to get people out of the country, but said one of the biggest challenges is the reality that an insurgent group is in control of Afghanistan’s capital. Officials said there’s an agreement with the Taliban to guarantee the safe passage of Americans to the airport.
Blinken said commercial aircrafts brought into the mix aren’t bringing people out of Kabul, but are 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,” said Blinken. “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.”
Reports said 18 aircrafts, including planes from American, Delta and United Airlines will 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 comes with the threat of the resurgence of the Islamic State.
Sullivan said the U.S. is focused on the threat of an ISIS attack in Afghanistan, stating on Sunday the government is putting the highest priority on stopping or disrupting potential Islamic State attacks. Sullivan admitted he couldn’t give a precise number of Americans remaining in Afghanistan, but said it’s believed to be several thousand.
He added the goal is to move people as rapidly and safely as possible, suggesting the U.S. has the capacity to get large numbers of Americans safe passage to the airport. Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he’s 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 necessitate 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.
His comments come as reports in recent days detailed an internal State Department communication dated mid-July, warning 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.