US President Biden: Afghan chaos ‘heartbreaking’ but maintains withdrawal

WASHINGTON – The US military is coordinating with the Taliban while speeding up the airlift for Americans and Afghan allies from Kabul airport, and also bringing in additional US troops in a race to complete the evacuation in two weeks Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

The revelation by Pentagon spokesman John Kirby that US commanders are talking with Taliban commanders is an indication that Afghanistan’s new rulers, who have come to power after 20 years of war against the Kabul government backed by the United States, will not interfere with the evacuation. Kirby was unwilling to discuss the details of the deal with the Taliban.

“There are interactions several times a day” between the US and Taliban commanders, he said.

Overnight at the airport, nine Air Force C-17 transport planes arrived with equipment and approximately 1,000 troops, and seven C-17s took off with 700 to 800 civilians evacuated, including 165 Americans. Major General William Taylor told a Pentagon newspaper. conference. The total includes Afghans who have applied for special immigrant visas and third country nationals, he said.

The goal is to move to one evacuation flight per hour by Wednesday, with potentially a total of 5,000 to 9,000 evacuees per day, Taylor and Kirby said. Taylor said more than 4,000 US troops are now at the airport. This number is expected to exceed 6,000 in the coming days, with airport security to be led by a commander of the 82nd Airborne.

On Monday, the airlift was temporarily suspended when Afghans desperate to escape the country breached security and rushed onto the tarmac. Seven people died in several incidents.

Kirby said U.S. commanders at the airport are in direct communication with Taliban commanders outside the airport to avoid security incidents. He said this communication was in line with an agreement reached on Sunday by the head of the US Central Command, General Frank McKenzie, when he met with Taliban leaders in Qatar and obtained an agreement to “decongest” the forces and allow a safe American evacuation.

Kirby said there had been no hostile action by the Taliban and several hundred members of the now defeated Afghan army were at the airport to help with the evacuation.

He said US forces plan to complete their evacuation watch by August 31, a date also set by US President Joe Biden to officially end the US combat role in Afghanistan.

On Monday, a provocative Biden dismissed the blame for the chaotic scenes of Afghans clinging to US military planes in Kabul in a desperate attempt to flee their home countries after the Taliban’s easy victory over an Afghan army that America and NATO allies had spent two decades trying to build.

Biden called the anguish of the trapped Afghan civilians “heartbreaking” and admitted that the Taliban had taken control of the country much faster than his administration had expected. The United States has sent troops to protect its own evacuating diplomats and others at Kabul airport.

But the president has expressed no hesitation about his decision to stick to the US pledge, made under the Trump administration, to end America’s longest war no matter what.

“I strongly support my decision” to finally withdraw US combat forces, Biden said, while acknowledging that the Afghan collapse has played out much faster than his administration’s most pessimistic public predictions. “It went faster than expected,” he said.

Although he said “the responsibility ends with me,” Biden blamed most of the blame on the Afghans for the incredibly rapid conquest of the Taliban.

His sinister comments were his first in person to the world since the biggest foreign policy crisis of his still young presidency. Emboldened by the US withdrawal, Taliban fighters swept the country last week and captured the capital, Kabul, on Sunday, sending US-backed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to flee the country.

Biden said he warned Ghani – who was appointed president of Afghanistan in a US-brokered deal – to be ready to wage a civil war with the Taliban after US forces left. “They didn’t do any of that,” he said.

At home, all of this drew fierce criticism, even from members of Biden’s own political party, who pleaded with the White House to do more to save fleeing Afghans, especially those who had contributed to the two-decade American military effort.

“We didn’t need to see the scenes we see at Kabul airport with our Afghan friends boarding C-17s,” said Representative Jason Crow, a Democrat from Colorado and military veteran from the ‘Iraq and Afghanistan.

He said that is why he and others called for the evacuations to begin months ago. “It could have been done deliberately and methodically,” Crow said. “And we think it was a missed opportunity.”

Besides the life and death situation in Kabul, the timing of the crisis has been unfortunate for Biden’s national efforts in his country. This may well weaken his political position as he strives to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and build congressional support for a US $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and even bigger expansion. social safety net.

Yet the focus was on Kabul airport at home and abroad, where thousands of Afghans trapped by the sudden Taliban takeover rushed onto the tarmac and clung to it. to US military planes deployed to transport staff from the US embassy, ​​which closed on Sunday, and others.

At least seven people died in the chaos, including two who clung to the wheels of a C-17 and dived onto the tarmac as it took to the skies, and two others shot down by US forces. The Americans said the men were armed but there was no evidence that they were Taliban.

Kirby said in televised interviews on Tuesday that plans were underway to house up to 22,000 evacuees and their families at three US military facilities in the continental United States. These locations are Camp McCoy, Wisconsin; Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Lee, Virginia.

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Associated Press editors Matthew Lee, Eric Tucker and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report


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Kevin E. Boling

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