Biden to address Afghanistan crisis as U.S. struggles to evacuate thousands from Kabul

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U.S. President Joe Biden answers questions from reporters as Vice President Kamala Harris looks on in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., August 10, 2021.

Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is slated to address the nation Friday on the evacuation efforts in Kabul of American citizens, U.S. Embassy staff, citizens of NATO countries, at-risk Afghan nationals as well as Afghan nationals who have qualified for special immigrant visas.

Biden’s remarks, scheduled for 1 p.m. ET, come as U.S. forces rush to airlift as many people as possible out of the country ahead of a self-imposed deadline to depart Afghanistan by Aug. 31. The remarks will be the president’s second public address on the crisis in less than a week.

“We’re going to do everything in our power to get all Americans out and our allies out,” Biden told ABC News earlier this week, adding that he may consider extending the deadline of a full troop withdrawal.

The president has defended his decision to pull out U.S. forces despite a mounting humanitarian crisis in the wake of the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan, arguing that there was no way “to have gotten out without chaos ensuing.”

Thousands of Afghans have fled to the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul seeking a flight out of the country after the Taliban swept across the country.

No flights have left Kabul airport in the past 8 hours because Qatar has reached capacity, two U.S. officials told NBC News. The State Department is expected to announce that flights from Kabul will be able to land in Europe as the U.S. looks for other locations to send planes, according to Reuters.

Evacuees crowd the interior of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft, carrying some 640 Afghans to Qatar from Kabul, Afghanistan August 15, 2021.

Courtesy of Defense One | Handout via Reuters

Earlier this week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters that the Pentagon wasn’t able to safely escort Americans to the airport for evacuation.

“I don’t have the capability to go out and extend operations currently into Kabul,” Austin said when asked about those who cannot reach the gates of the airport because they are behind Taliban checkpoints.

The United States is relying on an agreement with the Taliban to guarantee the safe passage of Americans. While the State Department has said the Taliban have kept their commitments on the safe passage of U.S. citizens, some Afghan nationals are being stopped by the militants.

Read more on the developments in Afghanistan:

The White House said Friday that the U.S. has airlifted about 9,000 people out of Kabul by cargo aircraft in the past six days.

The U.S. military evacuated approximately 3,000 people on Friday, including 350 U.S. citizens, from the airport on 16 C-17 Globemaster military cargo flights.

Since the end of July, the U.S. has evacuated some 14,000 people from Afghanistan.

A boy is processed through an Evacuee Control Checkpoint (ECC) during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan August 18, 2021. Picture taken August 18, 2021.

US Marines | Reuters

The Pentagon has said that its goal is to airlift approximately 5,000 to 9,000 people a day out of Kabul. U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William “Hank” Taylor said Thursday that the departure tempo is dependent on who has been cleared to leave the country through the State Department.

Taylor expects a departure pace of one U.S. military cargo aircraft per hour. The Pentagon has moved about 5,000 U.S. troops to Kabul in order to provide security and help with the evacuations.

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