Chaos has enveloped Kabul after Afghanistan’s government’s collapsed and the Taliban seized control, all but ending America’s 20-year campaign as it began: under Taliban rule.
As the crisis intensifies, images from Kabul Thursday show Taliban fighters forcefully patrolling streets where Afghan men and women were protesting. Meanwhile, Pentagon officials said their focus remains on maintaining the airport perimeter and increasing the number evacuees out of Kabul.
President Joe Biden returned to Washington from Camp David on Wednesday and sat down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the White House, the president’s first interview since the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The Pentagon said that 6,000 U.S. troops have been deployed to the country’s capital as the military races to evacuate people. Despite criticism, the Biden administration is sticking by its decision to withdraw troops from the country, though Biden told Stephanopoulos troops might stay beyond the original Aug. 31 date if it takes longer to get all Americans out of the country.
Members of Congress will get more details on the state of affairs in Afghanistan in unclassified briefings Friday amid bipartisan calls for Americans and Afghan allies to be evacuated from Kabul faster after the Taliban takeover.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley will speak with members of the House of Representatives. Senators will also receive a briefing.
The briefing comes after another chaotic day at Kabul’s airport. The State Department said Thursday that 6,000 people were cleared to be flown out on 20 flights on Friday — the max capacity for each.
The number evacuated will have to be 5,000 to 7,000 per day to beat the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, President Joe Biden Wednesday.
In order for that to happen, though, those looking to flee the ravaged nation need to be able to access the airport and there is currently no clear plan to resolve that. State Department spokesman Ned Price had a sobering message for those hoping for a safe route.
“At this point, we don’t have the resources to go beyond the airport compound,” Price told reporters Thursday.
While talks continue with the Taliban about allowing safe passage to the airport, no resolution has yet been reached.
The U.S. evacuated approximately 3,000 people from the airport in Kabul on Thursday as thousands clamor to get out of the country in the wake of the Taliban taking over the government.
The White House confirmed the latest number of evacuees early Friday, among them nearly 350 U.S. citizens. The others on the 12 C-17 flights were family members of U.S. citizens, special immigration visa applicants and their families and vulnerable Afghans, a White House official said.
The official said 9,000 people have been evacuated since Aug. 14 and 14,000 since the end of July.
Not included in those totals were 11 charter flights facilitated by the U.S. military, the official said.
President Joe Biden is scheduled to discuss the evacuations from Afghanistan in an address Friday afternoon.
The State Department announced earlier this week that it is “surging” staff to the international airport in Kabul to assist with the massive efforts to evacuate as many as 15,000 U.S. citizens and tens of thousands of Afghans who helped the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.
But the total number of consular officials who will help process people will only be as high as 40 people in total, according to two sources familiar with the plans — raising questions about whether that is enough staff to process the tens of thousands left to evacuate.
The State Department declined to confirm how many consular officials would be based at Kabul airport, but referred questions to spokesperson Ned Price’s comments earlier on Thursday.