Speaking at the White House, Biden said 11,000 people were flown from Kabul in 36 hours over the weekend, but he did not provide details. The number appeared to include charter flights and non-US military jets as well as the US Air Force’s C-17 and C-130 transport planes that flew daily from the capital. Tens of thousands of people remain to join the airlift, which has been slowed down by security concerns and obstacles from American bureaucracy.
Earlier Sunday, administration officials said the US military was considering “creative ways” to bring Americans and others to Kabul airport for an evacuation from Afghanistan amid threats ” acute “for security, and the Pentagon on Sunday ordered six US airlines to help move the evacuees from temporary sites outside of Afghanistan.
A week after the Taliban completed their takeover of the country, the US-led airlift from Kabul continued on Sunday even as US officials expressed growing concern over the threat from the Islamic State group. This concern adds to the obstacles to this Taliban mission, as well as to the bureaucratic problems of the US government.
Biden met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other members of his national security team to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, the White House said, and planned to provide an update public day on Afghanistan later today. Afghanistan will be the main topic of discussion when Biden and leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized countries meet virtually on Tuesday.
“The threat is real, it is acute, it is persistent and we are focusing with all the tools in our arsenal,” said Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
Sullivan told CNN’s “State of the Union” that 3,900 people had been airlifted out of Kabul on US military flights in the past 24 hours. A US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to provide details not yet released, said the people had made 23 flights in total – 14 on C-17 transports and nine on planes cargo ship C-130.
This is an increase from the 1,600 planes flown on US military jets in the past 24 hours, but still well below the 5,000 to 9,000 that the military says it has the capacity to airlift on a daily basis. Sullivan also said about 3,900 people were airlifted on non-U.S. Military flights in the past 24 hours.
WATCH: Biden says he saw no way to withdraw from Afghanistan without “chaos ensuing” in exclusive ABC interview
The Biden administration has given no precise estimate of the number of Americans seeking to leave Afghanistan. Some put the total between 10,000 and 15,000. Sullivan on Sunday put it at “several thousand.”
Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” Austin said that as Biden’s August 31 deadline approaches to end the evacuation operation, he will recommend whether to give him more. of time. Tens of thousands of Americans and others have yet to leave the country by air.
Austin’s interview with ABC aired Sunday but was taped on Saturday. In a notice released on Sunday, the State Department urged those seeking to leave Afghanistan as part of an organized private evacuation effort not to travel to Kabul airport “until you have received specific instructions “from the organizer of the flight at the US Embassy. The notice says others, including U.S. citizens, who have received specific instructions from the embassy to get to the airport should do so.
Austin said the airlift will continue for as long as possible.
VIDEO: Marines shoot baby at barbed wire wall at Kabul airport amid chaotic evacuations
“We’re going to do our best to get everyone out, every American citizen who wants to get out,” Austin said in the interview. “And we have – we continue to look at different ways – in creative ways – to reach and contact American citizens and help them get into the airfield.” He later said that included non-Americans who qualified for the evacuation, including Afghans who had applied for special immigrant visas.
Austin noted that the U.S. military on Thursday used helicopters to move 169 Americans to the airport from the grounds of a nearby hotel in the capital. This is the only reported case of US forces going beyond the airport to obtain evacuees.
The British military said on Sunday that seven more people were killed in the relentless crushing of crowds outside the airport. The US military took control of the airport for evacuations a week ago as the capital fell to the Taliban. But Taliban forces controlling the streets around the airport and the crowds of people gathered outside in the hope of escaping made passage difficult and dangerous for foreigners and their Afghan allies.
Republicans in Congress have stepped up their criticism of Biden’s response. “If the Taliban say Americans can travel safely to the airport, then there is no better way to make sure they arrive safely at the airport than by using our army to escort them “, GOP Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, an army veteran, told ABC’s “This Week.”
Ryan Crocker, who served as US ambassador to Afghanistan under Presidents George W, Bush and Barack Obama, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Biden’s handling of the pullout was “catastrophic” and had triggered a ” world crisis”.
A central problem in the evacuation operation is the treatment of evacuees once they reach other countries in the region and in Europe. These temporary stations, notably in Qatar, Bahrain and Germany, sometimes reach their maximum capacity, although new sites are made available, notably in Spain.
In an attempt to mitigate this and free up military planes for missions from Kabul, the Pentagon activated the civilian reserve air fleet on Sunday. The Defense Department said 18 planes from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, Omni Air, Hawaii Airlines and United Airlines would be directed to transport evacuees from intermediate stations. Airlines will not fly to Afghanistan. The six participating airlines have agreed to help for just under two weeks, roughly coinciding with the currently scheduled duration of the airlift, which is due to end on August 31.
The civilian airline reserve system was last activated in 2003 for the Iraq war. Commercial airliners will retain their civilian status, but the Army’s Air Mobility Command will control flights.
Associated Press editors Lolita C. Baldor, Ellen Knickmeyer, Hope Yen, and Matthew Lee contributed to this report.
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