Biden to address Afghanistan evacuations amid torrent of criticism over crisis

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President Biden on Friday will address the bid to evacuate American citizens and Afghan allies from Afghanistan in the face of the Taliban takeover of the country, as Biden faces a torrent of criticism for his handling of the U.S. withdrawal.

Officials said Friday that they have so far evacuated about 12,700 people from the country since the Taliban pressed toward Kabul, sparking chaotic scenes at the capital’s airports as nationals and Americans made desperate bids to board planes out of the besieged country.

Those looking to get out amid fears of reprisals have faced Taliban checkpoints, as well as a sluggish effort to get people out. The Pentagon said 5,700 people have been evacuated from Kabul aboard 16 Air Force C-17s over the last 24 hours. That’s 356 per flight, just over maximum capacity on the aircraft and a significant increase over the day before when flights were departing nearly half empty.  

The State Department had said Thursday that 6,000 people are processed and ready for evacuation at Kabul airport but acknowledged that there was “congestion” around the airports and reports of Americans unable to get there.

The State Department has been including a line in its messages telling Americans to come to the Kabul airport for evacuations, saying: “The United States government cannot ensure safe passage to the Hamid Karzai International Airport.”

The State Department’s latest guidance Friday said Americans should “use their best judgment getting to the airport” and warned that “airport gates may open or close without notice.” 

The Pentagon has said it intends to transfer 22,000 Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants to the United States, where they will be housed at three military bases. However, officials have acknowledged that this number could rise, and there are calls from aid groups and some lawmakers for that number to be increased dramatically.

Biden is scheduled to meet with his national security team Friday about the evacuations and then speak at the White House, where he is likely to again address criticism that his administration was blindsided by the speed of the Taliban takeover and was slow in reacting.

Biden defended his administration’s strategy in both an address to the public and a separate interview this week.

“I don’t think it could’ve been handled in a way that- we’re going to go back in hindsight and look but the idea that somehow there was a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens,” Biden told ABC News.

Republicans slammed Biden for the remarks.

“A truly ignorant and shameful performance by an American president,” Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., tweeted.

“No way to avoid this chaos? That’s a bald-faced lie. Joe Biden is as dishonest as he is impotent,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., went a step further: “If we leave any Americans behind, or if we leave thousands of Afghans who fought bravely alongside us behind, President Joe Biden deserves to be impeached for a High Crime and Misdemeanor of Dereliction of Duty.”

The criticism has come from abroad, as well. Earlier this week, a British MP and Afghan veteran tore into Biden for his criticism of the Afghan army.

“To see their commander in chief call into question the courage of men I fought with, to claim that they ran. It’s shameful,” Tory MP Tom Tugendhat said Wednesday during a session of the House of Commons.

“Those who have never fought for the colors they fly should be careful about criticizing those who have,” he said.

The Associated Press reported that in July more than 20 diplomats in Kabul registered their concerns that the evacuation of Afghan allies was not moving quickly enough. In a cable through the State Department’s dissent channel, the diplomats warned that Taliban would seize control within months of the Aug. 31 withdrawal, officials told the outlet.

Earlier this week, Biden ordered more U.S. troops to the country to help with evacuations and to keep operations running smoothly. Biden has authorized a total deployment of around 6,000 and as of Friday, nearly 6,000 U.S. troops were on the ground at Kabul airport and the military buildup nearly complete, defense officials told Fox News.

The White House said Friday morning that Biden will not go to Wilmington, Del., as had been scheduled, and will remain in Washington, DC. Biden spent most of the last week in Wilmington and the Camp David presidential retreat as the crisis spiraled out of control. 

Fox News’ Tyler Olson and Lucas Tomlinson contributed to this report, as well as The Associated Press.

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