Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that the U.S. will continue to evacuate all the Americans “they can” from Afghanistan, although the U.S. is currently unable to “go out and collect large numbers of people” from outside the Kabul airport.
“It’s obvious we’re not close to where we want to be,” Austin said at a press conference at the Pentagon. “We’re gonna get everyone that we can possibly evacuate evacuated, and I’ll do that as long as we possibly can, until the clock runs out, or we run out of capability.”
Austin admitted that U.S. capabilities to venture outside the airport are already limited, however. “I don’t have the capability to go out and extend operations currently into Kabul,” explained the defense secretary.
There are currently up to 15,000 Americans still in Afghanistan, U.S. officials have estimated.
“There is no clock by which we abandon our fellow citizens to the bloodthirsty Taliban. August 31 was an arbitrary, politically-driven deadline,” Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) said in response to Austin’s remarks. “President Biden and Defense Secretary Austin need to correct this immediately. Make it absolutely clear that come hell or high water the United States military will do whatever it takes to get every single American out of Afghanistan.”
Americans attempting to reach the Kabul airport must cross through Taliban-operated checkpoints. While Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said the Taliban “are facilitating the safe passage to the airport for American citizens,” the State Department has accused the Taliban of blocking Afghans eligible for special visas to the U.S. from arriving at the airport.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul sent out a security alert on Wednesday telling Americans they should “consider traveling” to the airport. Embassy staff are currently working at the airport to process evacuations.
“THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT CANNOT ENSURE SAFE PASSAGE TO THE HAMID KARZAI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT,” the alert reads.
Crowds of people have camped out near the gates to the airport, with the Taliban fighters in control of the gates, the New York Times reported.
“This gate is closed. Only foreigners and people with documents allowed,” one Taliban commander shouted through a megaphone.
Photos from the Los Angeles Times showed people injured and bloodied following Taliban attempts at crowd control. Some Afghans have attempted to throw their babies over barbed wire at the edge of the airport in hopes of getting them out of the country, a senior British officer told Sky News.
*GRAPHIC WARNING* Taliban fighters use gunfire, whips, sticks and sharp objects to maintain crowd control over thousands of Afghans who continue to wait for a way out, on airport road. At least half dozen were wounded while I was there, including a woman and her child. #Kabul pic.twitter.com/a2KzNPx07R
— Marcus Yam 文火 (@yamphoto) August 17, 2021
Video footage from Americans attempting to enter the airport, reported by CBS News, showed a chaotic scene at the north gate of the compound.
— Ruffini (@EenaRuffini) August 18, 2021
Republican politicians have slammed the withdrawal. Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) alleged on Tuesday that President Biden was “shellshocked” at his own decision to withdraw from the country.
“Joe Biden in the last five or six days has been essentially holed up in Camp David, I think shellshocked at how terrible his judgment has proven in the real world,” Cotton said on The Hugh Hewitt Show.
Editor’s Note 6:00 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.).
PHOTOS: The Fall of Afghanistan