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West struggles with Afghanistan chaos, Biden again defends withdrawal

Reuters/Kabul/Washington
Filed on August 21, 2021
Reuters

US President Joe Biden confronted criticism about his administration’s planning for the withdrawal of US troops.


Chaos around the Kabul airport was so bad this week that the US military was forced to use three helicopters to transport 169 Americans into the complex from a building just 200 meters (656 feet) away, the Pentagon said on Friday.

As Western nations struggled to ramp up the pace of evacuations from Afghanistan amid the chaos and reports of Taliban violence, US President Joe Biden confronted criticism about his administration’s planning for the withdrawal of US troops and the militants’ swift takeover of the country.

“I have seen no question of our credibility from our allies,” Biden told reporters after making a speech from the White House. “... As a matter of fact, the exact opposite I’ve got ... we’re acting with dispatch, we’re acting, committing to what we said we would do.”

Thousands of desperate Afghans clutching papers, children and some belongings thronged Kabul airport where gun-toting Taliban members urged those without travel documents to go home. In and around the airport, at least 12 people have been killed since Sunday, NATO and Taliban officials said.

US evacuation flights from Kabul’s airport stopped for more than six hours on Friday while US authorities looked for countries willing to accept people fleeing Afghanistan. They did resume later in the day.

In his remarks, Biden referred to the 169 Americans transported by the military. Department of Defense spokesman John Kirby later said the decision was made to use the helicopters on Thursday because the group was unable to get to the gate from a nearby hotel to the airport.

“The plan was simply (for them) to walk through the gate, but there was a large crowd established outside the Abbey gate, a crowd that not everybody had confidence in, in terms of their ability to walk through and so local commanders on the scene took the initiative and flew these helicopters out there to pick them up,” Kirby said.

Biden insisted every American who wanted to would be evacuated, and that about 18,000 people had been airlifted out since July.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg described the situation outside Kabul airport as “very dire and difficult,” as several member countries pressed for evacuations to continue beyond an Aug. 31 US deadline.

Biden has not backed off that deadline, despite calls - internationally and at home from his fellow Democrats as well as opposition Republicans - to keep troops in Afghanistan as long as necessary to bring home every American.

Biden said he could not predict what the final outcome would be in Afghanistan, where the United States and allies have waged a 20-year war. But he promised to work with other countries to set “harsh conditions” for any cooperation or recognition of the Taliban, based on their human rights record.

PROTESTS, AND VIOLENCE

“They’re looking to gain some legitimacy, they’re going to have to figure out how they’re going to retain that country,” he said. “And there’s going to be some harsh conditions, strong conditions we’re going to apply that will depend on ... how well they treat women and girls, how they treat their citizens.”

Individual Afghans and international aid and advocacy groups have reported harsh retaliation against protests, and roundups of those who formerly held government positions, criticized the Taliban or worked with Americans.

Former officials told harrowing tales of hiding from the Taliban as armed gunmen went from door to door. One family of 16 described running to the bathroom, lights off and children’s mouths covered, in fear for their lives.

“Those who may be in danger have no clear way out,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said, urging neighboring countries to keep borders open.

Biden again insisted that the US-funded and -armed Afghan military had been expected to put up more of a fight.

The Taliban called for unity, asking imams at Friday prayers to persuade people not to leave.





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