The Biden Defense Department said Wednesday afternoon that they “don’t have the capability” to rescue Americans in Afghanistan who cannot get to Kabul’s airport and that they will stay on the ground “until the clock runs out,” suggesting that the United States military intends to stand by its timeline of being fully out of Afghanistan by August 31st, regardless of whether Americans are left behind.
Later Wednesday, however, in an interview with ABC News, President Joe Biden suggested that American troops might stay in Afghanistan past August 31 if there are still Americans who are trying to get out.
The State Department also said on Wednesday that, based on reports from Kabul, the Taliban is not abiding by an agreement to allow American citizens and Afghans with visas to leave. The statement was a follow-up to a security alert sent Wednesday afternoon telling Americans that the U.S. government could not guarantee their safety if they elected to try to go to the airport in Kabul.
In a press conference Wednesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was blunt in his assessment of American capabilities, particularly with regard to the 10,000 to 15,000 Americans who are reportedly still in Afghanistan, most outside of Kabul.
“We don’t have the capability to go out and collect large numbers of people,” he said.
That likely leaves any Americans who cannot navigate the airport safely stranded in Afghanistan. Austin was also clear that there is an end date for American assistance, and that they will only evacuate “until the clock runs out.”
Although Austin was not clear about the “clock” he was referring to, he is likely suggesting that Americans will abide by the Biden administration’s plan and fully exit the country on August 31st.
Americans were instructed by the State Department to make their way to their airport in a security alert issued Wednesday, but it does not appear that Americans who arrive at the airport can make it through Taliban guards.
“THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT CANNOT ENSURE SAFE PASSAGE TO THE HAMID KARZAI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT,” the missive read. “Do not call the U.S. Embassy in Kabul for details or updates about the flight. Do not travel to the airport until you have been informed by email that departure options exist. We will continue to provide periodic updates to this message.”
According to a CBS journalist on the ground in Kabul, Americans were begging for assistance, just outside the airport fence, unable to make it to the runway.
— Ruffini (@EenaRuffini) August 18, 2021
The State Department also admitted, in its own press conference that, while there have not been any direct skirmishes between American forces and the Taliban, that there are “reports” that the Taliban is not abiding by its agreement to allow for safe passage.
“We have seen reports that the Taliban, contrary to their public statements and their commitments to our government, are blocking Afghans who wish to leave the country from reaching the airport,” a deputy press secretary said.
.@DeputySecState Wendy Sherman: "We have seen reports that the Taliban, contrary to their public statements and their commitments to our government, are blocking Afghans who wish to leave the country from reaching the airport."
— CSPAN (@cspan) August 18, 2021
Senate aides told CNN that they believe the Defense Department is considering an “air bridge” — an attempt at a helicopter rescue — but that plans have not yet solidified.
Senate aide tells me that at a briefing for Senate aides this afternoon, the administration said that they are currently “thinking about and discussing air bridges” (presumably helicopters) to get to Americans who are outside of Kabul to the airport. https://t.co/x2XPkjrvwR
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) August 18, 2021
President Joe Biden gave a press conference Wednesday afternoon but did not address the situation in Afghanistan and did not take questions on the subject.
This article has been updated to include additional information.