President Joe Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, tried to deflect blame for the Biden administration’s lack of a formal evacuation plan for between 10,000 and 15,000 American citizens trapped in Afghanistan following a swift and dramatic Taliban blitz into the country’s capital city of Kabul by suggesting that those who did not plan for their own evacuations made the “choice” to stay.
The United States State Department issued a shocking security alert to Americans still waiting to leave Kabul on Wednesday, telling them that the U.S. government “cannot ensure safe passage to Hamid Karzai International Airport” and appearing to suggest that evacuation flights will be limited, and available on a “first come, first serve” basis.
Biden administration officials admitted to Senators Tuesday that there is no formal plan to rescue between 10,000 and 15,000 Americans — mostly diplomats, contractors, non-governmental organization employees, non-profit and aid workers, and dual citizens — particularly those who are outside the capital city of Kabul. Although the U.S. military has secured the military side of Kabul airport, allowing around 2,000 people to be evacuated on Tuesday, the situation outside the airport gates is volatile, and Taliban soldiers are reportedly blocking access to flights, even for those who have papers.
CNN’s Clarissa Ward, who has been reporting from just outside the airport, relayed stories of people being interrogated and beaten as they tried to flee Wednesday, calling the situation “mayhem” and “nuts.” “This was impossible for an ordinary civilian, even if they had their paperwork,” she said, referring to the gauntlet of Taliban outside the airport. “There’s no coherent system for processing people.”
Kaitlan Collins, also of CNN, followed up a report on the State Department’s missive by noting that national security advisor Jake Sullivan blamed the victims of the Afghan withdrawal debacle for sealing their own fate by not leaving sooner.
“We communicated with American citizens for weeks, telling them to get out of the country,” Sullivan is reported to have said, per Collins. “We offered financial assistance…Many chose to stay right until the end, and that was their choice.”
“We now are faced with a circumstance where we have to help evacuate those,” Sullivan said, referring to the Americans who are awaiting a military evacuation. “That’s our responsibility as the U.S. government.”
Sullivan appears to be referring to a series of State Department security alerts that warned diplomats, back in April, to arrange for a commercial flight out of the country. There are no longer any commercial flights leaving Kabul’s airport. State Department security alerts that went out on Sunday and again on Tuesday urged Americans in Afghanistan to “shelter in place,” but now, it seems, the situation has deteriorated further.
Sullivan, in a press conference Tuesday, refused to say whether the Biden administration would continue evacuating Americans after its August 31st withdrawal deadline passed, even if there were Americans left in the country.
“I’m not going to comment on hypotheticals, what I’m going to do is stay focused on the task at hand, which is getting as many people out as rapidly as possible and we will take that day by day,” he said.
There are some select operations underway outside the airport, British tabloids reported Wednesday. The U.K.’s Mirror said that British and American forces were “deployed undercover deep inside Kabul on a hazardous mission to try and rescue Brits cowering from the Taliban manhunt. It is believed the special forces operatives were joined by US operators and two Afghan interpreters who are among those hoping to escape Kabul for fear of Taliban reprisals.”