By Calvin Woodward and Hope Yen
WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — President Joe Biden glossed over his broken promise to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan until the last Americans are out and offered the faint assurance — even with the last U.S. planes gone — that it’s never too late for U.S. citizens to leave.
“There is no deadline,” Biden said Tuesday. But with its forces withdrawn, the U.S. is left with diplomatic persuasion instead of military muscle to get the Taliban extremists who’ve been fighting the U.S. for 20 years to give remaining Americans safe passage out.
BIDEN: “The bottom line: 90 percent of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave. For those remaining Americans, there is no deadline. We remain committed to get them out, if they want to come out. Secretary of State Blinken is leading the continued diplomatic efforts to ensure safe passage for any American, Afghan partner or foreign national who wants to leave Afghanistan.” — White House remarks.
THE FACTS: For the record, Biden vowed that he would get 100 percent of Americans out before withdrawing forces.
And his suggestions Tuesday that many of the remaining Americans are dual nationals who may be undecided about leaving do not reflect the full reality.
He contended 100 to 200 Americans are still there and have “some intention to leave,” adding: “Most of those who remain are dual citizens, longtime residents, but earlier decided to stay because of their family roots in Afghanistan.” And White House press secretary Jen Psaki said afterward that Biden is telling those people that if they decide in two weeks that they want to go, “we will get you out.”
But those comments may understate the desperation of Americans trapped in Afghanistan. Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said Monday that Americans tried to get to the Kabul airport for the final evacuations but couldn’t. No Americans were on the last five jets to leave.
“We maintained the ability to bring them in up until immediately before departure, but we were not able to bring any Americans out,” he said. “That activity ended probably about 12 hours before our exit, although we continue the outreach and would have been prepared to bring them on until the very last minute. But none of them made it to the airport, and were able to be — and were able to be accommodated.”
Biden told ABC News unequivocally on Aug. 19 that the U.S. would not leave any Americans stranded.
“Americans understand we’re going to try and get it done before Aug. 31,” Biden said then. “If we don’t, we’ll determine at the time, who’s left.”
And then? “And if there are American citizens left, we’re going to stay until we get them all out.”
The last U.S. planes took off from the airport Monday night, Aug. 30, one minute before midnight in Kabul.
U.S. officials estimated up to 200 Americans were left behind, along with unknown numbers of Afghans and others who were trying frantically to leave. By then, more than 100,000 people, mostly Afghans, had been flown to safety in the multinational evacuations.
Now that has become a matter for diplomacy, U.S. officials said diplomats are in talks with neighboring countries and others to try to arrange non-U.S.-military evacuations for those remaining. Among the options, if the diplomacy works, are potential charter flights from the airport when it re-opens and overland routes.
AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.
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