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U.S. relying on Taliban to let stranded Americans reach Kabul airport

The U.S. forces in Afghanistan lack the “capability” to pick up large numbers of Americans stranded in Kabul and bring them to the airport, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Wednesday, leaving the U.S. evacuation effort reliant on the Taliban’s willingness to let them travel safely.

Why it matters: Thousands of Americans remain in Afghanistan along with tens of thousands of Afghans waiting on Special Immigrant Visas, but those who aren’t in the airport — or even in Kabul — face a perilous journey to get there, and it’s unclear how long the window to evacuate them will remain open.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Austin said the first priority was to evacuate “all American citizens who want to get out of Afghanistan,” and the second was to “get out as many as possible” of the Afghans who worked with the U.S. and could now be in danger.

  • But U.S. troops will remain focused on securing the airport, Austin said, contending that they lack “the capability to go out and collect a large number of people.”
  • Austin also suggested that sending troops into Kabul would risk conflict with the Taliban, and said the State Department was in touch with the Taliban to ensure that U.S. passport holders would be able to travel to the airport.
  • The Taliban is currently facilitating that agreement, Austin said.

Administration officials have briefed Senate staffers that some 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. citizens are still in Afghanistan, per various reports.

However, the Afghan allies the U.S. is also seeking to evacuate clearly do not hold U.S. passports. Austin said the administration was pressing the Taliban to allow them through, but that there had been reports of some being turned back.

  • Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, who also took part in Wednesday’s Pentagon briefing, said the State Department was “still working through exactly getting through the procedures for the evacuees to get to the airfield.”
  • President Biden also told ABC that evacuating Afghan citizens was presenting “more difficulty.”

At present, Austin said the main issue was processing the people who were already at the airport and seeking evacuation.

“It’s obvious that we’re not close to where we want to be in terms of getting the numbers through, so we’re going to work that 24 hours a day 7 days a week and we’re going to 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.”
Lloyd Austin

The latest: Biden said U.S. troops would remain at the airport until all Americans were evacuated, even if it was after August 31 — the withdrawal date he had previously set.

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