Home>News>World>US troops to stay until Americans and eligible Afghans evacuated, says Biden

US troops to stay until Americans and eligible Afghans evacuated, says Biden

US troops to stay until Americans and eligible Afghans evacuated, says Biden

Joe Biden has said that US troops in Kabul would stay long enough to evacuate American citizens and eligible Afghan allies and warned the Taliban there would be a “devastating” response to any attempt to attack or disrupt the operation.

The US president made a televised address from the White House after a day of chaos at Kabul airport following the fall of the Afghan capital to the Taliban, in which seven people were killed during the rush towards the sole remaining exit route out of the country.

As insurgents took control of the city, declaring victory after 20 years of war, tens of thousands of Afghans who have been promised resettlement in the west because of their past work with or for the US, Britain and their allies remained trapped in the country and in fear for their lives, amid reports of reprisal killings.

Biden admitted his administration had been caught by surprise by the speed of the Taliban victory, which he attributed to lack of leadership from Ashraf Ghani’s ousted government and a lack of will to fight in the Afghan armed forces.

“We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we couldn’t not provide them was the will to fight for that future,” he said.

Biden said the US had made contingency plans for such a dire outcome, and he has ordered 5,000 marine and army reinforcements to Kabul to secure the airport for an evacuation of thousands of US citizens still in Afghanistan, and Afghans who worked with Americans and are eligible for special visas.

“American troops are performing this mission as professionally and as effectively as they always do, but it is not without risks,” he said. “As we carry out his departure, we have made it clear to the Taliban that if they attack our personnel or disrupt our operation, the US response will be swift and forceful. We will defend our people with devastating force if necessary.”

In his address, Biden said the troops would stay as long as it took to carry out the evacuation, leaving open the possibility that might stretch beyond the current 31 August deadline for the final US withdrawal.

“Our current military mission is limited in scope and focused on its objectives: get our people and our allies to safety as quickly as possible,” Biden said. “And once we have completed this mission, we will conclude our military withdrawal, and end America’s longest war.”

In Kabul and cities across the country, Taliban forces asserted control ahead of an expected announcement of an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in the coming days.

With Kabul airport seemingly close to being overrun, flights were grounded and seven people died in the scramble to find a flight out. The Pentagon said US troops shot two unidentified gunmen who had fired into the crowd. Two other people were killed when they fell from a US military plane that they had tried to cling to as it took off from Kabul. Others appear to have died in the crush on the tarmac.

Video footage of scores of Afghan civilians running alongside the US transporter plane as it taxied through them is likely to haunt Biden, who is reported to have been anxious to avoid echoes of the hurried US escape from Saigon 46 years ago, even as he ordered the total withdrawal from Afghanistan by 11 September.

In his speech on Monday, Biden defended the delay in evacuating allied Afghan civilians.

“Part of the answer is some of the Afghans did not want to leave earlier, still hopeful for their country,” he said. “And part of it was because the Afghan government and its supporters discouraged us from organising a mass exodus to avoid triggering, as they said, a crisis of confidence.”

The UK defence secretary, Ben Wallace, admitted that, as Britain sought to evacuate its own Afghan allies, “some people will not get back”. UK government officials suggested that western capitals only had until the end of August, when the US military mission is formally due to end, to help Afghans leave the country.

In Germany, the chancellor, Angela Merkel, told a meeting of her party that the decision to withdraw was “ultimately made by the Americans” with “domestic political reasons” partly to blame. She said Germany must urgently evacuate up to 10,000 people from Afghanistan for whom it has responsibility, including 2,500 Afghan support staff as well as human rights activists, lawyers and others whom the government sees as being at risk.

The Pentagon confirmed the head of US Central Command, Gen Kenneth McKenzie, met Taliban officials in Doha on Sunday, as Kabul was falling, to hold talks about security in the capital during the US evacuation effort.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said US, Turkish and other allied troops were working to clear the runways on Monday. There are currently 2,500 US troops at the airport, where the US embassy has temporarily re-established itself since the Taliban takeover, and a further 3,500 are due to fly in when the runways are open. Biden said that US forces had taken over air traffic control to speed the evacuation.

The Taliban leaders have offered assurances that there will be no reprisals against Afghans seen as having cooperated with westerners since 2001, but the Afghan ambassador to the United Nations told the security council that in Kabul, the Taliban were already “going house to house looking for people on their target list”.

“Today I’m speaking on behalf of millions of people in Afghanistan, whose fate hangs in the balance and are faced with an extremely uncertain future,” Ghulam Isaczai, who had been in the post less than a month before his government fell, told the council.

“We’re extremely concerned about Taliban’s not honouring the promises and commitments made in their statements at Doha, and other international fora,” Isaczai said.

“We’ve witnessed time and again how the Taliban have broken their promises and commitments in the past. We have seen gruesome images of Taliban mass executions of military personnel and targeted killings of civilians in Kandahar and other big cities.”

US troops to stay until Americans and eligible Afghans evacuated, says Biden

At Monday’s emergency security council meeting on Afghanistan, the UN secretary general, António Guterres, said the fate of the Afghan people was in the balance.

“The following days will be pivotal. The world is watching,” Guterres said. He said that so far UN staff and offices have not been harassed by the Taliban and the UN coordinator in Kabul, Ramiz Alakbarov, said his office would work with the “de facto authorities” to provide humanitarian assistance, telling the Associated Press that the upsurge in fighting that led to the fall of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals to the Taliban had displaced 600,000 people.

At the security council meeting, Russia and China expressed willingness to work with the Taliban.

“There is no point in panicking,” the Russian permanent representative, Vasily Nebenzya, said. “We urge all Afghan parties to foster a settlement peacefully. A bloodbath has been avoided.”


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