Aug. 20, 2021
BY Terri Moon Cronk
, DOD News
The civilian evacuations in Afghanistan involve one of the largest
and most difficult airlifts in history, and the only country in the
world capable of projecting that much power is the United States,
President Joe Biden said in a televised address to the country today.
Since he addressed the nation Monday, the U.S. military has made
significant progress, the president said. "We've secured the airport,
enabling flights to resume — not just military flights, but civilian
charters and others from other countries, and the [non-governmental
organizations] taking out civilians and vulnerable Afghans."
There are nearly 6,000 U.S. troops on the ground, including the 82nd
Airborne, providing airport runway security. The Army's 10th Mountain
Division is standing guard around the airport and the 24th Marine
Expeditionary Unit is assisting the civilian departures, he said.
The U.S. military moved out 5,700 evacuees yesterday and Biden said
the government is working to verify the number of Americans who are
still in Afghanistan and how many U.S. citizens have been able to return
to the United States.
Briefly closed this morning to process evacuees at the transit
points, the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul has resumed
flights this afternoon, Eastern Daylight Time, he noted.
"We've already evacuated more than 18,000 people since July and
approximately 13,000 since our military airlift began Aug. 14," Biden
said. "More have been evacuated on private charter flights facilitated
by the U.S. government … [including] American citizens and permanent
residents, as well as their families. It includes [special immigration
visa applicants] and their families, the Afghans who have worked
alongside the United States and its coalition forces, served alongside
us, went into combat with us and provided invaluable assistance to us,
such as translators and interpreters," he added.
The U.S. military is also arranging flights for U.S. allies and its
partners and is working closely on operational coordination with NATO,
Biden said. Troops also provided overwatch for the French convoy,
bringing hundreds of their people from the French Embassy to the
"These operations are going to continue over the coming days before
we complete our drawdown," the president said. "We're going to do
everything we can to provide safe evacuation for our Afghan allies,
partners and Afghans who might be targeted because of their association
with the United States."
Biden said any American who wants to come back to the United States can return home.
"Make no mistake: This evacuation mission is dangerous and involves
risks to our armed forces, and it has been conducted under difficult
circumstances," the president said. "I cannot promise what the final
outcome will be … without risk or loss. But as commander-in-chief, I can
assure you that I will mobilize every resource necessary. And as an
American, I offer my gratitude to the brave men and women of the U.S.
armed forces who are carrying out this mission."
As the United States continues to work on the logistics of
evacuation, it's in constant contact with The Taliban, to ensure
civilians have safe passage to the airport, he said. "We made clear to
the Taliban that any attack on our forces or disruption of our
operations at the airport will be met with swift and forceful response,"
U.S. troops are also keeping a close watch on potential terrorist
threats at or around the airport, including from ISIS affiliates in
Afghanistan, Biden said, adding, "We're going to retain a laser focus on
our counterterrorism mission, working in close coordination with our
allies and our partners, and all those who have an interest in ensuring
stability in the region."
The president said the G-7 Summit will convene next week, so the
nations' heads of state can coordinate a mutual approach on Afghanistan.
The United States has also discussed the need to work with the
international community to provide humanitarian assistance, such as
food, aid, medical care for refugees who have crossed into neighboring
countries to escape the Taliban, and to bring international pressure on
the Taliban with respect to the treatment of Afghan people overall, but
particularly women and girls.
"This past week has been heartbreaking," Biden said. "We've seen
gut-wrenching images of panic — people acting out of sheer desperation.
They're frightened or sad, and uncertain of what happens next. I don't
think any one of us can see these pictures and not feel that pain on a
Biden said he talks to U.S. commanders on the ground every single
day. "I make it clear to them we'll get them whatever they need to do
the job. They're performing to the highest standard under
extraordinarily difficult and dynamic circumstances. Our NATO allies are
strongly standing with us and their troops are keeping sentry alongside
ours in Kabul. Whenever I deploy our troops into harm's way, I take
that responsibility seriously. I carry that burden every day," he said.
The evacuations comprise the United States' focus now, Biden said,
adding, "and when this is finished, we will complete our military
withdrawal and finally bring to an end the 20 years of American military
action in Afghanistan."