WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — U.S. officials are pushing forward to evacuate thousands of people from Afghanistan, with President Joe Biden vowing to get every American citizen who wants to leave out of the country before troops are withdrawn.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck effort,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said of the evacuation effort during a Wednesday press conference. “And we aren’t going to let up.”
In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Biden suggested for the first time that troops could stay beyond the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline to ensure evacuations are completed, though he said the goal is still to have them out by the end of the month.
He did not extend his promise of evacuations to the up to 60,000 Afghans also trying to escape. He has insisted the swift collapse of the U.S.-backed Afghan government to the Taliban was inevitable.
The U.S. military has already gotten about 6,000 people out of Afghanistan since Saturday. The ultimate goal is to reach up to 9,000 daily.
“It’s obvious we’re not close to where we want to be,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Wednesday.
He said the Departments of Defense and State were deploying more personnel to the airport in Kabul to make the process speedier and safer.
“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,” Austin promised, “And I’ll do that as long as we possibly can.”
But Taliban fighters, who retook the capital city of Kabul over the weekend as part of a swift and mostly unchallenged return to power, have set up security checkpoints and established curfews, making it more difficult for many to get to the airport.
Chaos broke out overnight as hundreds of Afghans without the proper paperwork but desperate to flee crowded the streets near the airport.
U.S. officials say that right now, they cannot ensure safe passage to the airport, but are warning the Taliban to back off and let people go peacefully.
“Wherever there are threats, we are closely monitoring those,” U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. “We will take immediate military action, without hesitation, in accordance with our rules of engagement — and the Taliban and every organization in that country knows it.”