US Helos Pick up Evacuees from Kabul as Biden Focuses on Rescues

US Helos Pick up Evacuees from Kabul as Biden Focuses on Rescues

WASHINGTON — U.S. military helicopters flew into Taliban-held Kabul on Friday to scoop up
would-be evacuees, American officials confirmed to The Associated Press, as President Joe
Biden pledged firmly to bring all Americans home from Afghanistan — and Afghans who
aided the war effort, too.

But Biden's promises, and the limited U.S. helicopter sorties beyond the concrete barriers
ringing the Kabul airport, came as thousands more Americans and others seeking to escape
the Taliban struggled to get past crushing crowds, Taliban airport checkpoints and
sometimes insurmountable U.S. bureaucracy.

“We will get you home,” Biden promised Americans who were still in Afghanistan days after
the Taliban retook control of Kabul, ending a two-decade war.

His comments, delivered at the White House, were intended to project purpose and stability
at the conclusion of a week during which images from Afghanistan more often suggested
chaos, especially at the airport.

His commitment to finding a way out for Afghan allies vulnerable to Taliban attacks amounted
to a potentially vast expansion of Washington's promises, given the tens of thousands of
Afghan translators and other helpers, and their close family members, seeking evacuation.

“We’re making the same commitment" to Afghan wartime helpers as to U.S. citizens, Biden
said, offering the prospect of assistance to Afghans who largely have been fighting individual
battles to get the documents and passage into the airport that they need to leave. He called
the Afghan allies “equally important” in the evacuations.

Biden is facing continuing criticism as videos and news reports depict pandemonium and
occasional violence outside the airport.

“I made the decision” on the timing of the U.S. withdrawal, he said, his tone firm as he
declared that it was going to lead to difficult scenes, no matter when. Former President
Donald Trump had set it for May in negotiations with the Taliban, but Biden extended it.

Thousands of people remain to be evacuated ahead of Biden's Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw
most remaining U.S. troops. Flights were stopped for several hours on Friday because of a
backup at a transit point for the refugees, a U.S. airbase in Qatar, but they resumed in the
afternoon, including to Bahrain.

A defense official said about 5,700 people, including about 250 Americans, were flown out
of Kabul aboard 16 C-17 transport planes, guarded by a temporary U.S. military deployment building to 6,000 troops. On each of the previous two days, about 2,000 people were airlifted.

Senior American military officials told The Associated Press that an American CH-47 Chinook
helicopter picked up the Afghans, mostly women, and children, and ferried them to Hamid

Karzai International Airport on Friday. U.S. Army’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd
Airborne Division airlifted the Afghans from Camp Sullivan, near the Kabul airport.

The officials say sorties like this one have been underway for days from various points in
Kabul as Afghans seeks to flee the country taken over by the Taliban. Intelligence teams
inside Kabul are helping guide both Americans and Afghans and their families to the airport
or are arranging for them to be rescued by other means.

For those living in other cities and provinces outside Kabul, CIA case officers, special
operation forces and agents from the Defense Intelligence Agency on the ground are
gathering some U.S. citizens and Afghan nationals who worked for the U.S. at pre-
determined pick-up sites.

The officials would not detail where these airlift sites were for security reasons. They spoke
on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss ongoing operations.

At a Pentagon briefing this afternoon, spokesman John Kirby was asked to confirm reports
that US helicopters had flown beyond the airport, to multiple locations, to pick up people,
both Afghans, and Americans. Kirby responded: “I can’t confirm those reports. Not at this

In Washington, some veterans in Congress were calling on the Biden administration to
extend a security perimeter beyond the Kabul airport so more Afghans could get through.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said a “small number” of U.S. troops did go outside the
perimeter a short distance for a “short amount of time” to help bring in 169 people but
gave no details. Those were Americans, Biden said. The administration has said it’s not
capable at current deployment levels in Kabul of bringing order to the chaos.

The lawmakers also said they want Biden to make clearer that the Aug. 31 deadline for
withdrawing U.S. troops is not a firm one.

The deadline is contributing to the chaos and the panic at the airport because you have
Afghans who think that they have 10 days to get out of this country or that door is closing
forever,” said Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., who served in Iraq and also worked in Afghanistan
to help aid workers provide humanitarian relief.

With mobs of people outside the airport and Taliban fighters ringing its perimeter, the U.S.
renewed its advisory to Americans and others that it could not guarantee safe passage for
any of those desperately seeking seats on the planes inside. The Taliban are regularly firing
into the air to try to control the crowds, sending men, women, and children running.

The advisory captured some of the pandemonia, and what many Afghans and foreigners
see as their life-and-death struggle to get inside. It said: "We are processing people at
multiple gates. Due to large crowds and security concerns, gates may open or close without
notice. Please use your best judgment and attempt to enter the airport at any gate that is

While Biden has previously blamed Afghans for the U.S. failure to get out more allies ahead
of this month’s sudden Taliban takeover, U.S. officials told The Associated Press that
American diplomats had formally urged weeks ago that the administration ramp-up
evacuation efforts.

In July, more than 20 diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul registered their concerns that
the evacuation of Afghans who had worked for America was not proceeding quickly enough.

In a cable sent through the State Department’s dissent channel, a time-honored method for
foreign service officers to register opposition to administration policies, the diplomats said
the situation on the ground was dire, that the Taliban would likely seize control of the
capital within months after the Aug. 31 pullout, and urged the Biden administration to
immediately begin a concerted evacuation effort. That's according to officials familiar with
the document who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the internal debate.

Biden said Friday he had gotten a wide variety of time estimates, though all were pessimistic
about the Afghan government surviving.

He has said he was following the advice of Afghanistan's U.S.-backed president, Ashraf
Ghani, in not earlier expanding U.S. efforts to fly out translators and other endangered
Afghans. Ghani fled the country last weekend as the Taliban seized the capital.

Biden has also said that many at-risk Afghan allies had not wanted to leave the country. But
refugee groups point to yearslong backlogs of applications from thousands of those Afghans
for visas that would let them take refuge in the United States.

Afghans and the Americans trying to help them also say the administration has clung to visa
requirements for would-be evacuees that involve more than a dozen steps, and can take
years to complete. Those often have included requirements that the Taliban sweep has
made dangerous or impossible — such as requiring Afghans to go to a third country to apply
for a U.S. visa, and produce paperwork showing their work with Americans.

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