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Kamala Harris reaffirms Biden’s commitment to evacuating Afghan women at Vietnam press conference

Vice President Kamala Harris declared that evacuating US citizens and allies out of Afghanistan is the Biden White House’s ‘highest priority’ at a press conference in Vietnam on Thursday.

Harris also told reporters that she spent ‘almost [her] entire career’ on ‘the protection of women and children’ after critics spent a week pointing out her delay in speaking out about the plight of Afghan women and girls under Taliban rule.

It was the second of two stops on the vice president’s Southeast Asia tour.

Asked about American safety and evacuations in light of the growing threat from an Afghanistan ISIS affiliate, Harris echoed other senior Biden officials: ‘Our highest priority right now is evacuating American citizens, evacuating Afghans who worked with us and Afghans who are at risk, with a priority around women and children.’

‘It is a dangerous and difficult mission, but it must be seen through, and we intend to see it through as best as we can.’

Harris’s visit to Vietnam immediately after Kabul fell to the Taliban spurred comparisons to the fall of Saigon.

Kamala Harris was asked about Afghanistan during a press conference in Vietnam on Thursday

Biden is holding firm to his August 31 evacuation deadline despite pleas from lawmakers and US allies

Biden is holding firm to his August 31 evacuation deadline despite pleas from lawmakers and US allies

The Taliban’s brutal and regressive treatment of women when it last held Afghanistan has concerned human rights advocates and lawmakers around the world that they will face the same treatment again. 

At the press conference Harris said ‘there’s no question that any of us who are paying attention’ share the same fears. 

She noted her own background 

‘We have said before, and I will say again, that we are going to do what we are able to do in terms of the evacuation process, but in addition to that, what we are able to do politically and diplomatically to secure and to continue to work on the protection of women and children in that region, including working with our allies,’ she said.

But US allies have pressed President Joe Biden to extend his August 31 deadline to allow for all foreign nationals and vulnerable Afghans – including women and girls – to evacuate the country. 

He’s held firm despite pleas from his fellow G7 leaders at a meeting on Tuesday.

Approximately 95,700 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan since August 14. Over the last 24 hours, roughly 13,400 people were evacuated from Hamid Karzai International Airport on 17 US military jets and 74 coalition aircraft. 

Harris vowed the international community will do whatever they can to ‘keep a focus on that issue’ in Afghanistan, though no officials have publicly discussed any contingency plans should problems arise. 

She didn’t mention whether the US had a plan for evacuating women or girls who need to escape after August 31. 

Afghan children at the airport in Kabul being evacuated. Harris said the Biden administration is prioritizing US citizens, Afghan allies and vulnerable Afghan civilians - specifically women and children

Afghan children at the airport in Kabul being evacuated. Harris said the Biden administration is prioritizing US citizens, Afghan allies and vulnerable Afghan civilians – specifically women and children

A group of Afghan civilians being evacuated on a US Air Force jet. Since August 14 roughly 95,700 people have been evacuated

A group of Afghan civilians being evacuated on a US Air Force jet. Since August 14 roughly 95,700 people have been evacuated

Women and girls are not specifically named in any formal US visa categories. 

On her previous stop in Singapore, Harris also affirmed US support for evacuating citizens and allies, particularly mentioning women and children.

A day later on Tuesday she wrote on Twitter, ‘We are working around the clock to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies—including translators, interpreters, Afghan women leaders, and journalists.’ 

State Secretary Antony Blinken said in a press conference on Wednesday that 45-46 percent of the people evacuated at that point were women and girls.

He also said as many as 1,500 Americans – 500 actively in touch with the US government and 1,000 whose status needs to be ascertained – were still in Afghanistan.

Fears of an ISIS-K terrorist attack forced the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs to send out a warning for people at three Kabul airport gates to ‘leave immediately.’   

ISIS-K is a sworn enemy of the Taliban, and intelligence officials reportedly believe they are actively planning multiple attacks in a bid to create mayhem at the airport. 

US soldiers stand inside the airport as hundreds of people gather near an evacuation control checkpoint on the perimeter of the Hamid Karzai International Airport. The State Department urged people to leave three checkpoints late Wednesday over a possible terrorist threat

US soldiers stand inside the airport as hundreds of people gather near an evacuation control checkpoint on the perimeter of the Hamid Karzai International Airport. The State Department urged people to leave three checkpoints late Wednesday over a possible terrorist threat

 The United States, Britain and Australia told their citizens in the early hours of Thursday to clear the airport over fears of a deadly car bomb blast. The US said that citizens outside three gates in particular should ‘leave immediately’, while Britain and Australia told anyone near the airport to clear the area entirely.

Among those still stranded are dozens of students from a San Diego school, who flew to Afghanistan with relatives to visit family and got stuck.

They did not all travel together but went with their families in smaller groups. One of the groups has now returned to the US, leaving 19 still stuck in Kabul.

The bomb threat on Wednesday was given amid fears extremist group ISIS-K, the Islamic State branch based in Afghanistan, was plotting an attack with multiple car bombs by deploying recently-freed prisoners.

It comes as the number of evacuation flights are falling rapidly after Joe Biden held firm to the August 31 deadline, meaning that allied countries have started to shutdown their operations – or finished already.

France said it will stop flying to Kabul on Friday, Poland has already left and Holland is expected to finish today.

Meanwhile, Britain could stop flying by tonight because the U.S. is cutting short the evacuation operation three days before the deadline to ensure a safe exit.

‘There have been reports that some ill-wishers want to disrupt the security situation there by attacking and harming people and the media. So don’t go close to the airport to avoid being hurt,’ they told CNN. 

‘It is hard to overstate the complexity and danger of this effort. We are operating in an hostile environment, in a city and country now controlled by the Taliban, with a very real possibility of an ISIS-K attack,’ Blinken said Wednesday.

Harris is due to depart Southeast Asia today.

She was last at Joe Biden’s side for his Afghanistan speech on August 20 amid pressure from feminist groups and others to speak out about the increased threat to Afghan women and girls.

It was the first time she was seen at a public engagement with Biden since August 10, after the White House released a photo of her at his side in the situation room on August 18.

Harris is the first female and minority vice president – just this fact has led to some criticism that Harris should be more vocal about helping women and children fleeing Afghanistan as the Taliban is historically bad for women’s rights.

‘Kamala’s silence on protecting Afghan women and children is deafening,’ Georgia Rep. Jody Hice wrote on Twitter last Wednesday.

A Rhode Island congressional candidate similarly blasted her on the site, writing ‘Vice President Harris, you will not be able to save the women and young girls who will brutalized by this regime.’

Former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said she ‘Would love to hear from the “First Woman Vice President” on how her reckless, naïve actions will cause most harm to Afghan women.’

Earlier in her trip, Chinese officials exploited Harris‘ plane delay to Vietnam on Tuesday by sending a diplomat to offer the country two million COVID vaccines ahead of Harris’s announcement that the US would donate a million shots.

Harris met with civil society change makers who work on LGBT, transgender, disability rights and climate change in Hanoi

Harris met with civil society change makers who work on LGBT, transgender, disability rights and climate change in Hanoi

Harris was set to announce a United States donation of 1 million Pfizer doses to the people of Vietnam on her trip, in an effort to build closer ties with the former enemy to draw back Chinese influence in the area, according to the Washington Post.

But when Harris’ team experienced a three-hour flight delay, after her office was made aware of an investigation into two possible cases of the so-called Havana Syndrome in Hanoi, Chinese officials took advantage.

They sent their ambassador to the country, Xiong Bo, to met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and offer 2 million doses of its own Sinopharm COVID vaccine.

Sinopharm’s vaccine is less effective at preventing COVID than the Pfizer shot, and blocks around 79 per cent of infections – whereas Pfizer is believed to be around 94 per cent effective against the virus.  

In return, the Vietnamese prime minister thanked Bo and said his country ‘does not ally with one country to fight against another,’ state-run media reported. 

Vietnam is seeing a surge in COVID cases, mainly due to the highly virulent Delta variant, according to the Post, with Ho Chi Minh City – formerly known as Saigon – under strict lockdown, enforced by the military, which is delivering food to residents.

China’s vaccine donations would go to the Vietnamese military, while the United States’ donation – which Harris announced on Wednesday – was intended for the general public.

She said the doses would begin to arrive within the next 24 hours, as the United States opens a regional branch of the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Hanoi.

In total, the Post reports, the United States has donated 6 million COVID vaccine doses to the country, while China sent 500,000 doses to the country in June.


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