U.S. consulting with Taliban on ‘every aspect’ of Kabul evacuation, says Biden national security advisor

A member of Taliban forces keeps watch at a checkpost in Kabul, Afghanistan August 17, 2021.

Stringer | Reuters

WASHINGTON — The United States is in close coordination with the Taliban as it works to evacuate tens of thousands of people out of the Kabul airport before President Joe Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Monday.

“We are engaging with the Taliban, consulting with the Taliban, on every aspect of what’s happening in Kabul right now,” Sullivan told reporters at the White House. “On what’s happening at the airport, on how we need to ensure that there is facilitated passage to the airport for American citizens, SIVs and third country nationals. And we’ll continue those conversations with them.”

Sullivan said the coordination was happening on a daily basis “through political and security channels,” but he refused to elaborate.

Tens of thousands of Americans, NATO coalition nationals and Afghans who have aided NATO are desperately trying to leave the country via the only airport not controlled by the Taliban.

Sullivan defended the Biden administration from critics who say the chaotic and often tragic scenes that have played out in and around the Kabul Airport in the past week could have been avoided with better planning and execution.

Sullivan said an element of chaos was inevitable in any U.S. withdrawal.

“Whether Kabul fell in August or September, or December or next August, the fact is, there were going to be American citizens in Kabul who needed to be evacuated,” he said.

Nonetheless, “we believe that we have time, between now and the 31st, to get out any American that wants to get out” of Afghanistan.

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Sullivan explained that it was impossible to know exactly how many Americans remained in Afghanistan, because some citizens never informed the State Department that they had arrived in the country, while others informed the government of their arrival, but not their departure.

State Department spokesman Ned Price later told reporters, “we believe there are several thousand Americans in Afghanistan right now who would like to leave.”

It remained unclear Monday exactly how the United States planned to extract these thousands of citizens, many of whom are believed to be located outside the capital city of Kabul.

Last week, the Pentagon said that the U.S. military could not even ensure safe passage for Americans inside Kabul to the Hamid Karzai International Airport, despite the fact that several thousand U.S. troops are stationed there.

On Saturday, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul warned American citizens not to travel to the airport, which soldiers and diplomats refer to as “H-KAIA,” due to security threats outside the gates.

Aug. 31 deadline in doubt

Pace of evacuations picks up

The U.S.-led international effort to get people out of Afghanistan has picked up pace in the last 24 hours.

Sullivan said the U.S. had airlifted about 10,400 people out of Kabul in the last 24 hours by cargo aircraft. Non-U.S. coalition aircraft evacuated an additional 5,900 people.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on August 23, 2021.

Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

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