The official said Biden was currently receiving a briefing on Afghanistan, where a desperate evacuation of American citizens and Afghan allies is underway after the Taliban’s lightning takeover of the country, fueling fear and pandemonium.
Biden’s decision to remain in Washington comes as the State Department warned in an alert Saturday that American citizens are being advised not to travel to the Kabul airport unless they have received individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do so.
While Pentagon officials in Washington declined to elaborate on the potential threats, they said that the airport itself was secure, if Americans are able to reach it.
“Our military forces at the gate have the ability to continue to process those that come to the gate,” Army Major Gen. Hank Taylor told reporters at a briefing Saturday morning.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the State Department alert was a “prudent notification” aimed at making sure Americans in Afghanistan “have the best information they need to make the best decision moving forward.”
This followed reports that some Americans have been beaten by Taliban extremists in Afghanistan, with Kirby saying that, “we know of a small number of cases where some Americans … have been harassed, and in some cases, beaten.”
“We don’t believe it’s a very large number, and most Americans who have their credentials with them are being allowed through the Taliban checkpoints,” Kirby added.
Chaos around the Kabul airport was so intense this week that American forces had to use three helicopters to transport 169 Americans into the complex from a building just over 650 feet away, the Pentagon said on Friday.
In the face of the pandemonium, Biden has faced sharp criticism about his administration’s planning of the pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, along with mounting calls for him to extend the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline.
“The Aug. 31 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,” Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), an Army veteran, said at a virtual roundtable that saw lawmakers from both parties discuss the situation in Afghanistan and urge Biden to extend evacuation efforts beyond the Kabul airport.
Biden addressed the deadline in a press conference on Friday, while reiterating his vow to evacuate all willing American citizens and extending that commitment to Afghans who assisted with the war effort. While he did not commit to extending the Aug. 31 deadline, he did leave the door open for such a move.
“I think we can get it done by then, but we’re going to make that judgment as we go,” Biden said, responding to a reporter asking whether he was willing to order U.S. troops to stay beyond Aug. 31 to assist with the evacuation and “bring all the Americans out, to bring those SIVs out,” referring to Afghans applying for refugee status under the Special Immigrant Visa program.
Biden’s team has defended his leadership throughout the Afghanistan crisis.
“He’s taking responsibility for every decision the United States government took with respect to Afghanistan, because, as he said, the buck stops with him,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters this week.
“Now, at the same time, that doesn’t change the fact that there are other parties here responsible as well who have taken actions and decisions that helped lead us to where we are. So, from our perspective, what we have to do now is focus on the task at hand, the mission at hand,” he added.
Zachary Stieber and Reuters contributed to this report.