The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said Wednesday the federal government and military cannot ensure the safe passage to the Kabul airport after Taliban extremists took over the capital as video footage shows throngs of people trying to enter the facility.
“The United States government cannot ensure safe passage to the Hamid Karzai International Airport,” the U.S. Embassy wrote in a security alert issued on Wednesday, adding that “the security situation in Kabul continues to change quickly, including at the airport.”
Meanwhile, the embassy said that a large number of individuals have registered for flights out of Afghanistan, while “space on these flights is available on a first-come, first-serve basis.”
Some White House officials have estimated that as many as 10,000 Americans remain in Afghanistan. More than 80,000 Afghans, including those who worked with the U.S. government and could face Taliban reprisals, are awaiting approval to escape.
At the same time, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters that the U.S. military does not “have the capability to go out and extend operations in Kabul” to find trapped Americans.
“We’re going to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we’re going to get everyone that we can possibly evacuate evacuated. And I’ll do that as long as we possibly can until the clock runs out or we run out of capability,” he added, which drew condemnation from GOP lawmakers who said the U.S. military does indeed have the ability to continue the evacuation.
Austin continued, “We cannot afford to either not defend that airfield, or not have an airfield that’s secure where we have hundreds or thousands of civilians that can access the airfield at will and put our forces at risk.”
Such comments were sharply criticized by Republicans, including Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a retired Army ranger who served in Afghanistan.
“The Biden administration abandoned Americans in Afghanistan, forcing them to seek safety without support of our government. Entirely and unequivocally unacceptable,” he told Fox News Wednesday.
And the security situation outside the Kabul airport appears dire, despite assurances made by Pentagon officials in recent days, according to State Department officials.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the second-highest-ranking U.S. diplomat, on Wednesday confirmed reports that the Taliban are preventing some Afghans from getting to the airport. Some videos uploaded online showed apparent Taliban members hitting people with sticks and whips who were trying to get into the facility.
“We have seen reports that the Taliban, contrary to their public statements and their commitments to our government, are blocking Afghans who wish to leave the country from reaching the airport,” Sherman told reporters, adding that “many, many” Americans are arriving at the airport.
“I will tell you this, in spite of the obstacles, many, many Afghans in all of the categories, are finding their way to the airport,” she said.