President Joe Biden is “laser focused” on getting Americans who want to leave Afghanistan out of the country, a White House official said Friday.
“He has directed the Department of Defense and the team working on this to use every possibility available to them to increase the number of people that we’re getting out,” Kate Bedingfield, the White House’s communications director, said on CNN’s “New Day.”
The United States evacuated some 3,000 people from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Aug. 19, a White House official said late Thursday. That included nearly 350 U.S. citizens, with the rest primarily being Afghan nationals who got special visas.
But thousands of other Americans remain in the country. Some have reported being unable to get to the airport, the only U.S.-held facility left in Afghanistan’s capital.
“American citizens can’t get to the gates, many times,” Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) said on Fox News.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Thursday that while he is “uncertain” of exactly what is happening at the airport, as of Thursday, officials had not received any reports indicating that U.S. citizens were being prevented from making their way into the airport.
“I am not certain it’s not happening, we haven’t received any reporting here that indicated that American citizens specifically were being stopped or harassed,” Kirby told reporters in Washington.
“That said, we obviously don’t have perfect visibility into what is going on outside the airport. So I can’t say definitively that they aren’t stopping and/or harassing people with U.S. passports or visas. Obviously, we don’t want to see that happen, we don’t want to see anybody hurt or harassed, period,” he added.
The U.S. military is relying on the Taliban to let people through checkpoints manned around the exterior of the airport.
Taliban terrorists have indicated that “people with the proper credentials will be allowed through” to the airport, in the hopes that they can make it back to America,” Kirby said.
Military officials have said their mission does not include going outside the airport to rescue Americans, even though troops from other countries are reportedly carrying out rescue missions. Robert McCreary, a former White House official, said that the United States did conduct one mission on Wednesday, saving an Afghan national police officer who spent years working with the American military.
Asked about the apparent lack of rescue missions on Friday, Bedingfield deflected the question, saying that kind of question was better answered by the military.
“But what I can tell you is the president is driving his team toward this. We are working every day to do everything that we can to ensure that we’re able to get more people into the airport in an orderly manner,” she said.
Both White House and Pentagon officials say they don’t know how many Americans remain in the country, though Biden said in an interview recorded Wednesday that there might be as many as 15,000.
A State Department spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an email Thursday that their best estimate was between 5,000 and 10,000.
With the Aug. 31 pullout date looming, there may not be enough time to evacuate all Americans who want to leave, not to mention the Afghans who are trying to get special visas to go to the United States or another country. Biden, who is scheduled to deliver remarks on the evacuation efforts later Friday, has indicated he would push the withdrawal deadline back if needed, something Bedingfield emphasized.
“The president has committed: we will get every American who wants to get out out of Afghanistan,” she said.
Isabel van Brugen contributed to this report.