Updates from Afghanistan: Biden tells Americans ‘we will get you home’ as evacuation flights resume – USA TODAY

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  • National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says the US has no head count on Americans in Afghanistan.
  • NATO ministers call for inclusive new Afghan government that doesn’t harbor terrorists.
  • Amnesty International says the Taliban has killed ethnic Hazaras.

Evacuations from Afghanistan are continuing on Friday, with the White House reporting overnight that about 9,000 people have been taken out of the country since Saturday.

On Thursday alone, about 5,700 people were evacuated by military transport planes. That includes 350 U.S. citizens, family members, special immigrant visa applicants and their families and other vulnerable Afghans, according to a White House official.

The White House said President Joe Biden on Thursday spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron about Afghanistan. The two will be among leaders meeting next week at a virtual G7 gathering, where the U.S. withdrawal after two decades in the country will be a top concern. 

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met virtually with foreign ministers of the G7 nations – which include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom – plus the High Representative of the European Union about Afghanistan, according to the State Department.

Since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, at least 2,443 service members have died from that war. Read their names in USA TODAY’s special “In Memoriam” section

Future of Afghanistan: ‘It’s just rubbish’: Experts doubt Taliban’s promises on women and girls

Biden to Americans in Afghanistan: We will get you home

President Joe Biden vowed to evacuate every American who wants to leave Afghanistan, where a Taliban takeover has complicated evacuation efforts in the capital city of Kabul.

“Let me be clear, any American who wants to come, we will get you home,” he said during remarks at the White House Friday.

The president said the U.S. evacuated 5,700 people from Afghanistan Thursday, a significant increase in the number of people airlifted from the country in recent days. He also said the U.S. has secured the airport and enabled both military and civilian charter flights evacuating civilians and vulnerable Afghans.

“This is one of the largest most difficult airlifts in history and the only country in the world capable of projecting this much power – on the far side of the world, with this degree of precision – is the United States of America,” Biden said.

He acknowledged the U.S. paused flights for a “few hours” this morning to deal with a delay in processing evacuees in third party countries.

The president’s speech comes after days of chaos at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, where U.S. forces are scrambling to quickly evacuate Americans and Afghan allies before the United States’ Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw all its troops. Crowds of people desperate to flee the country and Taliban checkpoints outside the airport have challenged evacuation efforts. 

“I cannot promise what the final outcome will be, and what it will be,” Biden said. “That it will be without risk of loss. But as commander in chief, I can assure you that I will mobilize every resource necessary.”

Biden has forcefully defended his decision to pull out of Afghanistan, insisting the U.S. was prepared for such dire scenarios such as the Taliban’s takeover, but conceded the administration was surprised how quickly the Afghan government collapsed.

Earlier this week, the president told ABC News he didn’t believe the 20-year-war could draw to a close “without chaos ensuing.” He also said it’s “not rational” to uphold women’s rights, through military force. Human rights groups, alarmed by what will happen in Afghanistan now that the fundamentalist Taliban is in charge, are particularly concerned about women and girls.

At the same time, the president has shifted blame on the Afghan government for the unfolding crisis in Kabul, but current and former intelligence and military officials told USA TODAY the White House was warned ahead of time of the impending catastrophe.

– Courtney Subramanian

Evacuation flights in Kabul to resume after brief pause

Evacuation flights from Afghanistan are expected to resume after a brief pause caused by a back-up in processing people who were airlifted to third party countries, a senior administration official told USA TODAY.

“The commander on the ground has issued the order to recommence,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The official declined to say how long the flights were paused.

With less than two weeks until the United States’ Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan, American forces have ramped up evacuation efforts in recent days. The U.S. airlifted 3,000 people by military transport overnight Thursday. That includes 350 U.S. citizens, family members, special immigrant visa applicants and their families and other vulnerable Afghans, according to a White House official.

In the last 24 hours, the U.S. also facilitated the departure of 11 charter flights. The U.S. has evacuated approximately 9,000 people since emergency evacuation operations began on Aug. 14.

– Courtney Subramanian

NATO foreign ministers lay out expectations for Taliban government

Foreign ministers of NATO issued a statement on the situation in Afghanistan on Friday morning, calling an “immediate end to violence” and for the safe evacuation of citizens and Afghan allies. 

“We also express deep concerns about reports of serious human rights violations and abuses across Afghanistan. We affirm our commitment to the statement by the UN Security Council on 16 August, and we call for adherence to international norms and standards on human rights and international humanitarian law in all circumstances,” the statement reads.

The statement demands that Afghanistan form an “inclusive and representative” government, noting “NATO has suspended all support to the Afghan authorities.”

“Any future Afghan government must adhere to Afghanistan’s international obligations; safeguard the human rights of all Afghans, particularly women, children, and minorities; uphold the rule of law; allow unhindered humanitarian access; and ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a safe haven for terrorists.”

White House: Evacuation timing tied to Afghan government’s fall

White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield defended the Biden administration’s timing of the evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies from Kabul in an interview Friday morning with MSNBC, saying it was not begun earlier to keep the Afghan government intact. 

“At any point that we began a mass evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies out of Afghanistan, it was going to signal the imminent collapse of the Afghan government, it was going to be a chaotic situation, whether it happened five months ago whether it happened five weeks ago, or whether it happened this week,” Bedingfield said. “So our effort was to continue to try to ensure that the Afghan government had every opportunity to remain in place.”

The U.S. military left Bagram Airfield in Kabul in early July. That meant any evacuation would need to take place at Hamid Karzai International Airport, which has both military and commercial services. 

More: Fraud, waste and abuse in Afghanistan: Inspector general reflects on US failures

How many Americans are in Afghanistan?

The U.S. does not have an accurate count of how many Americans are in Afghanistan and could be evacuated, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told “CBS Evening News” on Thursday. 

Sullivan explained that while Americans are asked to register with the US Embassy when they enter the country, some don’t “unregister” when they leave or sign in to begin with.

Sullivan said the U.S. would try to reach all Americans in Afghanistan by combing an existing database of Americans who are there, and by broadcasting messages in as many ways as possible.

President Joe Biden is confident the U.S. will be able to extract all Americans by Aug. 31, Sullivan added.

More: What is sharia law? And how is the Taliban using it in Afghanistan?

Biden to speak on Afghanistan

President Joe Biden is expected to speak on the latest on the situation in Afghanistan at 1 p.m. today from the White House.

Earlier this week, in both public remarks and in an interview with ABC News, the president has stood by the assertion that the U.S. did not anticipate the Taliban would so swiftly rout the Afghan military and take over the country.

During the ABC interview that aired Thursday, Biden said the idea that the Taliban would gain control was based on the notion that the Afghan army – which was larger and much better equipped than the Taliban – would collapse. 

“I don’t think anybody anticipated that,” Biden said. 

Amnesty International: Taliban killed ethnic minority members

KABUL, Afghanistan – Taliban fighters tortured and killed members of an ethnic minority in Afghanistan after recently overrunning their village, Amnesty International said, fueling fears that they will again impose a brutal rule, even as they urged imams to push a message of unity at the first gathering for Friday prayers since the capital was seized.

Terrified that the new de facto rulers would commit such abuses, thousands have raced to Kabul’s airport desperate to flee following the Taliban’s stunning blitz through the country. Others have taken to the streets to protest the takeover — acts of defiance that Taliban fighters have violently suppressed.

Heartbreaking photos: Child sleeps under US airman’s uniform, another passed over a wall: These are the kids fleeing Afghanistan

The rights group said that its researchers spoke to eyewitnesses in Ghazni province who recounted how the Taliban killed nine Hazara men in the village of Mundarakht on July 4-6. It said six of the men were shot, and three were tortured to death.

The brutality of the killings was “a reminder of the Taliban’s past record, and a horrifying indicator of what Taliban rule may bring,” said Agnes Callamard, the head of Amnesty International.

– Associated Press