Aug 20, 2021

Joe Biden Evacuation of Americans and Allies in Afghanistan Speech Transcript August 20

Joe Biden Evacuation of Americans and Afghan Allies Speech Transcript August 20
RevBlogTranscriptsJoe Biden TranscriptsJoe Biden Evacuation of Americans and Allies in Afghanistan Speech Transcript August 20

President Joe Biden spoke about evacuation efforts for Americans and allies in Afghanistan on August 20, 2021. Read the transcript of the speech briefing here.

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President Biden: (00:31)
Good afternoon. I’ve just met with the vice president, Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin, National Security Advisor Solomon, and other members of the national security leadership team in the situation room to discuss our ongoing efforts to evacuate American citizens, third country civilians, Afghan allies, and vulnerable Afghans. And I want to provide the American people with a brief update on the situation in Afghanistan.

President Biden: (01:05)
Since I spoke to you on Monday, we’ve made significant progress. We’ve secured the airport, enabling flights to resume, not just military flights, but civilian charters and from other countries and the NGOs taking out civilians and vulnerable Afghanis. And now we have almost 6,000 troops on the ground, including the 82nd Airborne providing runway security, the Army 10th Mountain Division standing guard around the airport, and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit assisting the civilian departure. 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.

President Biden: (01:56)
We’ve already evacuated more than 18,000 people since July and approximately 13,000 since our military airlift began on August the 14th. Thousands more have been evacuated on private charter flights facilitated by the US government. These numbers include American citizens and permanent residents, as well as their families. It includes SIV applicants and their families. Those Afghans who have worked alongside us, served alongside of us, gone into combat with us, and provided invaluable assistance to us, such as translators and interpreters. The United States stands by his commitment that we’ve made to these people and includes other vulnerable Afghans, such as women leaders and journalists. In fact, working in close coordination with the management on New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, we have successfully evacuated all 204 of their employees in Afghanistan on US military aircraft earlier this week.

President Biden: (02:58)
We’ve established the flow of flights and we’ve increased the number of people we’re moving out of the country. We paused flights in Kabul a few hours this morning to make sure we could process the arriving evacuations at the transit points. But our commander in Kabul was already given the order for outbound flights to resume. Even with the pause, we moved out 5,700 evacuees yesterday, and we’re working on a variety to verify that number of the Americans are still in country as we work on this because we don’t have the exact number people who are Americans are there. And those who have may have come up home to the United States, we want to get a strong number as to exactly how many people are there, how many American citizens, and where they are. Just yesterday among the many Americans we evacuated, there were 169 million Americans who we got over the wall into the airport using military assets.

President Biden: (03:58)
We’re also facilitating flights for our allies and our partners and working in close operational coordination with NATO on this evacuation. For example, we provided over watch for the French convoy, bringing hundreds of their people from the French embassy to the airport. These operations are going to continue over the coming days before we complete our draw down. We’re going to do everything, everything that we can to provide safe evacuation for our Afghanistan allies, partners, and Afghans who might be targeted because of their association with the United States.

President Biden: (04:39)
Let me be clear. Any American wants to come home, we will get you home. Make no mistake. This evacuation mission is dangerous. It involves risks to armed forces and it’s being conducted under difficult circumstances. I cannot promise what the final outcome will be or what it will be, that it will be without risk of loss. But as commander in chief, I can assure you that I will mobilize every resource necessary. And as an American, I offer my gratitude to the brave men and women of the US armed forces who are carrying out this mission. They’re incredible.

President Biden: (05:20)
As we continue to work, the logistics of evacuation, we’re in constant contact with the Taliban, working to ensure civilians have safe passage to the airport. We’re particularly focused on our engagements on making sure every American who wants to leave can get to the airport. Where we have been seeing challenges for Americans, we have thus far been able to resolve them. Look, we’ve made clear to the Taliban that any attack, any attack on our forces or disruption of our operations at the airport will be met with swift and forceful response. We’re also keeping a close watch on any potential terrorist threat at or around the airport, including from the ISIS affiliates in Afghanistan who were released from prison when the prisons were empty and because they are by the way, and make everybody understand that the ISIS in Afghanistan have been the sworn enemy of Taliban.

President Biden: (06:26)
I’ve said all along, we’re going to retain a laser focus on our counter-terrorism mission, working in close coordination with our allies and our partners, and all those who have an interest in ensuring stability in the region. Secretary Blinken is with me today, met this morning with our NATO allies in consultation about the way forward, so that Afghanistan cannot be used in the future as a terrorist base of attack to attack the United States or our allies. For 20 years, Afghanistan has been a joint effort with our NATO allies. We went in together and we’re leaving together, and now we’re working together to bring our people and our Afghan partners to safety.

President Biden: (07:13)
The past few days, I’ve also spoken directly with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Johnson, Chancellor Merkel of Germany, and President Macron of France. We all agreed that we should convene and we will convene the G7 meeting next week, a group of the world’s leading democracies so that together we can coordinate our mutual approach, our united approach on Afghanistan and moving forward. We are united with our closest partners to execute the mission at hand.

President Biden: (07:47)
We’ve also discussed the need to work with the international community to provide humanitarian assistance such as food aid and medical care for refugees who have crossed into neighboring countries to escape the Taliban and to bring international pressure on the Taliban, with respect to the treatment of the Afghan people overall, but including Afghan, particularly women and girls.

President Biden: (08:11)
The past week has been heartbreaking. We’ve seen gut-wrenching images of panicked people acting out of sheer desperation. It’s completely understandable. They’re frightened or sad, uncertain what happens next. I don’t think anyone, I don’t think any one of us can see these pictures and not feel that pain on a human level. Now we have a mission, a mission to complete in Afghanistan. It’s an incredibly difficult and dangerous operation for our military. We have almost 6,000 of America’s finest fighting men and women at the Kabul Airport.

President Biden: (08:52)
And we’re putting their lives on the line and they’re doing it in a dangerous place to save other Americans, or Afghan allies, and citizens of our allies. I talk to our commanders on the ground there every single day as I just did a few hours or an hour or so ago. And I made it clear to them and we’ll get them whatever they need to do the job. They’re performing to the highest standard under extraordinarily difficult and dynamic circumstances. Our NATO allies are strongly standing with us, their troops keeping century alongside ours in Kabul. As is the case whenever I deploy our troops into harm’s way, I take that responsibility seriously. I carry that burden every day, just as I did when I was vice-president and my son was deployed to Iraq for a year.

President Biden: (09:53)
There’ll be plenty of time to criticize and second guess when this operation is over, but now, now I’m focused on getting this job done. I would ask every American to join me in praying for the women and men risking their lives in the ground in the service of our nation. As events evolve over the coming days, my team and I will continue to share the information and update the American people on exactly where things are. We’ll use every resource necessary to carry out the mission at hand and bring the safety American citizens and our Afghan allies. This is our focus now, and when this is finished, we will complete our military withdrawal and finally bring to an end 20 years of American military action in Afghanistan. Thank you. And may God bless our troops, our diplomats, and all those serving in harm’s way. And now, I’ll take questions. AP, Zeke Miller.

Zeke Miller: (10:59)
Thank you, Mr. President. [inaudible 00:11:03] usher in an era where the world can count on America to live up to its promises. You promised to leave Afghanistan, but you also promised not to help to bring out those who helped America in its war effort. We’ve seen these heart-wrenching images at the Kabul Airport of people trying to get there. Say nothing of the people who can’t get to that airport. You made the commitment to get American troops out, to get American citizens out. Will you make the same commitment to those who assisted in the American war effort over the last 20 years? Number one, and then a number two, what is your message to America’s partners around the world who have criticized not the withdrawal, but the conduct of that withdrawal and made them question America’s credibility on the world stage?

President Biden: (11:43)
I have seen no question of our credibility from our allies around the world. I’ve spoken with our NATO allies. We’ve spoken with NATO allies, the secretary of state. Our national security advisor has been in contact with his counterparts throughout the world and our allies as has the general… Or, excuse me, I keep calling him a general, but my secretary of defense. The fact of the matter is I have not seen that. As a matter of fact, the exact opposite I’ve gotten. The exact opposite thing is we’re acting with dispatch. We’re committing to what we said we would do.

President Biden: (12:15)
Look, let’s put this thing in perspective here. What interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point with Al Qaeda gone? We went to Afghanistan for the express purpose of getting rid of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, as well as getting Osama Bin Laden. And we did. Imagine, just imagine if that attack, if Bin Laden had decided with Al Qaeda to launch an attack from Yemen, would we ever gone to Afghanistan?

President Biden: (12:50)
Would there ever be any reason we’d be in Afghanistan, controlled by the Taliban? What is a national interest of the United States in that circumstance? We went and did the mission. You’ve known my position for a long, long time. It’s time to end this war. The estimates of the cost of this war over the last 20 years range from a minimum $1 trillion to a think tank at one of the universities saying $2 trillion. That’s somewhere between $150 million a day and $300 million a day. The threat from terrorism has metastasized. There’s a greater danger from ISIS and Al Qaeda and all these affiliates in other countries by far than there is from Afghanistan.

President Biden: (13:38)
And we’re going to retain an over the horizon capability that if they were to come back to be able to take them out, surgically move. So this is where we should be. This is about America leading the world, and all our allies have agreed with that. And by the way, before I made this decision, I was at the G7 as well as met with our NATO partners. And I told them all, every one of them knew and agreed with the decision I made to end and jointly end our involvement in Afghanistan. The first part of your question was… I can’t remember now.

Zeke Miller: (14:18)
Would you make the same commitment to bring out Afghans who assisted in the war effort?

President Biden: (14:23)
Yes. Yes. We’re making the same commitment. There’s nothing more important than bringing American citizens out. I acknowledge that, but they’re equally important almost is all those SIVs we call them who in fact helped us. There were translators. They went into battle with us. They were part of the operation as well as we’re also trying to get out as many NGOs, non-government organizations, women’s organizations, et cetera, we’re doing all we can. In the meantime, Secretary Blinken and I am going to be working with our allies to see to it that we can bring international pressure on the Taliban to be… They’re looking to gain some legitimacy. They’re going to have to figure out how they’re going to maintain that country. And there’s going to be strong conditions we’re going to apply, and it will depend on whether they get help based on whether or not how well they treat women and girls, how they treat their citizens. So this is just beginning on that score.

Zeke Miller: (15:25)
[inaudible 00:15:25] past the 31st to make that happen, to bring all the Americans out, to bring those SIVs out?

President Biden: (15:31)
I think we can get it done by then, but we’re going to make that judgment as we go. Now, Justin Cinco, Bloomberg.

Justin Cinco: (15:37)
Thank you, Mr. President. You just said that you would keep a laser focus on counter-terrorism efforts and that you don’t see as great of a threat of terrorism from Afghanistan as other parts of the world. But if you and your administration so badly miss assessed how quickly the Taliban would sweep through Afghanistan and we no longer have an embassy there from which to run intelligence operations, how can you at all be confident of your assessment of the risk of terrorism and the ability of the US to conduct over the horizon missions to keep it in check? Can you tell Americans that they’re safe and will remain safe from terror attacks in Afghanistan?

President Biden: (16:17)
I think you’re comparing apples and oranges. One question was whether or not the Afghan forces we trained up which stay and fight in their own civil war they had going on. No one shouldn’t say no one. The consensus was that it was highly unlikely that in 11 days they’d collapse and fall and the leader of Afghanistan would leave the country. That’s a very different question than whether or not there is the ability to observe whether or not large groups of terrorists began to accumulate in a particular area in Afghanistan, but plot against the United States of America.

President Biden: (16:58)
That’s why we retained an over the horizon capability to go in and do something about that if that occurs, if that occurs. But in the meantime, we know what’s happened around the world. We know what’s happening in terms of what’s going on in other countries, where there is the significant rise of terrorist organizations in the Middle East and East Africa and other places. And so the bottom line is we’re dealing with those terrorist threats from other parts of the world and failed states without permanent military presence there. We have to do the same in Afghanistan.

Justin Cinco: (17:40)
Sir, just on that initial assessment, we learned over the last 24 hours, that there was a dissent cable from the state department saying that the Taliban would come faster through Afghanistan. Can you say why, after that cable was issued, the US didn’t do more to get Americans out?

President Biden: (18:00)
I got all kinds of cables, all kinds of advice. Have you noticed they range from this group saying that they didn’t say it fall when it did fall, but saying that it would fall, other saying it wouldn’t happen for a long time and they’d be able to sustain themselves through the end of the year. I made the decision, the buck stops with me. I took the consensus opinion. The consensus opinion was that in fact it would not occur if it occurred until later in the year. So it was my decision. Now, my next is Stephanie Ramos, ABC.

Stephanie Ramos: (18:42)
Yeah. Thank you, Mr. President, two questions for you. The military has secured the airport, as you mentioned, but will you sign off on sending US troops into Kabul to evacuate Americans who haven’t been able to get to the airport safely?

President Biden: (18:56)
We have no indication that they haven’t been able to get in Kabul through the airport. We’ve made an agreement with the Taliban thus far, they’ve allowed them to go through it’s and they’re interested in them to go through. So we know of no circumstance where American citizens are carrying an American passport are trying to get through to the airport, but we will do whatever needs to be done to see to that they get to the airport.

Stephanie Ramos: (19:19)
And one more Mr. President. Last month, my colleague Martha Raddatz interviewed Abdul, an interpreter who was on the front lines with US forces in Afghanistan. Overnight, we received a photo of Taliban militants coming to the door of his home, literally hunting him down. Thankfully, he was able to escape, but he is obviously still in mortal danger. What would be your message to Abdul, his wife, and his three young daughters?

President Biden: (19:47)
We want you to be able to get to the airport, contact us. We’ll see whatever we can do to get you there. We’ve got to get you out. We are committed to deal with you, your wife, and your child, to get all three of you out of Afghanistan. That’s the commitment.

Stephanie Ramos: (20:05)
Thank you, sir.

President Biden: (20:05)
Meredith Lee of PBS News Hour.

Meredith Lee: (20:12)
You mentioned just now using every resource available for evacuations. Why haven’t you ordered the military to expand the security perimeter around the Kabul airport? Do you have any plans to do so, giving that will likely require more US troops? And are you considering rescue operations to recover Americans and Afghan allies stuck behind Taliban checkpoints?

President Biden: (20:34)
The last answer is yes to the last question. We’re continuing every opportunity and every means by which we could get folks to the airport. That’s number one. Number two, the reason why we have not gone out and started and set up a perimeter way outside of the airport in Kabul is that it’s likely to draw an awful lot of unintended consequences in terms of people who in fact are not part of the Taliban. We’ve been in constant contact with the Taliban leadership on the ground in Kabul, as well as the Taliban leadership at Dalai. And we’ve been coordinating what we’re doing.

President Biden: (21:18)
That’s why we were able, for example, how we got all of our embassy personnel out, how we got everyone out of the embassy safely. That was the distance. That’s how we helped get the French out and out of their embassy. So the question remains, there will be judgements made on the ground by the military commanders at the moment. And that I cannot second guess each of those judgments to made, but the idea of again… I mean, let me get back to the fundamental point I made at the outset. When the decision was made by me, and it was made some time ago. And I ran for president saying I wanted to get us out of Afghanistan.

President Biden: (22:08)
One of the things that is a reality as people now say to me and to others, and many of you say it on air, that why did we have to move? Because no Americans are being attacked. Why did we withdraw those… Why’d we agree to withdraw 2,500 troops? No Americans are being attacked. As I said before, the reason they weren’t being attacked was part of an agreement that Trump had made a year earlier. We will leave by May 1st, he said, as long as there’s no attack on Americans in that year period. Number one, number two, the Taliban was taking large swaths of the countryside, north and south, none of the major areas, none of the major points of the capitols of each of these provinces, but they were all over the country. And the idea that if I had said on May the 2nd or 3rd, “We are not leaving, we are staying.”

President Biden: (23:19)
Does anybody truly believe that I would not have had to put in significantly more American forces, send your sons, your daughters, like my son was sent to Iraq to maybe die? And for what? For what? So then the only rational thing to do in my view was to set up and preposition American forces for purpose of evacuation and the aircraft to pre-position those ahead of time, so that we would be able to begin the process of evacuation of American citizens, SIVs, and others who helped us.

President Biden: (24:00)
The last point I’ll make is this. Look, if we had decided 15 years ago to leave Afghanistan, it would have been really difficult. If we decided five years ago, if we continued the war for another decade and tried to leave. There’s no way in which we’d be able to leave Afghanistan without there being some of what you’re seeing now, but what we’ve done so far is be able to get a large number of Americans out, all our personnel at the embassy out, and so on. And thank God so far, knock on wood, we’re in a different position. Scott Detra, Scott, NPR.

Scott Detra: (24:55)
Thank you, Mr. President. I just want to follow up on something you said a moment ago. You said that there’s no circumstances where American citizens cannot get to the airport. That doesn’t really square with the images we’re seeing around the airport with the reporting on the ground from our colleagues who are describing chaos and violence. Are you saying unequivocally that any American who wants to get to the airport is getting there and getting past the security barrier and to the planes where they want to go?

President Biden: (25:20)
I thought the question was, how can they get through to the airport outside the airport? And the answer is to the best of our knowledge, the Taliban checkpoints, they are letting through people showing American passports. Now, that’s a different question when they get into the rush and crowd of all the folks just outside the wall, near the airport. That’s why we had to, I guess, was it yesterday day before? We went over the wall and brought in how many?

Secretary Blinken: (25:51)

President Biden: (25:53)
169 Americans. So it is a process to try to figure out how we deal with the mad rush of non-Americans, those who didn’t help. Those who are not on the priority list, just any Afghan, any Afghan to be able to get out of the country. And so my guess is that no matter what, under what circumstances anyone, there’s not a whole lot of Afghanis… There’s a whole lot of Afghanis that just as soon come to America, whether there are any involvement with the United States in the past at all, rather than stay under Taliban rule and any rule. So what I was saying is that we have an agreement that they will let pass through the checkpoints that they, the Taliban control, the Americans through.

Scott Detra: (26:48)
Given this, given the negotiations with the Taliban and the scenes that we’re seeing, can you just fully explain why the plan wasn’t to go ahead with these evacuations of both Americans and allies before the draw downs began, before [inaudible 00:27:00] was closed, looking back several months, because whether it was now or several months from now, there seems to be a broad consensus that the Taliban would make these gains and these would be needed at some point?

President Biden: (27:11)
Well, yeah, at some point, but the point was that although we were in contact with the Taliban and Doha for this whole period of time, that some point wasn’t expected to be the total demise of the Afghan national force, which was 300 persons. Let’s assume the Afghan national force had continued to fight. And they were surrounding Kabul. It’d be very different story, very different story. But the overwhelming consensus was that they were not going to collapse the Afghan forces. They were not going to leave. They were not going to just abandon and put down their arms and take off. So that’s what’s happened. Thank you very, very much.

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