Aug 26, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript August 26: Kabul Airport Attack
August 26, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She addressed the attack at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan. Read the transcript of the full news briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (00:00)
… today, as well as the President, but obviously I wanted to provide the opportunity to answer additional questions from all of you. Just one thing to note at the top, as a mark for our respect starting today the United States flag will be flown at half staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations and on all naval vessels of the federal government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its territories and possessions until sunset on August 30th, 2021 in honor of the victims of the senseless acts of violence in Kabul, Afghanistan. With that, Aamer.
Aamer Madhani: (00:33)
Thanks. Just a few minutes ago one of my colleagues asked the question about what the President would say to Afghans who fear they won’t get to leave. If the President said getting every single person out can’t be guaranteed of anyone, was he lowering expectations for a smaller, but still significant population that’s trying to get out that’s still there?
Jen Psaki: (01:00)
That wasn’t his intention, Aamer. I think what he was conveying is that, at a time where the Taliban is taking over the country, certainly not our preference as you all know well, it is not going to be possible for every single Afghan, millions potentially who want to leave Afghanistan, to be evacuated. At the same time, I think you also heard the President make clear that there is not an end to our commitment to getting American citizens out who don’t want, who are not ready to leave and to getting partners out and those who have served alongside the United States over the last 20 years.
Aamer Madhani: (01:35)
Just real quick, on the Taliban. They are in charge of the perimeter. For the suicide bomber to get in they would presumably have to get beyond the Taliban guard, so why isn’t the Taliban in part responsible for what happened today?
Jen Psaki: (01:54)
Well, I think General McKenzie addressed this earlier this afternoon and he made clear… And I understand your question is slightly different from that, but I think it’s worth repeating and important to repeat that we don’t have any information at this point in time. And that has not changed over the last couple of hours to suggest the Taliban had knowledge of or was engaged in or involved in this attack. Obviously, what happened today and the loss of lives of US service members, of Afghans is a tragedy, is horrific, is one of the worst things if not the worst thing we’ve experienced during President Biden’s time in office. But again, we don’t have any additional assessment at this point in time. Go ahead.
Speaker 1: (02:32)
Just a few things, Jen, to clarify, thank you. He talked about the ongoing mission to get people out after the 31st.
Jen Psaki: (02:40)
Speaker 1: (02:40)
But to be clear, as of tonight, is it still the plan to get all US forces out by August 31st?
Jen Psaki: (02:46)
Nothing has changed on that timeline.
Speaker 1: (02:47)
Okay. Based on his public comments over the last few days, did the President see this coming?
Jen Psaki: (02:56)
Well, what I think what you have seen the President say, and and members of our military and our national security team say is that we have been closely watching and assessing the threat of ISIS-K, and that we have had increasing concern about that threat growing over the last couple of days. So this has been a concern that we have been watching and we saw, of course, the tragic events happen today.
Speaker 1: (03:18)
And, what does today’s attack say about the US’s ability to keep the terrorist threat in check once the US pulls all military forces out of Afghanistan? Because this is something he talked about in early July when he reiterated what the plan was.
Jen Psaki: (03:35)
You’re right, and I appreciate that question. I think it’s important for people to know and understand that the threat that is posed by having thousands of US military on the ground, still currently on the ground implementing a mission, committed to a mission, as you heard General McKenzie and the President also say, that is a threat. They are a target. People gathering around the airport, that is a threat, that is a target. But ISIS’s ability to target individuals who are on the ground in Afghanistan is very different from ISIS’s ability to attack the United States and attack the Homeland. And we will maintain and continue Over the Horizon capacity with presence and partnership with countries in the region to ensure that they don’t develop that ability.
Speaker 1: (04:16)
Do you know yet if he would go to Dover to greet the caskets of those that were killed?
Jen Psaki: (04:23)
I’m certain the President will do everything he can to honor the sacrifice and the service of the lives who were lost today. I will note, you didn’t ask this question, but some others have asked it and he didn’t have the opportunity to ask it. So let me answer it to provide you an update on… I know some have asked about whether he’s called the family members. And for those of you who have covered this, you know the process. But for those of you who have not, or people who are watching at home, the process would first go through the Pentagon. There is a next of kin notification process. I know general McKenzie spoke to this earlier today. That is the process that is still underway at this point in time. Until that process concludes, the President would not make a call because that’s the first step in the process. And then in terms of additional steps, such as Dover, of course he would consider and want to be a part of any means of honoring the lives that were lost today. Go ahead.
Peter Doocy: (05:13)
Thank you, Jen. General McKenzie described one of the explosions at the Abbey Gate happening at a point after someone had been searched by the Taliban. How is the United States still going to work with the Taliban the way that the President is describing, or just in his remarks, to get American citizens and Afghan allies out if that is what we’re working with?
Jen Psaki: (05:38)
Look, I’m not trying to sugar coat what we think of the Taliban. The Taliban is as not, they’re not a group we trust, they are not our friends. We have never said that. It is also the reality that the Taliban controls large swaths of Afghanistan and to date, because of coordination with the Taliban, we’ve been able to evacuate more than 104,000 people, save 104,000 lives. And that coordination is necessary in order to continue our evacuation measures. Now, I understand your question, Peter, and the questions of others on what they knew or what their role was. There’s no assessment we have at this point in time of their involvement in this. Obviously, that’s at this time. If that changes, we will let you all know.
Peter Doocy: (06:20)
And does the President really think that they’re going to be reliable partners if we’re already getting reports that they’re not letting Afghans to the airport, and the US is still at the airport?
Jen Psaki: (06:32)
You mean after the 31st or moving over the next couple days?
Peter Doocy: (06:35)
After the 31st, well… We’ve heard that it’s already happening. So does he think that’s going to get better?
Jen Psaki: (06:38)
I’d note also that, as the President just said, more than 7,000 people have been evacuated over the course of the last 12 hours. That is while there was active attacks that were happening. Those are individuals who were let through gates, who were let onto planes and got us well over 100,000 people who have been evacuated.
Jen Psaki: (06:55)
Again, this is not about trust. This is not about relying on the Taliban as an equal partner. No one is suggesting that. But because they control large swaths of the country, including a lot of the security perimeters around the airport, we have to coordinate with them in order to get people out. We’ll continue to do that. Go ahead… But, so one more thing I would say is that we have an enormous amount of leverage. This is our view, over time, that includes economic leverage and includes leverage that we will make clear to the Taliban as it relates to coordination to continue to get American citizens and our partners out. Go ahead.
Mike Memoli: (07:26)
Jen, there have been reports of explosions happening throughout the afternoon in Kabul, or evening now obviously. And some reporting did indicate that this is the beginning of a process of the US military beginning to destroy equipment on the ground. Can you confirm that that’s what’s taking place?
Jen Psaki: (07:41)
I would refer you to the US military on specific steps of their retrograde process. Which, as we know, would have to take place in advance of a departure.
Mike Memoli: (07:49)
Then in terms of what we’ve heard from the Pentagon and then the President just articulated, which is this confidence that they have enough troops on the ground at this point to continue to facilitate the mission. I guess the question is how can that be the case, given what we saw today, the tragic loss of life? And doesn’t that call for additional troop levels, potentially needed reinforcements even on the ground? And additionally, what is the concern for the ongoing threat that ISIS-K continues to pose to these efforts?
Jen Psaki: (08:13)
There is an ongoing threat, and every day that our troops are on the ground they’re at risk. And that’s a reality. And as you saw the Pentagon brief out earlier today, these were attacks that we obviously had intelligence in terms of over the last several days of our rising concerns. But I will tell you that, and as it relates to your first question, Mike. I’ve been sitting in these meetings as well, and every single meeting the President asked the Pentagon, nearly every meeting before they conclude, “Is there anything else you need to conclude your mission? Do you need equipment? Do you need troops? Do you need resources?” He’s asked them that again today as it relates to completing their mission over the next coming days and going after the individuals, the terrorist who killed service members today as well. Go ahead.
Kaitlan Collins: (09:00)
Thank you, Jen. You just noted you were in some of these meetings today. Was there ever a point where the President was reconsidering this deadline of having all US forces out by August 31st?
Jen Psaki: (09:10)
No, and here’s why… The President relies on the advice of his military commanders and they continue to believe that it is essential to get out by the 31st, that is their advice. And there are several reasons for that. One is the ongoing threats. And the second is that we want to be able to have the ability to get individuals out who have been partners of ours after the 31st and they believe the best way to do that is to stay on that timeline at this point in time.
Kaitlan Collins: (09:37)
Does the White House still anticipate that those flights of mass evacuations will end before the actual 31st?
Jen Psaki: (09:44)
I’m not going to get into an operational timeline of when the last evacuation flight will be, and I don’t expect the Department of Defense will do that either. We will let you know, as we have, twice a day as we have updated numbers.
Kaitlan Collins: (09:55)
One more question. Is there an alternative plan being discussed for how to get these people who are seeking to leave to the airport given it is potentially perilous to go and wait outside the gates right now to get in?
Jen Psaki: (10:05)
There are a range of operations and operational approaches that our commanders and military on the ground have been utilizing over the course of several days, if not more. I’m not going to outline those from here, but that is why they’re in touch with American citizens. Why they’re in touch with partners we’re working to evacuate to get them safely to the airport and evacuated at the appropriate time. Go ahead.
Is it your opinion that the President has the authority he needs from Congress or wherever else to continue operations beyond August 31st? He kind of talked about pursuing ISIS-K wherever, whenever he needs to. Is there any expectation that he’ll need any additional authority to do so?
Jen Psaki: (10:50)
I don’t believe there’s an expectation of additional authority needed.
What about for military commanders on the ground, will they need to come back in order to conduct counter terrorism operations in order to do anything of the sort?
Jen Psaki: (11:02)
Operations, in order to do anything of the sort?
Jen Psaki: (11:03)
Well, again, as the President just said in his remarks a little while ago, he’s asked them to draw up plans. The President, I don’t think he could have been more clear about the fact that he believes we will not forgive, we will not forget, and we will hunt down these terrorists and kill them wherever they are. And he’s asked them to draw plans. Whatever they need for those plants, he is committed to delivering on, but I don’t have anything to outline for you today on that
And is it possible to do that with no military troops, and no military bases in the surrounding countries around Afghanistan?
Jen Psaki: (11:31)
Again, I would note for you, Trevor, as you know, you’ve covered these issues quite closely, we have a range of counter-terrorism capacities, and a number of countries around the world, we don’t have military basis. Obviously, I’m not going to outline what their approach would be from the military. I will leave that to them, to take, and leave it to them to outline anything at their on their timeline. Go ahead.
Jen, you mentioned today about the increasing concerns about this terror threat, the President just two days ago, said, “Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops.” Today, we saw the deadly consequences of that. If the risk grows tomorrow, and keeps growing the next day, and beyond that, how should Americans feel about this operation continuing right now for the coming days?
Jen Psaki: (12:09)
I would say, first you heard General McKenzie convey clearly that they had every intention of continuing this evacuation mission over the coming days, and that they plan for incidents of these kind. I mean, to the degree that they can. They have every intention to continue. The President has regular consultations every day, multiple times a day on days like this, about how they see the circumstance on the ground. But that is our expectation at this point in time, that it will absolutely continue over the coming days.
And can you give us some details about how the President spent his day?
Jen Psaki: (12:45)
He was scheduled to get briefed to the nine o’clock hour by his National Security Team, and that’s when the first reports were coming in of this. Walk us through what he did over those coming hours, in color behind the scenes today?
Jen Psaki: (12:56)
Sure. For people who are watching, “Color” means additional details of what he was up to. I will say, Karen, that the initial reports of the attacks came in, as members of his National Insecurity Team were gathering in the Situation Room for a regular meeting with the President. So they were just gathering and sitting down, gathering in the room. Those initial reports came in at that time. As the President arrived in the Situation Room, one of the first updates he received of course, was about the attacks on the ground in Kabul. This was a developing situation, as it has been through the course of the day, and through the course of his briefing with his National Security Team this morning, his commanders on the ground also, and in the region gave regular updates as they learn more information. Once he left the Situation Room, those updates proceeded through the course of the day. He’s been in constant contact with his National Security Advisor, his Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and military commanders, both here and in the region, throughout the course of the day, receiving updates on what’s happening on the ground.
Was there ever a second meeting of that entire National Security Team and the President-
Jen Psaki: (14:10)
[crosstalk 00:14:10] No, this was just regular, ongoing contact with members of his National Security Team through the course of the day.
Speaker 2: (14:16)
Just to clarify, since you said you were with him, how was he? How was his mood? How was he in dealing with the incoming information? How was he in asking the questions of military commanders [inaudible 00:14:29] ?
Jen Psaki: (14:30)
Well, I would say that anyone who’s watched the President up close, which is most of you, knows that putting the lives of service men and women at risk, and those decisions that you have to make as Commander-in-chief, weigh heavily on him. And as I noted a few minutes ago, any day where you lose service members is maybe the worst day of your presidency. And hopefully, there’s not more. But we are certainly early in the presidency at this point in time. So I would say, he was somber. And as he said today, outraged, at these terrorists taking the lives of service members. And he wanted to make clear to the public, he wanted to have all the information that he could before he spoke to the American people, so he could convey exactly what we knew at the point in time where he addressed the public. And he has wanted very detailed updates of exactly what we know about what is happening on the ground. And that is why he’s been in constant contact with members of his National Security Team.
Speaker 3: (15:29)
Sorry, Jen, just can you confirm the reports that it is now 13 US service members who have died?
Jen Psaki: (15:35)
I would leave that to the Department of Defense to confirm any additional casualties. Go ahead.
Speaker 2: (15:40)
Thanks Jen, you talked about the ongoing threats earlier, we heard from General McKenzie talking about this, quote, “Extremely active threat steam” but how would you sum up right now, the level of confidence that the administration has there won’t be another attack like this before the completion of this evacuation mission?”
Jen Psaki: (15:56)
I can’t give you that assessment. As I think our National Security Team has said, members of our National Security Team; these are ongoing threats. We are watching them closely, but I can’t give you that assessment from here. Go ahead.
Can you speak a little bit to what the impact on flights has been touting US and coalitions flights, but this attack has slowed some of those flights from coalition partners, other countries are now out. Does this restrict the bandwidth that you thought you would have for the next five days to get people out? Are fewer Americans and Afghan allies, SIVs, et cetera, going to get out because of this attack?
Jen Psaki: (16:30)
It’s a good question, Josh, and one of the reasons we put out the numbers twice a day is because we want you all to have an understanding of how many people were able to get out. I would note that more than 7,000 people were evacuated over the last 12 hours. Those include members from coalition partners, and we’re working now, and this is one of the pieces of the President’s been focused on, is getting as many people out and onto these planes as possible, even as we’re working to address these security threats on the ground. But I don’t to give you a prediction, because our US military is incredible, and they are working even while they are facing these security threats, to continue the evacuation mission.
What do you believe to be the case at the airport now? I suppose, not particularly at this hour, [inaudible 00:17:11] will be there. Can Americans go, should Americans go, are Afghan SIVs getting through Taliban checkpoints to the airport? Are you still discouraging them from doing that? What is the situation on the ground at perimeter?
Jen Psaki: (17:22)
Again, Josh, I would say that we are giving very specific direction to individuals, American citizens and others, on when they should come to the airport, where they should meet, how they should come to the airport. We’re obviously not going to outline or detailed those from here, or in any public manner, but that is certainly the direction we would be giving to people; to pay attention to the security alerts, and to pay attention to notifications and contacts that they’re receiving from us or coalition partners.
Sorry, just to clarify, there were warnings that led up to this attack. Other countries have been warning, the administration has been warning this is a dangerous situation, et cetera. Can you speak to whether there was specific indications that this was being planned? And if so, do you have specific indications that other ones are being planned now?
Jen Psaki: (18:03)
I’m not going to get into a specific intelligence, but I will tell you and reconfirm for you that threat is ongoing, and we are continuing to watch and assess the threat. Go ahead.
Speaker 4: (18:13)
Thanks, Jen. President Biden has spoken a lot about the need to end the forever wars, but how do you end before ever wars in Afghanistan if you are still, or if the United States is still continuing to attack ISIS-K?
Jen Psaki: (18:29)
Well, first I would say this is a specific case today where 12 individual service members and 15 were wounded today. And certainly, I would expect any President of the United States would be clear that he will avenge those deaths and the acts of terrorists. And I don’t think that came as a surprise to anyone. But the President stands by, as he outlined to all of you, just in the last hour, his commitment to bringing and end this war, as he has implemented over the course of the last month. And what we’re talking about here is avenging these deaths from terrorists; we’re not talking about sending tens of thousands of troops back for an endless war that we’ve been fighting for 20 years.
Speaker 4: (19:10)
And if I may ask, a bit of a related question to Josh, when the Obama administration was bringing in Syrian refugees, there was a lot of pushback from various states and with [inaudible 00:19:21], about refugees coming into their communities. How do you see that situation this time around? Is this going to be different, or do you anticipate those same kind of pushback and hard feelings?
Jen Psaki: (19:36)
We will see. But I will tell you that what we have been working to do is to work closely with governors, with localities, with local leaders, to give them detailed briefings on what our vetting process looks like, what the background check process looks like, before any individual comes the United States. And that is a background check process that’s thorough, before they are allowed to come in and step on US soil. We also know that there are some people in this country, even some in Congress who may not want to have people from another country come as refugees to the United States. That’s a reality. We can’t stop or prevent that on our own, but we are going to continue to communicate our intensive vetting process, and we’ve been working hard to do that behind the scenes. And we’re going to continue to convey clearly that this is also part of who we are, part of the fabric of the United States, and not back away from that. Go ahead.
Speaker 5: (20:29)
Thanks Jen. There is an American that’s been detained by the Taliban since last year, his name’s [Mark Friedrichs 00:20:35], and I’m wondering if the administration has been in negotiations to release him, as part of these broader negotiations?
Jen Psaki: (20:43)
We certainly raise his case at every opportunity and it has certainly been raised, but I don’t have any update on that case.
Speaker 5: (20:49)
And you’ve said that there’s a threat for these remaining days that US troops are in Kabul, are there any additional precautions that are being taken to protect these troops? Obviously you’re not going to send in additional troops, but are there any sort of other precautions [inaudible 00:21:04]?
Jen Psaki: (21:04)
I don’t think I’m going to get into operational details of what is happening on the ground. Certainly there are steps taken to protect our troops on the ground, by the commanders who are leading the efforts on the ground. Go ahead.
Speaker 6: (21:17)
Thank you, Jen. Just last week, the President said the following, “We made clear to the Taliban that any attack on our forces or disruption of operations at the airport will be met with swift and forceful response.” Was this an attack? Were our forces targeted? Was this at the airport? Were our operations disrupted. And if indeed it was, would this qualify as a swift and forceful response?
Jen Psaki: (21:39)
I think the President just addressed exactly that, when he said, “We will not forgive, we will not forget, and we will hunt you down.” When he spoke just an hour-
Speaker 3: (21:48)
Suicide bombers? People who people live so that they can kill themselves?
Jen Psaki: (21:51)
He was referring to the attack of terrorists from ISIS-K, who launched this attack and killed US service members, I don’t think he-
Speaker 3: (21:58)
He should be going after them, regardless of whether they attack service members.
Jen Psaki: (22:00)
I don’t think he could have been more clear. Go ahead.
Speaker 7: (22:02)
Speaker 8: (22:02)
In fact, [crosstalk 00:22:00].
Jen Psaki: (22:02)
I don’t think he could have been more clear. Go ahead.
Speaker 9: (22:02)
Yes, Jen. At least 67 House Democrats now have signed onto a letter asking the president to raise the refugee cap in fiscal year 2022 to at least 200,000. I think if you’re looking at about 125,000 right now, is that something that the White House is willing to accept?
Jen Psaki: (22:23)
I have not talked to the president about this specific question. What I will tell you is that what we are trying to do is get our muscles working again, both in our systems and the incredible refugee groups that are working on welcoming refugees from around the country, and working on getting our vetting processes and systems around the world that need to be in good shape in order to welcome refugees to get as many as we can. But I have not had a conversation with him about raising the cap beyond the 125. As you said, I’m happy to do that. Go ahead, Eli.
Given that Kabul has been the main, the only departure point in the country, I wonder if the administration knows how many of the American citizens left, the green card holders, SIVs that are in the country still are outside of Kabul. And if there have been or maybe in the future efforts to go out and rescue people from those more far-flung places?
Jen Psaki: (23:16)
Yes. On your latter question, I’m not going to get into more details and we’ll continue to be. On your former question, the vast majority are within the Kabul vicinity, but as the State Department provided an update a little bit earlier today, but I know there’s been a lot happening today. So let me just reiterate a couple of these numbers. Of the 1500 that they briefed on yesterday, roughly 500 have been evacuated. And so we’re talking about roughly an additional 1000 that we believe remain in Afghanistan. And the vast majority, over two-thirds informed us they were taking steps to leave and we are in touch with. That is what we were working through and what we were focused on every single day.
So just to be clear, you’re saying that those missions, even if you have to be vague about it, they have taken place at times.
Jen Psaki: (24:06)
I’m not confirming if they have or haven’t. I’m just going to convey to you. I’ll leave that to the Department of Defense. What I will tell you is that we are committed to getting American citizens home and out of Afghanistan should they want to leave. And that includes people around the country. Go ahead.
Speaker 10: (24:21)
Thanks, Jen. Earlier today, General McKenzie said that right now they are focused on other active threats to US service members, they’re on the ground. Are all the threats the US is currently facing from ISIS-K or are there other groups that may be bad actors?
Jen Psaki: (24:37)
I’m just not going to detail additional information about ongoing life threats.
Speaker 10: (24:42)
And do we know if the president still feels as though the chaos and the violence that we’ve seen there on the ground in Kabul was all unavoidable, even at this point?
Jen Psaki: (24:54)
You mean from about 11 days ago?
Speaker 10: (24:57)
Jen Psaki: (24:58)
Well, I would say, I’ve spoken to this a few times. If we go back to 11 days ago, if that is your specific question, we certainly didn’t anticipate that the leadership, the Afghan government would leave in the manner, or would topple in the manner and the timeline that they did, or that the Afghan national security forces would cease to protect the airport and parts of Kabul. That is not what we anticipated in that timeline. That is true. What I will say and reiterate again, is that within 24 to 48 hours, we had secured the airport. And since then, we’ve evacuated more than 104,000 people.
Speaker 10: (25:33)
Jen Psaki: (25:34)
Speaker 11: (25:35)
How would you describe the relationship right now with the Taliban in light of the attack? And are they still helping out with security? What’s their relationship right now?
Jen Psaki: (25:44)
Again, this is not a friendship or a relationship where there is trust, it’s based on trust, but we are continuing to coordinate to move American citizens to move Afghan partners and our allies out. And the fact that we have evacuated 7,000 people in the last 12 or 13 hours now is evidence of that. Go ahead.
Speaker 12: (26:04)
[inaudible 00:26:04]. So two Republican senators so far have called on the president to resign over the attacks in Afghanistan today. What’s the White House’s response to that?
Jen Psaki: (26:13)
I would say first, this is a day where US service members, 12 of them lost their lives at the hands of terrorists. It’s not a day for politics. And we would expect that any American, whether they’re elected or not would stand with us and our commitment to going after and fighting and killing those terrorists wherever they live and to honoring the memory of service members. And that’s what this day is for. Go ahead.
Hi, thank you. I yesterday when I was leaving the White House, I spoke to a group of men at the White House gate who said that they were service members here in America in our armed forces, various branches. They had their photos on posters and they are seeking help for their families. We’ve prioritized which groups we are helping, namely those who have helped us in the mission, but they are not. They’re currently in military, but they are not people who fit the description or the criteria for getting assistance. However, in our interview, they told me that they are getting assistance. Can you speak to this prioritization and who really is eligible to get assistance going forward considering what happened today? I know you’ve already spoken to it, but can you drill down a little bit to make sure people know who we are allowing into the country at this point?
Jen Psaki: (27:38)
I’m not sure that I totally understand your question, but let me do my best. American citizens, which I assume these US service members are.
They serve here in our country. They’re from Afghanistan and they have family members there. So they said they went to the State Department and the State Department was helping them get their family members in, and they wanted to get attention so that other people in their situation could get their family members in. And they didn’t seem to fit the criteria, so I’m just asking you to clarify.
Jen Psaki: (28:09)
Are you concerned that we’re helping the family members of people who have fought by our side for 20 years, helping them come to the country once they’ve been through a thorough vetting process or what’s the root of your question?
The root of my question is consistent information for those who need help. So I’ve been doing some reporting around people getting correct information about the process. So I want to be able to say in my reporting, if you meet these qualifications, you are the folks who can come into the country. And I think a lot of people want to know that information. Does that make sense?
Jen Psaki: (28:39)
I think we’ve been very clear, Mona, that US citizens, their family members, some of those are dual nationals, many of them who are left are dual nationals, some of them may have lived their whole lives in Afghanistan. For immediate family members, that means spouses and children. It also means SIV applicants and others who might be eligible for a range of the programs we have, and vulnerable populations. That does have a broad range of meanings because there are a lot of people who are vulnerable in Afghanistan. And we’re going to work to get as many of those people out as we can. There’s a range of programs. If individuals have questions, information is available on the State Department website and the Department of Defense website. Go ahead.
Speaker 13: (29:17)
Thank you. Over 65 Democrats in Congress are calling on Biden to raise the refugee cap to at least 200,000-
Jen Psaki: (29:23)
I think I just answered this question.
Speaker 13: (29:25)
Oh, I’ll give another one. Sorry.
Jen Psaki: (29:26)
Speaker 13: (29:28)
And then, the president had cited intelligence data earlier in his speech that ISIS-K, they’re planning attacks on US personnel for quite some time. And that was in part why he was trying to get everyone evacuated by August 31st. But if that was the case, then why did the administration make the decision in late July to not do more rapid, early evacuations on military aircraft?
Jen Psaki: (29:47)
Well, first I would say that we have over the course of the last 11 days evacuated more than a 100,000 people. And that is a credit to the US military and the men and women who are serving, who have been able to conduct and oversee this operation and done it at great risk. And that was an operation that began again just two weeks ago. Before that time, we’d also evacuated a number of people. I can’t speak to what the difference of the ISIS threat would have been, but obviously that has been increasing over time, which we have spoken quite publicly about. Go ahead.
Speaker 14: (30:22)
Thank you very much. Despite the lack of true trust that you and the president and everyone was highlighting in this relationship with Taliban, and understandable. Having said that, there’s been a remarkable level of cooperation. I mean, it’s something normal whatever possibly imagine whatever, even a month ago. And as the president is saying, it’s actually ongoing now despite the incident that kind of helping try and deal with this. Given that, after the 31st, is it actually conceivable that there could be some kind of longer term relationship on the mutual interest like the president talks about, security, humanitarian aid? Whether you call it recognition or not, you’re basically working alongside the Taliban authorities in Afghanistan long-term.
Jen Psaki: (31:07)
Well, I would say first that we’ll continue to work to get people out of Afghanistan even after the 31st. And we will need to coordinate with the Taliban in order to do that. I’m not going to label that a partnership or anything other than continued coordination. And we, again, believe we have a great deal of leverage in order to implement that commitment.
Speaker 14: (31:28)
On other issues, beyond the evacuation, let’s say that gets done, hopefully it is done, but there’s going to be also [inaudible 00:31:36], there’s going to be about the security, about the terrorism, from that point of view, humanitarian aid. Could you see this kind of mutual interests agenda continuing with that?
Jen Psaki: (31:48)
I don’t want to get ahead of where we are. Obviously, we are committed to continuing to deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. There are a range of international partners who are committed to doing the same thing. The United Nations also will continue to have a presence on the ground, which will be a mechanism for delivering a great deal of that assistance. And I would just reiterate, again, we would need to have continued coordination in order to continue to get people out and evacuate them as we are going to plan to do after the 31st. Go ahead, Shelby.
Thanks. I do have two for you. This morning Kirby tweeted that the evacuation operations in Kabul won’t be wrapping up in 36 hours and that they’ll be evacuating as many people as they can until the end of the mission. What is the administration define the end of the mission as? Is it the 31st, or is it once we evacuate everyone that the administration has promised to get out?
Jen Psaki: (32:39)
The end of this mission, yes, the 31st. But our commitment to getting American citizens out who are may not be ready to depart continues. There is no deadline. There’s no end of that timeline, I should say, to getting our Afghan partners out. And I think he put out that tweet, John Kirby as the Pentagon spokesperson, put out that tweet because there was a great deal of reporting that was inaccurate, that we were…
Jen Psaki: (33:03)
… put out that tweet because there was a great deal of reporting that was inaccurate, that we were ending evacuation flights tomorrow, and that is not accurate.
Speaker 15: (33:07)
And then just one more, the president promised earlier that they’ll continue to get any American who wishes to get out of Afghanistan out even after the 31st, how is the administration going to ensure the safe evacuation for US citizens without troop presence when even with troop presence, we just saw this attack happen?
Jen Psaki: (33:26)
Well, again, over the last 11 days, we’ve evacuated 104,000 people, including the vast majority of Americans who were in Afghanistan. But our commitment does not end, right? We are continuing to work to get every American citizen who wants to leave out before the 31st. We will need to have… We will need to continue to coordinate with the Taliban in order to get people to the airport and out from the airport. Those operational details and discussions are ongoing. And as we have more to report to all of you, we will provide that information. Go ahead.
Speaker 16: (34:00)
Thank you, Jen. Moments ago, you said that the commitment doesn’t end at the end of the month and that despite August 31st, the commitment remains. During his remarks moments ago the president said that we were going to try and get “as many people out as we can,” is he trying to prepare the American public for a sort of harsh reality that some Americans might still be left on the ground there when we leave?
Jen Psaki: (34:27)
There are some Americans who may not have decided to leave by the 31st, that is possible. Many of these Americans who remain are dual citizens. They may have extended family members, 20 family members, 30 family members, others who they want to bring with them and they’re not ready to make that decision yet. Our commitment to them does not end. We will continue to work to get them out, but his objective and laser focus, which he asks for many updates a day on is getting every American who wants to leave out now and in the next few days, that is what our US military is working to deliver on. Go ahead.
Speaker 17: (35:03)
What are those Americans supposed to do on September 1st?
Jen Psaki: (35:07)
We have been reaching out, in touch with every single American who has reached out to us and we have contact for, via phone, email, text, WhatsApp. That will continue, but our focus right now is on getting every single American who wants to leave out in advance of the 31st. Go ahead.
Speaker 18: (35:27)
Jen, given that you had intelligence about the attack, even as I understand it down to the very gate, but weren’t able to stop it. What hope do you have of thwarting further attacks? The president told us just now and I quote, “were inevitable.” And if not, isn’t the decision to stay potentially the wrong one? Is my first question, I got a quick follow up.
Jen Psaki: (35:47)
Sure. Well, I would say first that general McKenzie spoke to this earlier today. Our version of this question, which is a very good question. And what he conveyed clearly is that they are committed, our US military is committed to continuing the mission, despite the fact that there are daily risks and despite the fact that there are ongoing threats. That speaks to their courage, that speaks to their commitment and their service to this country. Obviously anything they need, anything that the national security team needs, our military commanders on the ground need to thwart, to prevent these attacks, to go after terrorists, they will be granted. But I’m not going to get into more details than that.
Speaker 18: (36:26)
And just secondly, you mentioned earlier, I think in an answer to Caitlin that there were other operations or methods of getting Americans to the airport, particularly given what’s happened today. What will you do for the thousands or tens of thousands of Afghans with and without visa papers who were finding it impossible to get to the airport prior to the attacks today and who will now be presumably even more full of fear and confusion as to how they can possibly get out? What do you say to them?
Jen Psaki: (36:56)
We’re also in touch with many, many of them, and we are giving them clear instructions on where to meet, when to come to the airport, how they can get out and evacuated from the country. We are also mindful and providing security threats when warranted, as we did last night to prevent a large gathering that would be a greater attraction to terrorist threats. But we are… For individuals who are eligible for our programs, whether they are SOV programs, P1, P2 programs, other vulnerable Afghans, we are continuing to work to get as many out as we can. And we will continue to work with our partners and allies to continue to get them out. Go ahead.
Speaker 19: (37:34)
Can I follow up on that?
Jen Psaki: (37:36)
Speaker 19: (37:36)
It seems like right now Americans and Afghan allies still in Afghanistan are facing two choices. Either they stay where they are and risk being hunted down by the Taliban or they try to get to the airport and risk being blown up by ISIS. How does this evacuation machine continue without evacuees risking their lives?
Jen Psaki: (37:56)
We are in direct contact with every American citizen. We have contact information for email, phone, text, WhatsApp, and we are working with each of them and their families on an individual basis on how to get them evacuated to the airport and evacuated. That’s the process, I’m not going to get into more details about how that works because it’s not in their interests, it’s not in the security interest of our troops or the individuals we’re trying to work to get evacuated. Go ahead all the way in the back pink shirt. Yeah.
Speaker 20: (38:23)
Has Joe Biden spoken with any foreign leader after the attacks in February?
Jen Psaki: (38:27)
This, today… I will have to check on that for you, that’s a great question. I’m not sure he has today, but I will check on that for you. And as you all know, he’s going to be meeting with the prime minister of Israel tomorrow. Okay. Thank you. Everyone.
Speaker 21: (38:38)
Has the president [inaudible 00:38:43] on a stand down to address extremism in the military or Martin Bailey saying that the greatest threat to democracy in our country was people who believe in election fraud, do you have a [inaudible 00:38:55]? [Crosstalk 00:39:06].