Aug 30, 2021
Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript August 30: Afghanistan Withdrawal, Hurricane Ida
August 30, 2021 press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. She addressed the conclusion of the Afghanistan evacuations and Hurricane Ida. Read the transcript of the full news briefing here.
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Jen Psaki: (01:46)
Good afternoon, everyone. Okay. I have two updates for you. The first is one on Hurricane Ida, which is lengthy. I’m just going to give you an advance, but hopefully we’ll share a number of helpful details with all of you.
Jen Psaki: (01:57)
Today, as you just saw, the president and his Homeland Security team continue to monitor the impacts of Hurricane Ida, something that he was monitoring through the course of the weekend. This was an extremely large and powerful hurricane, and as expected early reports suggest catastrophic damage in a number of areas along the Gulf Coast. While Ida has now been downgraded to a tropical storm, it is going to continue to inflict damage as it moves across the state of Mississippi today and into the Tennessee Valley tomorrow. This will be a lengthy whole of government and whole of community response and recovery effort. We are closely coordinating with state and local officials at every step of the way.
Jen Psaki: (02:36)
Today’s damage assessments and response efforts begin in the Gulf Coast, where conditions allow on the ground. We understand that responders are focused on the following immediate priorities: Search and rescue operations and medical evacuations for those in distress, accelerating efforts to restore electrical power in Louisiana and Mississippi, where latest counts suggest more than one million customers are without electricity, restoring communications where they are down and providing emergency food, water, and shelter to those in need. In parts of Louisiana, including New Orleans, energy companies have reported catastrophic damage to their transmission systems and we don’t yet know how long this will take for the local utilities to repair, but clearly that’s a big priority for everyone involved. It could be weeks to get everything fully back up and running. Administration officials are also engaged directly with electricity sector leadership to help ensure all available resources are being brought to bear to restore power as quickly as possible.
Jen Psaki: (03:34)
As you all saw, the president just spoke with governors and mayors from impacted communities and he was at FEMA’s national response coordination center yesterday to receive the latest updates on the response operations and to thank the hardworking staff who are working around the clock to support state and local response efforts.
Jen Psaki: (03:52)
The president also approved, you may have seen this, but last night an emergency major declaration for Louisiana, which allows individuals in the impacted areas to apply for assistance. He also approved a pre-disaster emergency declaration from Mississippi to authorize emergency preparation and protective measures and direct federal assistance.
Jen Psaki: (04:10)
I just want to give you a quick overview too of the federal resources that are supporting state and local efforts as of now, and many of which were pre-positioned before the storm. FEMA is working with its federal state and local partners, as well as non-governmental agencies, to support needs of areas affected by Ida. The agency positions supplies such as meals, water, and generators to assist states with impacts from the storm. More than 3,600 FEMA employees are deployed to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, and are ready to provide additional support as needed.
Jen Psaki: (04:43)
FEMA has stage more than 3.4 million meals, millions of liters of water, more than 35,700 tarps and roughly 200 generators. Hundreds of additional ambulances and air ambulances have also been moved into the area. Seven FEMA incident management assistance teams, [inaudible 00:05:00] and 17 urban search and rescue teams have been activated along with debris subject matter experts.
Jen Psaki: (05:06)
The Department of Health and Human Services is deploying a 250-bed federal medical shelter to Alexandria Louisiana, and the US Coast Guard has 27 rotary or fixed-wing aircraft, and the Department of Defense has 60 high-water vehicles and 14 rotary-wing aircraft pre-positioned to assist with rescue efforts.
Jen Psaki: (05:26)
Shelters are open in affected areas throughout the Gulf Coast across the impacted states and they’re implementing steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Jen Psaki: (05:33)
The National Guard has also activated more than 5,200 personnel in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Alabama to support response efforts.
Jen Psaki: (05:42)
Finally, the Army Corps of Engineers has activated planning and response teams for debris, temporary roofing and temporary housing. Again, we are working closely with state and local officials. Even though the storm has been downgraded to a tropical storm, damaging wind gusts continued to be a threat, which will likely result in additional down trees and power outages as the storm moves northeast. Ida will continue to produce heavy rainfall life-threatening flash and urban flooding and tornadoes remain a threat.
Jen Psaki: (06:09)
Finally, our secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, and FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell will travel to Baton Rouge on Tuesday morning and will meet with the governor to survey damage. The FEMA administrator will also travel to Jackson, Mississippi that evening, and on Wednesday, she will meet with the governor and tour the damage.
Jen Psaki: (06:28)
The last update I wanted to provide to all of you is that as part of our all across government effort approach to preventing evictions, today, Attorney General Merrick Garland is calling on the entire legal community to take immediate action to help prevent unnecessary evictions during this public health emergency. The attorney general’s call to action asks major law firms, law school students, and individual lawyers to work with courts legal service providers, and non-profits through pro bono services to ensure access to justice for vulnerable tenants. So far over 40 major law school deans, including from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, Howard, UCLA, and more have already committed their students and law clinics to help prevent evictions. Presidents of several major legal organizations, including the Legal Services Corporation, the American Bar Association and the National Housing Law Project have joined the commitment to immediate action. On Thursday, we will join a nationwide emergency rental assistant program training held by the Association of Pro Bono Counsel and Law Firm Anti-Racism Alliance.
Jen Psaki: (07:25)
With that, Darlene, why don’t you kick us off?
Thanks, Jen. Switching to Afghanistan. As of yesterday, there were about 300 US citizens who were still there and wanted to get out by the deadline. Do you have an update on that number? Are we still looking at 300 waiting to get out? Is it down to 150? Is it down to zero? What kind of [crosstalk 00:07:44]
Jen Psaki: (07:44)
Absolutely. Well, I know my State Department colleagues will have a more specific up-to-date number, but let me give you an update of where things stand at this point. Of those who self-identified as Americans in Afghanistan considering leaving the country since August 14th, we have thus far received confirmation that about 6,000 have been evacuated or otherwise departed. This number will likely continue to grow as our outreach and arrival continue. We have been providing, as you know, regular updates to all of you on evacuations.
Jen Psaki: (08:12)
The initial assessment, if we go back to August 14th, was that there were fewer than 6,000 Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to get out. As we conveyed at the time, we knew that there could be an option, one, that people who had registered had already departed or that people had registered had not de-registered, or that there would be additional people who came forward. We believe there are still a small number. I understand your exact asking for the exact number who remain. We’re trying to determine exactly how many, and we’re going through manifest and calling and texting through our lists. We’ll have more of a concrete number for you as soon as possible.
Jen Psaki: (08:44)
Part of the challenge with fixing a precise numbers, that there are longtime residents of Afghanistan, as we’ve talked about in here, with American passports, dual citizens, the vast majority who are still trying to determine if they want to leave or not, or have been over the last couple of days. In some instances, in many instances, that’s because they have many family members there, but they have a range of reasons, and we’ve been working with them to assess that.
Then one other question on Afghanistan. The deadline is tomorrow, obviously. What can you tell us about what the president will do tomorrow? How will he mark this moment? Should the public expect to hear from him tomorrow at some point after this is all wrapped up?
Jen Psaki: (09:26)
Absolutely, Darlene. Well, without getting into specific operational details, I know you’re not asking me for that, but just to preface, I think that you all can expect and the American public can expect to hear from the president in the coming days. I don’t have anything to outline for you in terms of this specific date or time for that at this point in time.
Jen Psaki: (09:43)
Speaker 2: (09:43)
Thanks, Jen. On August 10th, President Biden told me, quote, “I do not regret my decision to withdraw from Afghanistan.” After watching the heart-wrenching [inaudible 00:09:53] transfer yesterday, is that still his position? Does he not regret the manner in which this withdrawal conducted?
Jen Psaki: (10:01)
Well, first I would say that the men and women who gave their lives, and the president attended, as you noted yesterday, to honor their service, honor their sacrifice and had time, had the opportunity to meet a number of the family members yesterday. That doesn’t take the place of all of the progress, all of the work that has been done to evacuate people. But I will tell you something that has been said time and time again by the brave men and women of the military who are leading this effort, these 13 individuals sacrificed their lives to save tens of thousands of people. That is something that should be honored, should be valued. And we will continue to look for ways to do that.
Speaker 2: (10:43)
After meeting with the families of the fallen service members, he still sticks by his decision? He doesn’t regret at all how this has played out in the last couple of weeks?
Jen Psaki: (10:53)
Well, of course for any president, as I said last week, a day or a week where you lose 13 service members is the worst day or the worst week of your presidency, and that remains the case. Yesterday, and I’ve seen him since he, of course, went to Dover yesterday, he of course was deeply impacted. He knows firsthand that there’s nothing you can say to a family member. There’s nothing you can say to someone who loses a child that is going to fill the black hole. That remains the case.
Jen Psaki: (11:24)
But I will say if you just take a step back beyond yesterday, the president stands by his decision to bring our men and women home from Afghanistan, because if he had not, his view and the view of many experts and military out there, is we would have sent tens of thousands potentially, or thousands at least, more troops back into harm’s way, risking more lives and more people to fight a war the Afghans were not willing to fight themselves. Nothing has changed in that regard.
Speaker 2: (11:52)
One more question. How was interaction between the president and those families yesterday?
Jen Psaki: (11:56)
Well, I’m obviously not going to speak to private conversations between the president and the parents of service members who lost their lives saving others. He was grateful to be there with the families yesterday and to honor both the heroic service and the incredible sacrifice of their sons and daughters, and while his son did not lose his life directly in combat as they did or directly at the hands of terrorists, as these families did, that they’re morning, he knows, as I just said, firsthand that there’s nothing you can say, nothing you can convey to ease the pain and to ease what all of these families are going through. But he was honored to be there yesterday and to be able to spend some time with the families.
Speaker 2: (12:38)
Jen Psaki: (12:38)
Speaker 3: (12:39)
Two quick technical questions and other question. You said 6,000 have been evacuated or otherwise departed.
Jen Psaki: (12:46)
Speaker 3: (12:47)
Is that apples to apples to the 5,400 that had been evacuated? Are we now including people who have registered but forgot or did not register on their way out? I’m just trying to understand that.
Jen Psaki: (12:55)
Sure. Well, as we’re assessing, there are people, as the State Department goes through and calls or emails who say, “I have departed,” or, “I have left.” That doesn’t ch-
Jen Psaki: (13:03)
…call’s or emails who say, “I have departed,” or, “I have left.” That doesn’t change the total number of evacuees that we have obviously provided to all of you every day on planes and transport. But right now, we’re of course at the point where we are trying to assess and get a final number.
Speaker 3: (13:14)
Okay. From a chain of command perspective, the President’s been very clear his commanders on the ground have the leeway to do what they think is necessary on the ground. For a defensive strike like we saw last night, is that something that he signed off on to give the green light to that, or is that commanders on the ground to make that decision?
Jen Psaki: (13:33)
I can tell you that the President has made clear to his commanders that they should stop at nothing to make ISIS pay for the deaths of those American service members at the Kabul airport. They have the authorities necessary, it is self-defense. Obviously, these are ISIS terrorists who killed US service members and the President is regularly briefed, but he has directed them to go after and to kill these ISIS terrorists who have taken the lives of the men and women serving our country.
Speaker 3: (14:00)
And one more. You’re dealing with dual very high stakes issues right now inside the White House [inaudible 00:14:07] yesterday that the most dangerous part of the mission right now, a Category 4 hurricane slamming the Gulf Coast. Can you talk about what the White House has been like over the course of the last 48 hours given these very, very high stakes moments that have transpired?
Jen Psaki: (14:20)
I would say that addressing crises is what government is supposed to do. It’s what any President is supposed to do, what any Vice President is supposed to do and what the senior members of a President’s team are supposed to do. And so when you have moments like this where you are facing, as you said, multiple crises… I would add of course that we’re continuing to fight a pandemic that continues to take the lives of thousands of people every week. You have to rely on strong and capable team members and you have to be nimble enough to adapt quickly. But I think we would argue this is actually government working to do our best to function as best as we can. Is it tough? Yes. Are the days long? Yes. Is it always going to be perfect? No. But this is exactly what government is supposed to be doing. Go ahead.
Speaker 4: (15:12)
Jen, back on the hurricane. Is the White House seeing reports or have any data about fuel shortages with some of the refineries impacted and the rail line suspended?
Jen Psaki: (15:22)
It is something we’re monitoring closely, Jeff. We have not seen to date that as an issue, but we will closely monitor that and we’ll continue to over the coming days.
Speaker 4: (15:32)
And does the White House, along those same lines, considering or see the need for Jones Act waivers to deal with fuel [crosstalk 00:15:39] shortages?
Jen Psaki: (15:39)
As you noted, the Jones Act, which we talked quite a bit about just a few weeks ago, there are a range of tools at our disposal that the federal government has to address fuel supply shortages during natural disasters by issuing emergency waivers of certain fuel standards in effected area. Obviously, if warranted by circumstances, EPA’s temporary waivers can help ensure that adequate supply of fuel is available. EPA, as well as several components of the government are in touch with our State partners in Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as operators of refineries, pipelines, tanks, and other infrastructure to assess the situation on the ground and what needs exist to ensure the supply of transportation of fuel. We have not made that assessment at this point in time, but we do have those authorities should they be needed.
Speaker 4: (16:24)
Last follow-up on the Afghanistan, the meeting with family yesterday. Does the President plan to continue to stay in touch with those families?
Jen Psaki: (16:31)
Absolutely. And he’s going to continue to look for ways of honoring them and the lives that were lost last week, as well. Go ahead.
Speaker 5: (16:40)
Thank you, just a few others on the ongoing evacuation. With the caveat that things are changing, winding down, numbers as they get reported here versus situations on the ground.
Jen Psaki: (16:50)
Speaker 5: (16:51)
We heard through the weekend of Americans who were told to get to the airport and they’re unable to do so because of the danger on the ground. If for some reason, and we don’t have a specific example just yet but there very well may be depending on when the final flights out are, what would be your message to those Americans who may be left behind who were trying to get out?
Jen Psaki: (17:12)
Well, as you noted and I appreciate the caveat, we are continuing… We remain in touch with the American citizens, as I noted at the top, to Darlene’s question, and we are continuing to work to evacuate American citizens. What our message directly would be is that our commitment is enduring and our commitment does not waiver even as we bring our men and women from the military home.
Jen Psaki: (17:35)
And let me just outline for you a couple of the steps that are ongoing, that I expect we’ll give you updates on as details are finalized. First on the diplomatic front, the Secretary of State is going to be meeting with a number of his international partners. Just over the weekend, the State Department put out a letter from 100 countries making clear that there must be safe passage for citizens, for Afghans who want to leave after the 31st. On Friday, one of the Taliban leaders delivered public remarks committing that individuals who wish to leave after the 31st would be able to do so. That does not mean we trust what they say, but there is an enormous amount of international leverage that we will continue to work in a coordinated way with our partners around the world.
Jen Psaki: (18:18)
And there is also, of course, a discussion about what our diplomatic presence may look like moving forward. As our Secretary of State and our National Security Advisor confirmed yesterday, our current plan is not to have an ongoing presence in Afghanistan as of September 1st, but we will have means and mechanisms of having diplomats on the ground, being able to continue to process out those applicants and facilitate passage of other people who want to leave Afghanistan. We will have more details for that I expect in the coming days.
Jen Psaki: (18:44)
And can I add one more piece that we’re working on? The other piece of this is operational, which of course is the airport, and the airports that are also regional airports. And we are currently working with a range of partners in the region about how to keep those up and operational. We need to reopen or figure out how to work with our partners to reopen the civilian airport and ensure that that is a mechanism. That is an area where there is a mutual interest by the United States, by international organizations like the World Food Program who want to get assistance in, and by the Taliban to get these airports operational and running.
Speaker 5: (19:18)
Do you anticipate [inaudible 00:19:22] this ongoing conversation with the rest of the world about being able to get people out if they want to leave. Is there any sense of how long Afghans who are trying to leave, who don’t leave by tomorrow are going to have to wait for further instruction or sense of whether or not they’re going to be able to go?
Jen Psaki: (19:39)
I will tell you that there’s ongoing, immediate, urgent conversations happening at a very high level with international partners now. And we hope to have more of an update on that in the coming days. There are different components of this, right? The airport operations, it may take some time to get that going. But we are working through a range of mechanisms so that there can be an ongoing effort to move people out who are looking to depart Afghanistan.
Speaker 5: (20:05)
And just one final one on this, because again, based on things we’ve heard from people there. Did the evacuation of non-Americans, SIV recipients or people who were applying and were eligible enough to leave, effectively stop after Thursday’s attack?
Jen Psaki: (20:22)
No. We have continued to work to evacuate individuals since that time. I think we’ve put out a range of numbers since then who make clear that we have continued to evacuate Afghan partners and other applicants. Go ahead.
Speaker 6: (20:34)
Has the US, first of all, it’s approaching midnight at the end of the 30th now in Kabul. Is that the way you view the deadline or does the White House view the deadline as some point tomorrow?
Jen Psaki: (20:44)
I’m not going to get into operational details of when we will continue our retrograde efforts. That’s led by the Department of Defense and our team on the ground.
Speaker 6: (20:52)
The President said he believed, and recently you followed and said the same that, “We believe that they were on pace,” this was before the attack, “On pace for the achievement of our objective.” So as we approach that deadline either tonight or tomorrow night, whatever it is, did the US accomplish its objective knowing that there will be likely thousands of SIV applicants and others still there and certainly some Americans as well? Did we achieve our objective?
Jen Psaki: (21:13)
I think first we have to date evacuated more than 120,000 people. That’s 120,000 lives that we have saved, including 6,000 Americans and their families, many of them dual nationals. And we are continuing, our commitment is enduring to Afghan partners, to American citizens who may not have decided to leave. That is their right to determine when they want to leave. That commitment is enduring. But we have saved more than 120,000 lives and I would let you evaluate that for yourself. Go ahead.
Speaker 6: (21:47)
Can we talk about as the US prepares to leave, whether tonight or tomorrow, there are going to be billions of dollars worth of US-made munitions, arms, military aircraft, armored vehicles that have fallen in the hands of the Taliban here, giving them new capabilities they didn’t have before this. Are Americans less safe now because the Taliban now has access to billions of dollars worth of American-made weaponry?
Jen Psaki: (22:14)
Well, let me unpack your question a little bit. Because the US military, part of their retrograde effort is to reduce the amount of military equipment or apparatus that anyone on the ground has access to. I’m not going to get into the details of how they do that, but that is part of their effort. I will also reiterate something that our National Security Advisor said just last week, we had to make an assessment several weeks ago about whether we provide materials to the Afghan National Security Forces so that they could fight the fight, obviously they decided not to fight, or not. And we made the decision to provide them with that equipment and the material.
Jen Psaki: (22:51)
The third piece I would note that’s very important here is that we have not assessed that any group on the ground, whether it’s ISIS-K or the Taliban has the ability to attack the United States. Whoa. We clearly need to… Sorry, that was an aggressive bug. We need to ensure that remains the case, but that is not a capability that we have assessed to be the case at this point in time. There’s a difference between the threat that is posed to US men and women serving or people who are gathering outside of the gates in Kabul, and whether these individuals can attack the United States.
Speaker 6: (23:24)
So I guess the put it in a simple question, you’re acknowledging that you’re going to try to limit what access they do have to some of the weaponry in ways that you can’t communicate here. But at the end of the day whether it’s not the United States that’s under risk as a function of this, are Americans around the globe… I mean, are Western interests now more at risk because the Taliban has new access to all this weaponry?
Jen Psaki: (23:42)
Well, again Peter, I would say that the world will be watching. We have an enormous amount of leverage, including access to the global marketplace, which is not a small piece of leverage to the Taliban who are now overseeing large swaths of Afghanistan. Certainly, our objective was not to leave them with any equipment, but that is not always an option when you are looking to retrograde and move out of a war zone.
Jen Psaki: (24:07)
But that is our clear leverage we have with the Taliban. And again, our capacities, our Over The Horizon capacities… Which, by the way killed two ISIS terrorists just last week and continue to be utilized by our men and women on the ground… remain in place and remain in place in the region. There are other parts of the world, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, where we don’t have a presence on the ground and we still prevent terrorist attacks or threats to US citizens living in the United States or around the world from growing.
Speaker 6: (24:37)
This last point and then I’ll chair the next question, is the US more or less safe today than we were before the Taliban took over?
Jen Psaki: (24:42)
Again, we are not going to do anything that’s going to allow terrorists to grow or prosper in Afghanistan or any terrorist organization. That continues to be the President’s commitment, and his order to his US military over the past several days and the actions that [inaudible 00:24:57] have announced show that he’s going to deliver on that promise. Go ahead.
Speaker 7: (24:59)
Is there any concern or disappointment here that China and Russia didn’t sign on to the letter that the State Department put out the other day?
Jen Psaki: (25:06)
It remains an open letter that they are welcome to sign on. I will tell you though that it will be important, and we will continue to engage with a range of partners, including those where we have at times adversarial disagreements with about the need to maintain safe passage for individuals who wish to leave Afghanistan. There are a range of international organizations and mechanisms to have those discussions and they’re ongoing. Go ahead. Oh, go ahead.
Speaker 7: (25:30)
One other question unrelated to this, if I may?
Jen Psaki: (25:31)
Speaker 7: (25:32)
The IAEA has put out a report that indicates that North Korea’s main nuclear reactor may be restarting.
Jen Psaki: (25:40)
Speaker 7: (25:40)
IAEA says it’s a matter of serious concern. What’s the White House’s reaction?
Jen Psaki: (25:44)
We are of course aware of this report are closely coordinating with our allies and partners on developments regarding North Korea. This report underscores the urgent need for dialogue and diplomacy so we can achieve the complete de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula. We continue to seek dialogue with the DPRK so we can address this reported activity and the full range of issues related-
Jen Psaki: (26:03)
… so we can address this reported activity and the full range of issues related to denuclearization. Go ahead, Jackie.
Thanks, Jen. I wanted to go to this New York Times report about the students from the American university in Afghanistan. The Times reported that they had been left behind and they were contacted apparently to try to get out. Held in safe houses for a period of time and then were told that the evacuation had stopped. And that separately the university president apparently told these students and their parents that their information had been handed over to the Taliban, obviously to get them safe and passage, which has not yet happened. But my question is as this sort of draws down, don’t we sort owe a group like that where we’ve given out their information, their passport numbers, their names, are we obligated in some way to ensure that they get onto these last flights given the fact that the Taliban soon after coming into Kabul posed at the front of the university saying that this is where the Americans trained people and they’re obviously threatened and scared by that?
Jen Psaki: (27:09)
Absolutely. Well, first let me say that there have been reports that we provided or the US provided lists of people who want to leave Afghanistan to the Taliban. That’s inaccurate. That’s misreported and misconstrued. We have also confirmed repeatedly that we have had to coordinate with the Taliban. And so there have been limited, limited cases where it is possible that when buses or individuals are at a border checkpoint and they’re trying to get through, in order to get them through, to evacuate them successfully, we have had to coordinate and provide details. I don’t have confirmations of those events, but that is the scenario in a limited cases where that would happen. And in vast majority of cases, not aware of any that hasn’t been, those individuals have been evacuated. I understand what the president of the school said. I don’t have any confirmation that that has actually happened on the ground or from anyone who is leading the effort on the ground.
Jen Psaki: (28:05)
And certainly our commitment remains to American citizens, to Afghans who want to leave like these individuals and these young people who have been courageous to get them out of the country. And we are in touch with all those individuals on the ground. I’d also note, and as they know, it is scary and it is a very dangerous situation on the ground. Another attack could happen at any time. And when we give these security briefings or security warnings or tell people to move away from the gate, it is because we also want to save them and protect them. So what we’ve been trying to do is work with individual cases, with families, with groups, to get them evacuated, if and when we can. I’d also note our commitment is enduring. This is a very fluid and dangerous situation on the ground. I just don’t have a detail on the current state of this particular case.
And then on these drone strikes, it seems that we’re witnessing these happen with more frequency. Obviously, we have the over-the-horizon ability to get this done, we’ve got the intelligence to do it. But my question is why is it that we weren’t able to use similar action to prevent the attack that happened on Thursday? And then part of that is because we now are hearing reports on how these have been carried out. One of the drones had to fly eight hours, I think, from UAE. Is there any concern that we’re limited in our ability to respond in a timely manner, if we’ve got eight hours of flight time and then they can only hang out over the target for like four or five hours before they’ve got to turn around and go back? Is there a future sort of ongoing worry that we’re going to be behind the eight ball again?
Jen Psaki: (29:50)
Well, first I would say the fact that we have had two successful strikes confirmed by CENTCOM tells you that our over-the-horizon capacity works and is working. In terms of the specific threats, what we had with respect to the Kabul airport, we of course, had been warning about for days, which was the potential for the rising threats from ISIS-K. That’s such an attack could take place and could take place at any moment in time. What we can do and what our commanders on the ground do, who have access to all of this information as well is mitigate risks, we can’t eliminate risk.
Jen Psaki: (30:25)
And if we were going to continue to evacuate tens of thousands of people, American citizens, Afghans, our partners, we had to mitigate risks. We couldn’t eliminate it. And that’s how we proceeded. Now, the president has been clear to his military and to the commanders on the ground that force protection is of utmost concern. And I know my colleague at DOD confirmed the closure of gates earlier today. There have been steps that have been taken. And obviously as we’ve gone through the retrograde process over the last couple of days, and it has been incredibly dangerous, there are steps that have had to be taken as these threats have increased.
And last one just on an overland routes. As I understand, we’re looking for other ways after our military pulls out to get people back and out. But has this been at all hampered by Putin rejecting a US effort to put counter-terrorism forces or bases for drones in central Asian countries bordering? I know Putin also in that reported June meetings spoke for China in that. Did we ever get an answer from China ourselves on their position on this?
Jen Psaki: (31:31)
I can’t speak to these private diplomatic conversations from here, but I can tell you, we have a range of partners in the region who we continue to work with and have discussions with so that we can maintain the over-the-horizon capacity. Go ahead, Ashley.
Thank you. Going back to the president’s meeting with the families at Dover yesterday, the sister of one of the Marines killed in the airport attack told the press that the president’s comments struck her family as scripted and shallow. And she said, “You can’t eff up as bad as he did and say you’re sorry. This did not need to happen in every life is on his hands.” So can you talk a little bit about how the president thought the meeting with the families went, and also what responsibility, if any, for these deaths does he think he bares?
Jen Psaki: (32:14)
Well, I think the president made clear as the secretary of state and our national security advisor made clear, that we’re all responsible and they feel a responsibility and the buck stops with the president. And I think you heard him say that on Thursday when he spoke to the loss of life of these service men and women shortly after it had happened. It is certainly the right of any individual who met with the president yesterday to speak publicly about their experience. But I’m not going to speak about the president’s experience beyond what I’ve said already.
Following up, you mentioned that the president absolutely plans to stay in touch with those families. Is there the possibility he may attend any funerals or speak at any funerals?
Jen Psaki: (32:58)
Well, I will say what’s important to remember here is that this is the worst thing that’s happened ever in the lives of these family members. And last Thursday or Friday was the worst day of their lives. And what role the president plays or doesn’t play is probably not front and center for them, but he’s only going to do things that are of comfort to the family, are supportive of remembering the lives that have been lost. And he’s going to continue to look for ways to do that. Go ahead.
Speaker 8: (33:29)
Two quick questions. First on Afghanistan. The drone strike that the United States conducted appears, according to family members in Afghanistan, to have killed seven children as part of 10 people. Does the president feels the same sense of responsibility and loss for those lives as he does for the American service members?
Jen Psaki: (33:47)
Well, first let me say that we take efforts, take steps from the United States to avoid civilian casualties in every scenario and probably more than almost any country in the world. I can’t speak to or confirm the numbers or cases of civilian casualties in this case. There is an investigation. I will note that in the CENTCOM statement that they put out yesterday, last night I should say, what they noted is that there were explosives in this vehicle that could have led to additional damage. There’s an investigation to determine how this happened, but of course the loss of life from anywhere is horrible and it impacts families no matter where they’re living in the United States or around the world.
Speaker 8: (34:28)
And then my second question is about American families. 7.5 million Americans are [inaudible 00:34:33] unemployment benefits next month, not just their federal supplement, but all benefits. Given the exploration of the eviction moratorium, what’s going on with the Delta variant, has the president considered asking Congress to extend those benefits further?
Jen Psaki: (34:47)
Well, if Congress were to vote to extend the eviction moratorium the president would sign that into law and you’d be happy to do that.
Speaker 8: (34:55)
Jen Psaki: (34:56)
Look, I think he made a decision based on where things stand in our economic recovery at this point in time. There’s additional assistance that continues to go out to people across the country, which you are very familiar with and know well. Whether it’s the child tax credit or additional funding that is still being distributed by the American Rescue Plan. Our objective continues to be to work with states and localities, to keep people in their homes, make sure people have the assistance they need. That’s why there a range of programs and a range of assistance the president advocated for, fought like hell for and signed into law that is going to be implemented over the course of the next year and not just ending this summer. Go ahead.
Speaker 9: (35:35)
The president regularly talks about the fact that [inaudible 00:35:38] Afghanistan. He made a point to say he’d call President Bush. I’m wondering, has he been in touch with President Bush, President Obama, I’m going to assume he hasn’t been in touch with President Trump but I’ll ask anyway, about this over the past few weeks as this withdrawal has played out?
Jen Psaki: (35:52)
I’m not aware of any calls he’s had with those presidents over the last few weeks. Go ahead.
Speaker 10: (35:57)
Jen, the EU voted to implement new travel restrictions. It’s obviously up to the individual country. If I’m whether they want to allow US citizens, travelers into their countries. Obviously, we have not been letting many of those same people from the same countries come to the US. But what’s the administration’s reaction to the EU taking that step?
Jen Psaki: (36:20)
Well, I think it’s first important to note that today’s announcement by the EU impacts people who are unvaccinated and not people who are vaccinated. We continue to encourage people to get vaccinated. And the fastest path to reopening travel is for people to get vaccinated, to mask up and slow the spread of the deadly virus. We continue to work across federal agencies to develop a consistent and safe international travel policy. This includes travel from Europe. This will involve efforts to protect American people, including by potentially strengthening testing protocols for international travel. It may also involve ensuring that over time foreign nationals coming to the United States are fully vaccinated with limited exceptions. No decision has been made yet, but these are internal discussions have benefited greatly from our engagement with our international partners.
Speaker 10: (37:05)
Just a smaller thing related to the hurricane. Are you anticipating that the president will visit Louisiana at some point and do you think that will likely be later this week? I know things are obviously slow [crosstalk 00:37:17] you have the Homeland Security secretary already going there tomorrow.
Jen Psaki: (37:21)
Right. It is different, as you all know, for the president of the United States to travel somewhere from the secretary of Homeland Security given the footprint. The president would not want to go until it does not impact recovery and a rescue efforts on the ground. So I don’t have any prediction of that at this point in time. We will see how the next few days go. Go ahead, Karen.
Thanks, Jen.ere are reports of hospitals down in Louisiana that are full of COVID patients trying to evacuate some patients. They’re having issues of roof damage, some generators failing. Can you give us a sense of the scope of the impact on hospitals in that region and what the federal government is specifically doing about that?
Jen Psaki: (37:59)
Absolutely. So first let me say that I know there’ve been a range of reports out there, but as of late last night, no hospitals had run out of oxygen as of late last night. That is something, of course, that we are watching very closely. Prior to the storm, we had more than 300 federally deployed health care personnel on the ground supporting COVID surge response in Louisiana and Mississippi. The Department of Veterans Affairs has made beds available prior to the hurricane to support local hospitals and will be available to assist in response. And HHS and FEMA are working to assess deploy additional assets as needed.
Jen Psaki: (38:33)
So on hospitals, we also have approximately 39 facilities, as I understand, using generator power. And we are of course, working around the clock to get power back on where we can. But this is certainly an area where we… not only did the president speak purposefully over the course of the last few months and many of our high level officials have spoken out about the need for people to get vaccinated, but we’ve also worked preemptively to put in place generators, equipment, emergency personnel to help address and-
Jen Psaki: (39:03)
… equipment, emergency personnel to help address. And I expect as we continue to discuss with the governor and health administrators, we’ll determine what additional assistance we can provide.
Speaker 11: (39:10)
Just to followup on something you said in your opening, that shelters are open in the area and they’re implementing steps to prevent the spread of COVID. Can you give us more details on what’s being done in those shelters?
Jen Psaki: (39:18)
There are steps including social distancing wherever possible, which I know sounds challenging, but that is being worked to implement. Masking wherever possible and, again, I would note that the President and several other high level members of the administration made a strong case over the course of the last couple of months for individuals to get vaccinated. We had seen increases in numbers of vaccination in the region, although simply not enough to prevent the spread. Go ahead, George.
Can you give us any kind of update on the American hostage the President mentioned the other day, Mark Frerichs?
Jen Psaki: (39:55)
Sure. The case of Mark Frerichs is a case that has been raised repeatedly by our officials from the State Department, and also, the State Department is working closely with the special representative, special presidential envoy for Hostage Affairs and the special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation. They’ve continued to press the Taliban for his release, continues to raise his status and senior level engagements in Doha and in Islamabad. Obviously, that is of great importance to the President, but is overseen in the day-to-day operations by the State Department, who would have any additional updates, if there are any. Go ahead, Betsy.
Thanks, Jen. So President Biden has said that there is a thorough security screening process at the Kabul airport for everyone who’s not a U.S. citizen or permanent residence. So he said that anyone arriving in the United States would have undergone a background check. Can you clarify where this vetting process is taking phase? Because our sources have said that the President has instructed Ambassador Ross Wilson to essentially, be more permissive to just get this many people on planes first, and then vet later, can you confirm that? And then I have another second question.
Jen Psaki: (41:05)
I mean, I don’t think that’s a secret. That is something we’ve conveyed clearly, and that is also one of the reasons why we’re so grateful to several dozen countries out there, some of whom are serving as lily pad countries, where individuals are going as for many of them, their screening process is continuing before they proceed to the United States.
Okay. And can you respond to allegations from groups assisting evacuations that it’s very difficult to get deserving Afghans out because procedures that were given to the Marines on the ground and officers on the ground change constantly, sometimes even daily?
Jen Psaki: (41:40)
Well, I would first say that it’s an incredibly difficult and challenging security situation on the ground as is evidenced by the fact that 13 men and women gave their lives on Thursday, and we dealt with rocket attacks overnight. And of course, force posture and the protection of our troops is going to be a top priority. But I would note that we’ve still evacuated, if you subtract the nearly 6,000 American citizens, that’s 114,000 people. Many of whom are Afghans, others are partners who we’ve evacuated from the country, SIV applicants and others, and saved their lives, so that would be my response to that person. Go ahead.
So how many of those people from the 120,000, when will you give breakdowns of the nationalities? How many are SIVs? How many are third country nationals? When can we expect that?
Jen Psaki: (42:25)
I would expect that would come from the Department of Homeland Security and they’re working through that now, go ahead.
Speaker 12: (42:29)
There’s a wildfire [inaudible 00:42:32] right now is the administration tracking its advance. What plans does it have for this and what are your thoughts on the fires that have been going on right now?
Jen Psaki: (42:42)
Yes, absolutely, we are tracking the wildfires and ones that have unfortunately continued in different parts of the West, it seems over the past several months. I would note that even as the President did regular briefings on hurricane preparedness, which, of course, has made us equipped to deal with the moment we’re facing in the Gulf Coast. He also prioritized preparing for fires and ensuring that that communities have the resources they need and that we have the response needed. I can check with our FEMA team and see if there are specific resources that are being deployed there at this moment in time and get back to you on that as well.
Speaker 12: (43:15)
And obviously, the administration is trying to boost pay for firefighters and to get more firefighters on the front lines?
Jen Psaki: (43:19)
Speaker 12: (43:20)
Is the administration confident that the resources are what’s needed given that initiative?
Jen Psaki: (43:26)
That is our objective, but we will continue to assess if additional resources are needed. And again, I would note that when the President came in, he looked at the impact of wildfires and the fact that in the past, there has been cases where we didn’t have the resources needed and he wanted to preemptively take steps to prepare for that, to make sure we had those resources as we went into fire season. Yamiche, go ahead.
Thanks so much Jen. One on the Afghans that helped the United States and helped us funded NGO’s and contractors. Is there any estimate on how many may be left behind?
Jen Psaki: (44:00)
Well, I think Yamiche, what we’re working through right now is how many left behind who have applied for programs, or?
Yes, but how may be left behind after the deadline?
Jen Psaki: (44:11)
Well, I would say first, Yamiche, that I just want to make sure I understood your question. That our commitment to working with, not just any American citizen who has not yet decided to leave, but others who stood by our side, fought by our side, that’s enduring. That will continue. That is one of the reasons why our Secretary of State has been so focused on working with international partners, assuring that there was a statement by 100 countries out there sending a clear message. I had also noted earlier the statement by the Taliban about safe passage and why we’re working through what the mechanisms will be for our diplomatic presence even as we’re not anticipating having one directly on the ground after the first.
[inaudible 00:44:49] number it seems maybe that you’re not going to get into. I’m wondering …
Jen Psaki: (44:52)
Well I think the difficulty of getting to a number Yamiche, is that there may be people who haven’t even applied yet. So we can’t count those people. If they’re eligible, and they want to depart, we’ll work with them.
And related to that, what is the President’s message to veterans who are feeling even hurt or maybe a bit embarrassed, people that I’ve talked to who say that they feel like there are people who helped them, who even in some cases, saved their lives, who are now being left behind after the deadline, whether it’s tonight or tomorrow. What’s the message from the President to these veterans?
Jen Psaki: (45:21)
Well, first, we’ve been closely engaged with a range of veterans groups because we’re grateful, of course, for their service and also, further advocacy for so many of these brave translators, interpreters and others. Tens of thousands of whom we’ve evacuated, but you’re right. There could be some that are still there who may not have applied or have not been able to depart the country yet. Our message to them would be we remain committed. These are our partners. These are our allies who have courageously stood by our side for the last 20 years. That’s why we’re so focused on ensuring we have means and mechanisms of having diplomats on the ground being able to continue to process applicants and facilitate the passage of other people who want to leave Afghanistan.
And just one on the hurricane. Louisiana is going to see highs of 80s. There are reports of no water, no power. What’s the plan to get to people who may not have cell phone servers, who may not have access to the internet who are stuck in their homes, given the circumstances that they may be dealing with?
Jen Psaki: (46:20)
Well this is why I did such an extensive lay down in the beginning. Because as you know, it’s not just one thing, right? We are working with companies to get the power back on. That could take weeks, we don’t know. We have also preemptively had set up a range of resources, food, water, and other resources that we can get to people on the ground. And we have deployed across government entities and resources, whether it’s from FEMA to the Health and Human Services, to the Coast Guard, to get out to communities, to save lives, to recover, to get people to food, water, and assistance that they need. Go ahead.
Speaker 13: (46:59)
Thank you Jen.
Jen Psaki: (47:00)
Okay, last one. You’ve gotten under Darlene’s thumb there.
Speaker 13: (47:05)
Thank you. Two quick ones, the Washington Post reports that the Taliban offered to stay out of Kabul and let the United States’ forces secure the city. We told them that we only needed the airport, is that reporting accurate?
Jen Psaki: (47:19)
I have not seen this reporting. I’d have to look at it.
Speaker 13: (47:21)
And then a moment ago you said that some of the reporting about the United States giving lists of the names of Afghans or SIV or Americans to the Taliban was inaccurate at times and misconstrued. I’m wondering if you can just clarify a little bit more, because last week, the President said that there has been instances where maybe a bus is coming through and some names have been given. But then he also added that, “I can’t tell you with any certitude that there’s actually been a list of names. There may have been but I know of circumstance.
Jen Psaki: (47:58)
I think that’s entirely consistent with what I just said, or several minutes ago. What I was conveying is that reports or suggestions that we were giving a preemptive, proactive list of Afghans or any individuals who wanted to leave the country to the Taliban are inaccurate. And what the President said and what I also said, maybe in slightly different phrasing is that there could be cases where on the ground commanders who are coordinating with the Taliban to get people through checkpoints, to save their lives, get them evacuated, we’re saying, “Here’s individuals we need to get through.”
Jen Psaki: (48:33)
And in any case that we’re aware of those individuals got through. But again, this is coordination that’s happening on the ground, and I think we can all agree, there’s a big difference between providing a list of people who want to depart proactively and working at the moment on the ground in a coordinated, tactical way to get people out and evacuate and save their lives.
Speaker 13: (48:55)
So it’s a prudential, on the ground decision rather than a general massive list?
Jen Psaki: (49:01)
Absolutely. Thank you, everyone.
Speaker 14: (49:03)
One related question, Jen.
Jen Psaki: (49:05)
I’ll be back tomorrow. I’ll be here. Thank you everyone.