President Joe Biden said that evacuation of Americans and Afghans from the airport in Kabul accelerated over the weekend but he recognized that further delays were possible and said the initial Aug. 31 deadline to end U.S. military operations in Afghanistan could very well be extended. “Our hope is we will not have to extend, but there are discussions,” Biden said during a Sunday news conference at the White House. Several NATO countries have been pushing the White House to keep the airport open beyond August so evacuations can continue.
The president detailed that the United States and its allies have evacuated almost 28,000 people from Afghanistan since Aug. 14, 11,000 of whom were airlifted this weekend. Biden insisted that the country has an “unwavering commitment” to get American citizens and Afghans who may be at risk out of the country. But he also recognized the security situation on the ground is changing rapidly and ISIS could “seek to exploit” the ongoing chaos. “We have a long way to go and a lot could still go wrong,” Biden said. Biden spoke a few hours after Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, warned the ISIS threat is “real, acute, persistent and something we’re focused on with every tool in our arsenal.”
Earlier in the day, the Pentagon ordered six commercial airlines to assist in the evacuation efforts. By activating the Civil Reserve Air Fleet the Defense Department will have more resources to assist in the efforts. In all, 18 aircraft will be activated: four from United Airlines, three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, and Omni Air and two from Hawaiian Airlines. The commercial planes won’t fly into Kabul but rather will be used to get people from other countries, such as Germany and Qatar, to the United States. It marks the third time the Civil Reserve Air Fleet was activated since the program was created in 1952.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Biden said that American forces had managed to improve access to the Kabul airport but he didn’t really explain what that meant. He spoke at the end of a weekend when chaos engulfed the areas surrounding the airport. Seven Afghans died on Saturday in a crush at the airport gates. Among those who died was the two-year-old daughter of a former interpreter. “Our sincere thoughts are with the families of the seven Afghan civilians who have sadly died in crowds in Kabul,” a spokesperson for Britain’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on Sunday. Taliban forces fired in the air and used force to get people to line up in a more orderly fashion outside the airport on Sunday. The danger and chaos at the airport is leading some Afghans to give up on trying to escape. “I’m losing hope,” a 39-year-old former interpreter for the U.S. military told the New York Times.