President Biden said on Friday that his administration is focused on getting Americans out of Afghanistan by Aug. 31 but that he was also committed to trying to evacuate as many Afghan interpreters and others who assisted the U.S. government — a goal that he said was "equally important, almost" to evacuating Americans.
Taking reporters' questions for the first time since Aug. 10, Biden said that he believed that the U.S. could accomplish its mission of evacuating Americans and others by an Aug. 31 deadline, but that "we're going to make that judgment as we go." He also said the U.S. government did not have a solid tally of how many Americans were still in the country.
"Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home," he vowed.
Biden made his remarks from the White House East Room — his third public comments this week on the chaos in Afghanistan.
Biden said he has been in touch with the United States' global allies to facilitate the safe removal of American citizens, Afghan special immigrant visa applicants, interpreters and other allies from the fallen capital city. He said that he has had conversations with the U.K.'s Boris Johnson, Germany's Angel Merkel and France's Emmanuel Macron and that the group had decided to convene a summit next week of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations.
"Since I spoke to you on Monday, we've made significant progress," Biden said.
The president said that as of Friday afternoon, there were some 6,000 American troops on the ground to aid in the evacuation effort and that troops were rapidly moving American assets to safety, including the evacuation of 5,700 people in the last 24 hours. He said 13,000 people have been evacuated since Saturday.
Biden said that his administration had also been working with several U.S.-based news organizations to ensure the safe evacuation of 204 of their American employees.
"The United States stands by its commitment that we've made to these people," he said.
On Monday, Biden defended his decision to withdraw troops
His remarks follow a widely criticized Monday briefing, which his critics argued was insensitive to the plight of Afghans seeking to escape Taliban rule. During those remarks, Biden defended his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and blamed the Afghan military, which the U.S. had trained and armed, for not more forcefully defending themselves against the Taliban takeover.
In an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, Biden said, "The idea that somehow, there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don't know how that happens." The president also said in that interview that U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan until all American citizens were out, even it that means staying past the Aug. 31 deadline.
In recent days, the White House has tried to emphasize the number of people — both Americans and Afghans — who have been successfully evacuated from Kabul.
Still, the scene around Kabul's airport remains chaotic and dangerous, despite the thousands of U.S. troops now deployed to secure it, and many people trying to flee the country are simply unable to make it to the tarmac to be evacuated.
Jarring video taken on the ground showed hordes of people seeking to make it inside airport, while others ran alongside departing aircraft and attempted to climb aboard.
Graphic footage showed some who had successfully taken hold of the plane's wings plummeting to their deaths.