The White House quietly corrected President Joe Biden after he said in a speech Tuesday that 90% of U.S. citizens who wanted to evacuate Afghanistan were able to leave.
A transcript of his remarks, delivered from the White House, shows that figure crossed out and replaced with 98%, which still falls short of the president's promise to keep U.S. military forces in the country until every U.S. citizen seeking an escape could get one.
"Now, we believe that about 100 to 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan with some intention to leave. Most of those who remain are dual citizens, longtime residents who had earlier decided to stay because of their family roots in Afghanistan. The bottom line: 90% of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave," Biden said in his speech.
Biden also said the evacuations of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies from Kabul's international airport was "one of the biggest airlifts" in history, "with more than 120,000 people evacuated to safety."
"For those remaining Americans, there is no deadline," he also said. "We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out. Secretary of State [Antony] Blinken is leading the continued diplomatic efforts to ensure a safe passage for any American, Afghan partner, or foreign national who wants to leave Afghanistan."
The United States charged into war in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 terror attacks in 2001, seeking to root out al Qaeda. The speech marked the end of the nearly 20-year war, the longest in U.S. history, on the day of the deadline he set for the U.S. troop withdrawal from the country.
After being pulled out of the country, ahead of the self-imposed Aug. 31 deadline, thousands of U.S. troops were sent back into Afghanistan this month to help with evacuations of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies as the U.S.-backed Afghan government collapsed and the Taliban took over. A suicide blast outside the airport gates on Thursday, an attack for which an Islamic State affiliate claimed responsibility, killed 13 U.S. service members and scores of others.
(Screen grab courtesy of the White House)
Biden said earlier this month in an interview with ABC News that U.S. military forces would not leave Afghanistan until all U.S. citizens who wanted to leave the country were evacuated.
"If there's American citizens left, we're gonna stay to get them all out," he said.
During his remarks Tuesday, Biden also botched the name of the rescue mission, calling it Operation Allied Rescue. The White House transcript shows that crossed out and the correct name, Operation Allies Refuge, added in brackets.
He said the operation "ended up getting more than 5,500 Americans out. We got out thousands of citizens and diplomats from those countries that went into Afghanistan with us to get bin Laden. We got out locally employed staff of the United States Embassy and their families, totaling roughly 2,500 people."
"We got thousands of Afghan translators and interpreters and others, who supported the United States, out as well. Now we believe that about 100 to 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan with some intention to leave. Most of those who remain are dual citizens, longtime residents who had earlier decided to stay because of their family roots in Afghanistan," Biden added.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in a speech on Monday the U.S. moved its diplomatic operations from its embassy in Afghanistan to Doha, Qatar.
He also said fewer than "200, likely closer to 100" U.S. citizens who want to leave the country remain in Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal, and the administration will try to help them get out of the country.
"We made extraordinary efforts to give Americans every opportunity to depart the country — in many cases talking, and sometimes walking them into the airport," Blinken said. "Of those who self-identified as Americans in Afghanistan who were considering leaving the country, we’ve 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 arrivals continue."
"We believe there are still a small number of Americans — under 200 and likely closer to 100 – who remain in Afghanistan and want to leave. We’re trying to determine exactly how many. We’re going through manifests and calling and texting through our lists, and we’ll have more details to share, as soon as possible. Part of the challenge with fixing a precise number is that there are longtime residents of Afghanistan who have American passports, and who were trying to determine whether or not they wanted to leave. Many are dual-citizen Americans with deep roots and extended families in Afghanistan, who have resided there for many years. For many, it’s a painful choice," he added. "Our commitment to them and to all Americans in Afghanistan — and everywhere in the world — continues.”
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Original Author: Daniel Chaitin, Jerry Dunleavy