After President Joe Biden claimed in a press conference Friday the United States has no knowledge of Americans facing difficulties passing Taliban checkpoints and getting to the Kabul airport in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reportedly indicated to lawmakers on a call that Americans are being beaten by the terrorists.
The Kabul airport is the sole evacuation place in Afghanistan for Afghan allies and U.S. citizens. In his presser, Biden claimed, “We know of no circumstance where American citizens have not been able to get to the airport” and the U.S. federal government is in “close contact” with the Taliban.
Minutes later, Austin contradicted Biden’s statement, as reported by Politico.
“We’re also aware that some people, including Americans, have been harassed and even beaten by the Taliban,” said Austin on the House call. “This is unacceptable and [we] made it clear to the designated Taliban leader.”
Austin called the beatings “unacceptable” and Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told Politico the U.S. seeks “free passage through these checkpoints for documented Americans.” Austin also reportedly said on the call that “with the exception of” some Americans being beaten by the Taliban, “we continue to see Americans and appropriately credentialed Afghans continue to move through.”
There have increasingly been reports on the thousands of Americans and Afghan allies trapped in Afghanistan after the withdrawal. 7,000 U.S troops have been evacuated from Kabul since the Taliban seized the capital a week ago. But there are still an estimated 60,000 to 80,000 individuals still trying to flee.
On the call with Austin, who was joined by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley, Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy reportedly claimed the withdrawal was an “enormous mistake.”
“We will work hard to evacuate as many people as we can between now and when we have to stop,” Austin said when pressed on the August 31 withdrawal deadline. “If I’m given more time, I will take more time. … It’s unclear whether or not we’ll be able to do that.”
Blinken reportedly said on the call that Albania, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Mexico, Romania, Qatar, Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan, and Ukraine have offered to take in Afghans.
At the end of Biden’s speech Friday, a reporter yelled out, “Why do you continue to trust the Taliban, Mr. President?”
Lloyd previously acknowledged that the U.S. needs to act faster and get Americans and Afghan allies out of Afghanistan. “We’re going to work that 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we’re gonna get everyone that we can possibly evacuate, evacuated. And I’ll do that as long as we possibly can — until the clock runs out or we run out of capability,” he said Wednesday.