CNN’s Jake Tapper called out White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday after she told a reporter that there are no Americans who are “stranded” in Afghanistan, even as the Biden administration struggles to evacuate thousands of people ahead of a rapidly approaching Aug. 31 final pullout deadline.
Tapper, host of “The Lead,” was responding to an exchange between Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy and Psaki, whom he pressed about the administration’s plans to get Americans and Afghan allies out of the country earlier in the day.
“Does the president have a sense that most of the criticism is not of leaving Afghanistan, it’s the way that he has ordered it to happen by pulling the troops before getting these Americans who are now stranded?” Doocy asked.
“I think it’s irresponsible to say Americans are stranded. They are not. We are committed to bringing Americans who want to come home, home,” Psaki fired back. “We are going to bring them home and I think that’s important for the American public to hear and understand.”
Tapper responded to his guest, CNN Pentagon correspondent Oren Liebermann, saying, “I understand that people are working long hours in the White House, the National Security Council, State Department, Pentagon, and over in Kabul to get Americans out of that country. And I understand the White House wanting to reassure the nation that all Americans will ultimately be evacuated.
“But,” Tapper continued, “there are no doubt Americans who feel stranded in Afghanistan right now.”
“Some of this appears to be, as you pointed out, a message of reassurance. And some appears to be parsing words on what exactly is ‘stranded,'” Liebermann replied.
The Pentagon correspondent also pushed back somewhat on Psaki, pointing out that “there have been Americans who are having trouble getting through Taliban checkpoints, who are having difficulties and problems getting to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
“And that appears to be what she’s not acknowledging here, that there are Americans having issues,” he noted.
U.S. lawmakers also pushed back on Psaki, including Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), who called the press secretary’s statement a “boldfaced lie.”
“My office literally just received word of a Tennessean STRANDED in Afghanistan,” Hagerty wrote on Twitter in a post with the clip of the exchange between Doocy and Psaki.
“This is just not true. And it’s a slap in the face to the thousands of Americans who are stranded right now,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) added.
Cotton’s senior adviser, Matthew Downer, also weighed in.
“An American woman is stranded in Kabul, all alone. When she tried to get to the airport, the Taliban beat her for the crime of traveling without a male escort. She has heard nothing from the State Department—only from free lance volunteers a world away,” he tweeted.
The issue of whether or not Americans are still in Afghanistan who wish to leave but are unable to be evacuated for whatever reason is not an academic one; Taliban officials now in control of most of the country have said they will not agree to an extension of the current Aug. 31 final pullout deadline.
“It’s a red line. President Biden announced that on 31 August they would withdraw all their military forces. So if they extend it that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that,” Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen told Sky News in the Qatari capital of Doha.
“If the U.S. or U.K. were to seek additional time to continue evacuations – the answer is no. Or there would be consequences,” Shaheen added. “It will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation it will provoke a reaction.”
And apparently, the threat of leaving some Americans behind is real, according to another U.S. lawmaker.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) exited a classified briefing Monday and told reporters that it does not appear as though the Biden administration will be able to evacuate all Americans still in Afghanistan by the deadline.
In comments to reporters, however, Schiff indicated that American citizens are not the administration’s priority.
While all evacuations by Aug. 31 are “possible,” Schiff added that’s “very unlikely given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated, the number of SIV’s, the number of others who are members of the Afghan press, civil society leaders, women leaders.”
“I am encouraged to see the numbers of people evacuated, increasing readily to the point where we evacuated 11,000 people in a single day,” Schiff continued.
“Nonetheless, given the logistical difficulties of moving people to the airport and the limited number of workarounds, it’s hard for me to see that being fully complete by the end of the month. And I’m certainly of the view that we maintain a military presence as long as it’s necessary to get all U.S. persons out and to meet our moral and ethical obligation to our Afghan partners,” he added.
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