National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan could not say with certainty on Sunday that the Biden administration will be able to evacuate all Americans from Afghanistan, let alone special immigrant visa holders and others who helped American forces during the two-decade conflict.
Cornered by CNN host Jake Tapper, Sullivan appeared to demur when asked directly whether a full evacuation of American citizens and SIV holders is possible ahead of a withdrawal deadline on Tuesday.
In the lead-up, Tapper there is rising concern about new attacks by ISIS-K and other militants similar to the one that killed 13 U.S. military personnel and 169 Afghans on Thursday which is complicating the pullout deadline, now less than 48 hours away. On Friday, the U.S. military said it conducted a strike against the planner of that attack, killing two people and wounding one. Also, the military launched a drone strike against another target in Kabul on Sunday reported to be someone bearing explosives riding a motorcycle.
“You and I both know there are Americans on the ground in Kabul right now who can’t get into the airport,” Tapper said to Sullivan. “They can’t even reach it.
“There are legal permanent residents of the United States who can’t get out. There are Afghans who have the special immigrant visas who cannot get out. They’re obviously not all going to get out by the deadline. They just aren’t. So, what happens to them after Tuesday?” he asked.
Sullivan responded by saying that the administration estimates “we’re down to a population of 300 or fewer American citizens,” going on to repeat what White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday, that the administration believes it has “substantial leverage to hold the Taliban to its commitments to allow safe passage for American citizens, legal permanent residents, and the Afghan allies who have travel documentation to come to the United States.”
“We will use that leverage to the maximum extent and we will work with the rest of the international community to ensure the Taliban does not falter on these commitments,” Sullivan continued.
Sullivan went on to address Tapper’s remarks about reports that because of the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, there are renewed terrorism threats to the American homeland, though he did not discuss specifics.
“The general threat’s credible. I don’t have any specifics on the threat stream focused on the homeland from the point of view of a white supremacist group or an Islamist terrorist,” he said.
On a separate program, Secretary of State Antony Blinken put a different spin on the ‘300 Americans’ figure.
“We have about 300 American citizens left who have indicated to us that they want to leave,” he said, which suggests that there could be more Americans in-country that have either decided to stay in Afghanistan for whatever reason or have simply not been able to contact any American diplomatic officials.
“We are very actively working to help them get to the airport, get on a plane, and get out of Afghanistan,” Blinken added.
President Joe Biden has said on more than one occasion that all Americans would be evacuated from the country, but Republicans along with other regional experts have cast doubts about that.
Blinken went on to talk about the rising threat of another attack.
“This is very high risk. There is a high likelihood of additional attacks,’ he said “This is the most dangerous time in an already extraordinarily dangerous mission.”
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