WASHINGTON — President Biden on Friday claimed that all Americans who want to leave Afghanistan are able to reach Kabul’s airport — before correcting himself after a reporter pointed out that wasn’t true.
Biden, speaking for only the second time about Afghanistan since the Taliban seized Kabul on Sunday, made an attempt to put a positive spin on what’s widely seen as a disastrous and disorganized US departure.
“We know of no circumstance where American citizens are carrying an American passport and are trying to get through to the airport, but we will do whatever needs to be done to see to it they get to the airport,” Biden said in the White House East Room.
Biden made the astounding claim despite press reports of Americans unable to reach the Kabul airport. One American, David Marshall Fox, told The Post on Thursday that he and his son unsuccessfully sought to enter the airport on Wednesday but were unable to do so despite presenting passports.
“For me to be 10 feet from US Marines with my 3-year-old son, with my US passport and not being able to get through — that’s problematic,” Fox said, adding that he had given up hope of being evacuated.
When a reporter pressed Biden on his claim, the president clarified that Americans may be unable to reach the airport, but that the Taliban isn’t to blame for it.
“To the best of our knowledge, the Taliban checkpoints, they are letting through people showing American passports,” Biden said.
“Now that’s a different question when they get in the rush and crowd of all the folks just outside the wall near the airport. That’s why we had to — I guess it was a yesterday or the day before — we went over the wall when brought in how many? 169 Americans. So, it is a process to try to figure out how we deal with the mad rush of non-Americans, those who didn’t help, those who are not on a priority list.”
Biden vaguely assured reporters that the US military would help Americans escape Afghanistan, even though US troops aren’t believed to be going into Kabul to escort citizens as troops from the UK and France are doing for their citizens.
He said that he believed expanding the US military perimeter at Kabul’s airport could “draw an awful lot of unintended consequences.”
Although the apparent lack of evacuation planning has faced bipartisan outrage and criticism from US allies, Biden claimed that US allies haven’t told him they are concerned and that the ongoing airlift shows US “power” as 5,200 American troops assist with the desperate airport evacuation.
“The only country in the world capable of projecting this much power on the far side of the world with this degree of precision is the United States of America,” Biden said.
“We’ve already evacuated more than 18,000 people since July and approximately 13,000 since our military airlift began on August 14. Thousands more have been evacuated on private charter flights facilitated by the US government. These numbers include American citizens and permanent residents as well as their families.”
On Thursday, Pentagon and State Department spokesman admitted they didn’t know how many Americans still need to be evacuated from Afghanistan.
Biden said “we want to get a strong number as to exactly how many people are there, how many American citizens and where they are.”
The president spoke for less than 30 minutes and abruptly cut off questions and left the room.
Biden said “there will be plenty of time to criticize and second guess when this operation is over.”
Many top Biden administration officials have shied from public appearances this week amid the fall of Afghanistan. Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Tony Blinken, who both have been conspicuously quiet, stood behind Biden on Friday but did not speak.