- Up to 15,000 Americans still need to get to the airport to be evacuated.
- U.S. Embassy website warns: 'THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT CANNOT ENSURE SAFE PASSAGE'
- Yet U.S. officials concede evacuation plan rests on trusting Taliban to let them through.
Mission One for any president is the safety of American citizens.
President George W. Bush's leadership suffered irreparable damage in 2005 when tens of thousands in New Orleans were seemingly abandoned by the federal government after Hurricane Katrina flooded the city.
A dangerous analog is shaping up for President Joe Biden in Kabul and across Afghanistan. There are 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. citizens in homes or hideaways eager to escape. But all that Biden has offered them is this: Take your chances with the Taliban. Venture into the street and make your way to the U.S.-controlled airport in Kabul, which closed Saturday because of a backup at an air base in Qatar. Then we'll bring you home.
The world's most powerful military cannot ensure safe passage
That's the best offer the world's most powerful military can make to its citizens in the aftermath of a Taliban takeover of the country, spawned by Biden's decision to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan without adequate preparation.
An all-caps warning on the U.S. Embassy website in Kabul stated the obvious risk for stranded American citizens trying to reach the airport: "THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT CANNOT ENSURE SAFE PASSAGE."
More than just Americans need to flee. Some 50,000-65,000 Afghan allies at risk of persecution and death from the Taliban must also find their way to Hamid Karzai International Airport, where 5,800 U.S. troops are facilitating evacuation flights.
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But it was particularly troubling that the most senior U.S. military and diplomatic officials conceded that their evacuation plans rested on trusting the Taliban, a renegade insurgency with a history of atrocities and killing U.S. troops, to grant safe passage to fleeing American citizens.
Taliban fighters control the streets of Kabul and the perimeter around the airport, and they've set up checkpoints throughout the city. And a United Nations threat assessment adviser warned that the Taliban are expanding efforts to find Afghans who worked with the U.S. or NATO forces.
'Safely and without harassment'
Nonetheless, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said of the Taliban on Wednesday, "We expect them to allow all American citizens, all third-country nationals, and all Afghans who wish to leave to do so safely and without harassment."
So nothing to worry about?
And as far as alternative plans, apparently there are none. "We don't have the capability to go out and collect up large numbers of people," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters Wednesday.
Much as Katrina defined Bush, Kabul could define Biden if those Americans don't make it safely home. The responsibility for their fate rests squarely on the president.
Biden said it himself earlier this week: The buck stops with him.
looking for a way to go home.
chance to go home.
for Joe Biden. n Kabul For President Biden There are now 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. citizens stranded in Kabul and beyond