Biden promises to get 'any American who wants to come home' out of Afghanistan

By Kate Sullivan, CNN

    (CNN) -- President Joe Biden on Friday tried to put an optimistic face on the chaotic evacuations taking place at Kabul's airport as American forces scramble to remove US citizens and vulnerable Afghans from the country.

In remarks at the White House, Biden gave an overview on evacuation effort and recounted the efforts of US troops in the evacuation over the last several days. While reports from the ground indicate that the scenes outside Hamid Karzai International Airport are growing increasingly desperate, Biden said the US is pulling off one of the most difficult airlifts in history.

"Let me be clear: any American who wants to come home, we will get you home," Biden said.

"I cannot promise what the final outcome will be ... or that it will be without risk of loss," Biden added. "But as commander in chief, I can promise you I will mobilize every resource necessary, and as an American, I offer my gratitude to the brave men and women of the US armed forces who are carrying out this mission. They're incredible."

The President's speech focused on the evacuation of American citizens and their families, Special Immigrant Visa applicants and their families and vulnerable Afghans, the White House says. It is unclear whether the President will take questions.

Prior to his remarks, the President and Vice President Kamala Harris met with their national security team in the Situation Room to hear intelligence, security and diplomatic updates on the situation in Afghanistan, according to the White House.

According to his public schedule, Biden was set to travel to Wilmington, Delaware, after the speech but the White House announced Friday morning that he would no longer be traveling and is set to remain in Washington. Biden decided to stay in Washington to monitor the evacuation operation underway in Afghanistan, an administration official tells CNN, the latest in a series of decisions made to interrupt his August vacation. The President was scheduled to join first lady Jill Biden for a weekend at their home in Wilmington, where he had originally planned to spend much of the week. But the events on the ground in Afghanistan led him to change his plans once again, the official said.

The President spent last weekend and several days earlier this week at Camp David in Maryland, returning briefly to Washington on Monday for a speech on Afghanistan before spending another day at the presidential retreat.

Afghans in Kabul are battling massive crowds and violence to make it to the airport gates, and have to wait hours to enter once they've arrived.

Tents are needed for the thousands of Afghans standing out in the blazing sun for hours at Kabul airport, CNN's Clarissa Ward reports. Mothers of children are particularly struggling in the sweltering heat. CNN has met people at the airport who have been waiting there for two days

The US Embassy warned Friday morning of continuing safety concerns over getting to the Kabul airport, and said that -- due to large crowds and security worries -- "gates may open or close without notice."

White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told CNN Friday that the White House does not have a precise number of Americans who are still in Afghanistan, saying the administration is still trying to account for Americans who may have left the country prior to August 14 without notifying the US embassy.

Bedingfield was short on answers when repeatedly pressed by CNN's Brianna Keilar on what concrete steps the administration was taking to reduce the chaos, referring logistics questions to the Defense Department.

"Those are on the ground logistical questions that the Department of Defense is better equipped to handle but what I can tell you is the President is driving his team towards this," she said. "We are working every day to do everything we can to ensure that we're able to get more people into the airport in an orderly manner. Of course the images that we're seeing are heartbreaking."

The Pentagon said Thursday that the US military had increased the pace of evacuations. The US evacuated approximately 3,000 people from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Thursday, and approximately 14,000 people since end of July, according to a White House official.

Biden, who met with senior staff in the Situation Room on Wednesday, made clear he wants every flight leaving the airport filled to capacity. An official cautioned that, given the chaotic nature of the evacuation, the presidential directive doesn't always mean it will happen for every flight.

The US military hopes to move 5,000 to 9,000 people a day, but they have not been able to meet that goal since the evacuation process started.

Biden suggested in an ABC interview this week that he's willing to keep US forces in Afghanistan until all American citizens who want to leave are out of the country, but stopped short of making the same commitment to the United States' Afghan partners.

The President said Americans should expect for all US citizens in Afghanistan to be evacuated by August 31, the deadline the administration has set for ending the nation's longest war.

This is a breaking story and will be updated.

The-CNN-Wire
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