President Joe Biden continued to defend the Afghanistan withdrawal during brief remarks Sunday, offering an update on the situation at the Kabul airport as well as whether he plans to extend the Aug. 31 deadline.
Biden at first said he wouldn’t discuss “tactical changes” at the Kabul airport, where the U.S. has troops stationed helping to evacuate people. Moments later, he said the U.S. military has “increased rational access to the airport where more folk can get there more safely.”
“It’s still a dangerous operation but I don’t want to go into detail while we’re doing that,” Biden explained. “We have made a number of changes, including extending access around the airport and the safe zone.”
Biden appeared confident that Afghans with the proper paperwork “are going to get out” and promised the administration is “working diligently to make sure we’ve increased the ability to get them out.”
“We’ve changed the gate operations and a whole range of things,” the president said.
Biden, throughout his speech, stressed that withdrawing was the right move. At one point, Biden said he believes “history is going to record this was a the logical, rational and right decision to make.” He said the Taliban has “so far” not taken actions against American forces and have “by and large followed through on … allowing Americans to pass through.”
Biden declared Friday that the administration hadn’t seen any indication of American’s having an issue getting to the airport. Shortly following his speech that day, news broke that Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin briefed lawmakers on reports of Americans being beaten by the Taliban in Afghanistan. (RELATED: Biden Dismisses Comment About Taliban Being Back In Power On 9/11 Anniversary, Says Not The Same Because Bin Laden Is Dead)
The president also appeared to soften his language on the withdrawal deadline. During an interview with ABC News on Aug. 18, Biden vowed to remain in Afghanistan until all Americans were safely out – even if this means staying past the Aug. 31 deadline.
Sunday’s remarks saw the president waver on this promise. He told reporters that “there’s discussions going on … about extending,” adding that the “hope is we will not have to extend.”
“But there are going to be discussions, I suspect, on how far along we are in the process,” Biden said.
While he defended the withdrawal, Biden did offer a warning: “We have a long way to go. And a lot could still go wrong,” he said just after reiterating his claim that the evacuation process would bring “pain and loss” as well as “heartbreaking images” no matter what.
As of Sunday morning, the U.S. has evacuated around 33,000 people since July, including almost 28,000 individuals since August 14, according to Biden, who called it “an incredible operation.”