Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin refused to commit to evacuating every American and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holder from Afghanistan during a Sunday appearance on ABC’s “This Week.”
“We’re going to try our very best to get everybody, every American citizen who wants to get out, out. We continue to look at different ways and creative ways to reach out and contact American citizens and help them get into the airfield,” Austin told ABC’s Martha Raddatz.
Austin described SIV holders as “very important to us,” but would not commit to extending President Joe Biden’s self-imposed Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan if American citizens and SIV holders remain trapped in-country.
“We’re going to continue to assess the situation and work as hard as we can to get as many people out as possible. As we approach that deadline, we’ll make a recommendation to the president,” he said.
Austin added that the Taliban “has been allowing people to pass safely through” to the airport, “if you have an American passport, if you have the right credentials,” before immediately backpedaling.
“Not in all cases,” Raddatz shot back.
“There’s no such thing as an absolute in this kind of environment as you would imagine Martha,” Austin responded. “There have been incidents of people, you know, having some tough encounters with the Taliban. As we learn about those incidents, we certainly go back and engage the Taliban leadership and press home to them that our expectation is that they allow our people with the appropriate credentials to get through the checkpoints.”
The Biden administration has flip-flopped on its promises to Americans and SIV holders trapped in-country. During a Tuesday press conference, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan refused to “comment on hypotheticals” when a reporter asked him if the U.S. would keep troops in Afghanistan past Aug. 31 if Americans and SIV holders remained in-country.
Austin said on Wednesday that the U.S. does not have the military capability to retrieve Americans who can not gain entry to Hamid Karzai International Airport. France, Britain, and Germany have all dispatched troops to bring their citizens and some Afghans to the airport. (RELATED: Members Of Congress Work To Aid Americans Stuck In Afghanistan As State Dept Refuses To Guarantee Safety)
Biden promised ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos during a Wednesday interview that “we’re going to stay until we get… all [American citizens] out,” even if that meant extending his withdrawal deadline.