The latest on Afghanistan as the Taliban take charge

By Brad Lendon, Jessie Yeung, Kara Fox, Aditi Sangal, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 8:27 PM ET, Fri August 20, 2021
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3:41 p.m. ET, August 20, 2021

Biden: US troops went outside Kabul airport perimeter to bring in 169 Americans

From CNN's From Allie Malloy

This satellite photo provided by Planet Labs shows the military side of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 17, 2021.
This satellite photo provided by Planet Labs shows the military side of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 17, 2021. Planet Labs, Inc./AP

President Biden said Friday that in recent days, the US military went outside Kabul airport perimeter to bring in 169 Americans.

Biden also added that the White House is considering “every opportunity” to rescue Americans and Afghans stuck behind those checkpoints.

“To the best of our knowledge, the Taliban checkpoints, they are letting through people showing American passports. 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, yesterday, or the day before, we went over the wall and brought in how many? 169 Americans,” Biden said speaking from the White House East Room Friday.

Biden did not expand on the mission to bring over the 169 Americans from the other side of the checkpoint.

“So, it is a process to try to figure out how we — how we deal with the mad rush of Non-Americans, those who didn't help, those who were not on the priority list, just any Afghan, any Afghan to be able to get out of the country," he said.

Asked specifically if he is considering a rescue operation to recover Americans and Afghan allies stuck behind Taliban checkpoint, Biden said yes, adding: “We're considering every opportunity and every means by which we could get folks to the airport.”

3:35 p.m. ET, August 20, 2021

Biden says administration in "constant contact" with Taliban leadership as US coordinates evacuations

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal 

President Biden said his administration was in "constant contact" with the Taliban leadership on the ground in Kabul and Doha, and that most of the engagements were focused on getting Americans out who want to leave out of the country.  

"We've been coordinating what we're doing. That's how, for example, we got all of our embassy personnel out, how we got everybody out of the embassy safely," Biden said.

The President said the US has "made clear to the Taliban that any attack, any attack on our forces will be met with swift and forceful response."

When asked questions by reporters, Biden noted that so far, he has received "no indication" that American's haven't been able to get through to the airport safely.

"We've made an agreement with the Taliban thus far. They've allowed them to go through. It's in their interest for them to go through," he said, noting "we will do whatever needs to be done to see they get to the airport."

The President said his administration is "going to retain a laser focus on our counter terrorism mission," and he added, "working in close coordination with our allies and partners."

He also said the US was looking our for terror attacks around the Kabul airport, including from ISIS affiliates.  

Biden called the situation in Afghanistan "heartbreaking," and the images of desperate and "panicked" Afghans and Americans trying to escape "gut wrenching." 

"I don't think any one of us can see these pictures, and not feel that pain on a human level," Biden said. 

2:32 p.m. ET, August 20, 2021

White House says US military evacuated additional 3,000 people from Afghanistan since last update

From CNN's Jeremy Diamond 

A senior White House official says that the military evacuated an additional 3,000 people from Afghanistan since an update was provided to reporters late last night.

“We evacuated approximately 13,000 people on US military aircraft since Aug. 14, and relocated approximately 18,000 people since the end of July. The US military evacuated 5,700 people in last 24 hours alone. The US military evacuated 3,000 people since last night’s update,” the official said.

The official added: "The Biden Administration is leading an unprecedented and highly complex global effort to coordinate safe transit out of Afghanistan for thousands of US citizens, SIV applicants and their families, vulnerable Afghans, and third-country nationals. We have already secured a number of agreements for these passengers to temporarily transit through other countries, and have been working aggressively to secure additional agreements. We are deeply grateful for the generosity of our international allies and partners, including those who are working shoulder-to-shoulder with us on the ground in Kabul to support what is already one of the largest airlifts in history."

3:17 p.m. ET, August 20, 2021

Biden says there's "no indication" US citizens have been unable to get to Kabul airport

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez and Allie Malloy

President Biden asserted on Friday that there’s no indication American citizens have been prevented from getting through to the airport.

Asked whether the US would send troops into Kabul to get Americans who haven’t been able to get to the airport safely, the President said, "We have no indication that they haven't been able to get in Kabul through the airport. We've made an agreement with the Taliban. Thus far, they have allowed them to get through. It’s in their best interest for them to go through.”

“We know of no circumstance where American citizens are carrying an American passport are trying to get through to the airport,” Biden added.

There have been several reports on the ground, including from CNN’s Clarissa Ward, of chaos, confusion and violence on the roads leading to the airport.

Pressed later on the fact that chaos and violence around the airport are preventing people from getting in, the President said, “No, I thought the question was, ‘How can they get through to the airport (from) outside the airport?’"

“And the answer is, to the best of our knowledge, the Taliban checkpoints, they are letting through people showing American passports,” Biden continued.

He said it was “a different question” than getting the “folks just outside the wall near the airport” in chaotic crowds trying to come in, adding that US forces went past the airport wall to pull in American citizens.

2:19 p.m. ET, August 20, 2021

Biden to Afghans who've worked with the US: "We've got to get you out"

US President Joe Biden speaks at the White House on August 20, 2021.
US President Joe Biden speaks at the White House on August 20, 2021. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

President Biden was just asked what he'd say to to an Afghan who has worked with US forces and is now being pursued by Taliban fighters.

"We've got to get you out," Biden said.

The question came from ABC's Stephanie Ramos, who mentioned an interpreter her colleague previously interviewed.

"Overnight, we received a photo of Taliban militants coming to his door of his home, literally hunting him down. Thankfully he was able to escape, but he is obviously still in mortal danger," she said. She then asked the President what he would tell the interpreter and his family.

Here's how Biden responded:

"We want you to be able to get to the airport. Contact us, we'll see whatever we can do to get you there. We've got to get you out. We are committed to deal with you, your wife, and your child to get all three of you out of Afghanistan. That's the commitment."
2:18 p.m. ET, August 20, 2021

Biden says he's seen no questions on America's credibility from allies over Afghanistan

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

President Biden said he has "seen no question of our credibility from our allies around the world" over his administration's handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Biden said he's spoken with NATO allies, national security advisers, US Sec. of State Antony Blinken and Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin.

Biden added that he has received feedback from allies that US is acting "with dispatch" and "committing" to what the nation said it would do.

"Let's put this thing in perspective here. What interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point with al Qaeda gone? We went to Afghanistan for the express purpose of getting rid of al Qaeda in Afghanistan as well as getting Osama bin Laden, and we did," Biden said.

"You've known my position for a long, long time. It's time to end this war," he added.

"This is about America leading the world. And all our allies have agreed with that. And by the way, before I made this decision, I was at the G7 as well as met with our NATO partners, and I told them all, every one of them knew and agreed with the decision I made to end — jointly end — our involvement in Afghanistan," Biden said.

2:20 p.m. ET, August 20, 2021

Biden: "I'm focused on getting this job done"

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

President Biden today said he would remain focused on completing the US's withdrawal from Afghanistan now, and save worry and criticism on what went wrong for later.

"There will be plenty of time to criticize and second-guess when this operation is over, but now, now, I'm focused on getting this job done," he said, speaking at his second press conference at the White House since the Taliban took control of Kabul. 

Biden then pledged to use the full force of the US military to complete the withdrawal and bring Americans and their Afghan allies to safety.

"We'll use every resource necessary to carry out the mission at hand and bring to safety American citizens and our Afghan allies," he said. "This is our focus now."

"When this is finished, we will complete our military withdrawal and finally bring to an end 20 years of American military action in Afghanistan," Biden said.

2:34 p.m. ET, August 20, 2021

Biden: "Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home"

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

President 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 efforts and recounted how US troops have assisted in the evacuation over the last several days, saying that about 13,000 people have been evacuated since the US military lift began on Aug. 14.

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 and that so far, he has "no indication" that Americans have not been able to get through the airport.

"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."

"We are particularly focused on our engagements on making sure every American who wants to leave can get to the airport," Biden said, reiterating that the US has "made clear to the Taliban that any attack, any attack, on our forces or disruption of our operations at the airport will be met with swift and forceful."

The President's speech focused on the evacuation of American citizens and their families, Special Immigrant Visa applicants and their families and vulnerable Afghans, according to the White House.

Biden is taking questions from reporters now.

2:02 p.m. ET, August 20, 2021

Biden says "pause" at Kabul airport was done to process evacuees

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

US President Joe Biden speaks at the White House on August 20, 2021. He is joined by, from left: Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin; Vice President Kamala Harris; Secretary of State Antony Blinken; and White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
US President Joe Biden speaks at the White House on August 20, 2021. He is joined by, from left: Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin; Vice President Kamala Harris; Secretary of State Antony Blinken; and White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

President Biden addressed the "pause" in evacuation flights from Kabul, saying that it was done to "make sure we could process the arriving evacuees at the transit points."

"Our commander in Kabul has already given the order for outbound flights to resume," Biden said.

CNN's Clarissa Ward reported earlier that no US evacuation flights left Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport for at least 8 hours.

"Even with the pause, we've moved out 5,700 evacuees yesterday, and we're working ... to verify that number of the Americans that are still in country," Biden said.