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CNN correspondent Clarissa Ward boards flight out of Afghanistan

Following days of reporting from the ground in Afghanistan, CNN’s Clarissa Ward boarded a flight out of the country Friday.

Ward shared a photo from the packed plane on Twitter after waiting hours for a flight.

“On our flight and getting ready for takeoff,” she tweeted.

Read the tweet:

US military helicopters evacuated Americans from hotel near Kabul airport

The US military used helicopters to evacuate a group of Americans from a hotel near the Kabul airport, according to the Pentagon spokesperson who provided new details about the mission that was first revealed by President Biden in his speech on Friday.

The 169 Americans were retrieved after another country informed US commanders that citizens had gathered at the Baron Hotel near the airport, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Friday evening. 

Three CH-47 Chinook helicopters flew from the military side of the airport to the Baron Hotel, just off the southern side of the airport, to collect the Americans and bring them onto the field, Kirby said. He did not know if the Chinooks flew multiple flights to bring the Americans over.

“It was a very quick, safely performed operation,” Kirby said.

The original plan had been for the Americans to walk through the Abbey Gate, located approximately 200 meters from their hotel, Kirby said. But a large crowd had gathered at the gate, and some of the Americans felt unsafe trying to work their way through the crowd.

Kirby clarified his earlier remarks that this crowd had walked onto the field with the assistance of some US troops. He said there have been a few instances of Americans arriving at the airport and being escorted onto the field by US troops. But he said this is the only instance of which he is aware where US helicopters have left the field to collect American citizens.

The Associated Press was first to report about this mission.

The decision to launch the helicopters was made by the commander on the ground “on the spot.”

“He executed a mission that he believed was in the best interest of helping these Americans, and he did,” Kirby said. A third country, which Kirby would not identify, had established security at the hotel and informed the US that its citizens were there.

Colombia to temporarily host Afghan refugees en route to US

Colombia has agreed to take Afghans who worked with the US government temporarily as they wait for the US to process their paperwork, Colombia’s President Ivan Duque said Friday.

In a joint video statement with US Ambassador to Colombia Philip Goldberg, Duque and Goldberg both reiterated that Afghans will only stay in Colombia temporarily and will eventually move to the US.

Goldberg thanked Colombia’s efforts and said that the US will contribute to the costs incurred during this operation.

The Colombian president’s office declined to answer how many refugees will move to Colombia or the timeframe of this operation.

American military evacuation flights from Afghanistan land at US airbase in Germany 

The first few US military evacuation flights from Afghanistan have landed at Ramstein Air Base, a United States Air Force base in Germany, carrying approximately 350 passengers, Senior Master Sergeant Stacia Zachary told CNN Friday.

According to Zachary, the first plane landed at approximately 7 p.m. local time (1 p.m. ET) – the first in a series of flights that have evacuated hundreds of people of different nationalities, including Afghan nationals. 

“We are making sure that everyone getting off the plane is getting the medical attention they need,” said Zachary, noting that medical personnel were on site to receive the first arrivals and provide health checks, as well as stabilize any medical emergencies. 

Zachary reiterated that Ramstein Air Base would be an intermediate stop with no long-term plan to accommodate arrivals. More flights are expected over the next few days.

Earlier on Friday: German Chancellor Angela Merkel told members of the press that evacuating those who have worked for Germany over the last 20 years remains a priority for the German government.

“Afghan citizens should have a safe, secure place to stay in Germany and we will do everything in our power to bring as many of these people as possible to Germany in the next few days,” she added.

According to the latest information from the German Defense Ministry, more than 1,700 “at-risk” people in Afghanistan have been evacuated on German military flights so far.

US Defense secretary told lawmakers that Americans have been beaten by Taliban in Kabul, sources say

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told House members in a call this afternoon that Americans have been beaten by the Taliban in Kabul, according to multiple sources on the call.

Austin called it “unacceptable” but would not rule in or out if Americans would go outside the gates to ensure safe passage through checkpoints. Still, he added that generally the Taliban were not hindering Americans seeking to get to the airport, echoing the claims made publicly by President Biden on Sunday.

The comments appear to contradict President Biden’s statement earlier Friday that there’s “no indication” US citizens have been unable to get to Kabul airport.

Politico first reported Austin’s comments.

Asked about Austin’s comments and reports of beatings, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said, “we’re certainly mindful of these reports and they’re deeply troubling, and we have communicated to the Taliban that that’s absolutely unacceptable, that we want free passage through their checkpoints for documented Americans. And by and large, that’s happening.”

"It wasn't a rescue" says Pentagon of the 169 Americans brought to the airfield by US troops

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby today provided few details on how US troops brought 169 Americans to the Hamid Karzai International Airport, but characterized the activity as “assistance” rather than a rescue mission.

“My understanding of what happened was they were really just outside the wall,” he told CNN’s Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

“It wasn’t a rescue so much as assisting them getting onto the field,” continued Kirby, speaking from the Pentagon.

When pressed by Starr, Kirby repeatedly said that he did not have details on US operations outside the airport, which is secured by the US military.

“I don’t have that level of detail,” said Kirby. “…I do not have that level of tactical detail today. I’m happy to go look and see if we can find answers for you on that.”

President Biden, in a press conference earlier this afternoon, said US troops had gone “over the wall” to bring 169 Americans to the airfield. 

Kirby said beyond “assistance” to the 169 Americans, he was not aware of any other instances in which US soldiers had left the airport. He said the US had increased its capacity to operate outside of the wire, however, which stands in contrast to remarks made earlier in the week by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who said they did not have the capacity to go out and get “large numbers of people.”

Speaking at the Pentagon today, Kirby said they had now “flown in additional capacity, additional forces.”

“If there would be a need to do something additional to help Americans or other people at risk that we need to get to the airfield, we would examine those options,” Kirby said.

US State Department lists countries helping with relocation efforts out of Afghanistan

State Department spokesperson Ned Price revealed a lengthy list of countries who are partnering in relocation efforts for Americans and Afghans from Kabul.

“Over the past several days, we have mobilized a global effort through diplomatic channels to evacuate US citizens, personnel from partner nations, and of course at risk Afghans from Kabul,” he told reporters at a briefing.

“We extend special thanks to our partners around the globe who have been instrumental in this operation in all of its many parts. Bahrain, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Qatar, Tajikistan, Turkey, the UAE, the United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan have been or will soon be transiting Americans or in some circumstances, others, through their territories to safety,” Price added.

“Albania, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Mexico, Poland, Qatar, Rwanda, Ukraine and Uganda have also made generous offers regarding the relocation efforts for at-risk Afghans,” he said.

Thousands were unable to board planes during hours-long pause in US evacuation flights, Army official says

Asked by CNN’s Barbara Starr if the number of people backlogged at Kabul’s airport during the “pause” of US flights was about 10,000, Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, vice director for logistics of the Joint Staff, said he believed it was “less than” that figure, but that the did not have the “exact number.”

Pressed in a follow-up question if the number was “in the thousands,” the official agreed that it was. Taylor noted in the briefing that the “pause” of US evacuation flights lasted roughly six to seven and a half hours.

Earlier today, CNN’s Clarissa Ward reported that soldiers told her about 10,000 people were processed but unable to depart Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul as Qatar was reaching capacity on accepting additional Afghans.

Starr also asked Taylor about the conditions on the ground for Afghans waiting to depart the airfield.

Conditions were “sufficient,” Taylor said. “We are actively continuing to ensure it is sufficient for the future and continuing as we build out even more.” 

“Did the people who were stuck there for so long, did they have food, water and sanitation?” Starr asked. 

“Yes, and I have no report they didn’t,” he said.

After the hours-long “pause” was lifted, at least one US evacuation flight has left Kabul, Taylor added.

Pentagon: "We know that al Qaeda is a presence" in Afghanistan

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby speaks at a briefing in Washington, DC, on August 20, 2021.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby acknowledged that an al Qaeda presence remains in Afghanistan, seemingly contradicting President Biden’s declaration that the terrorist organization was no longer in that country.

In remarks shortly beforehand defending the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden said, “What interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point, with al Qaeda gone?”

Kirby said they do not believe the number of al Qaeda fighters in the country “is exorbitantly high but we don’t have an exact figure for you,” because “our intelligence gathering ability in Afghanistan isn’t what it used to be because we aren’t there in the same numbers that we used to be.”

When pressed, Kirby attempted to clean up the contrast between his words and Biden’s, saying, “what we believe is that there isn’t a presence that is significant enough to merit a threat to our homeland as there was back on 9/11, 20 years ago.”

As part of the US-Taliban deal, the militant group said it would cut ties to al Qaeda, but UN reports have found that the two groups remain closely linked.

More than 100 Turkish citizens were evacuated from Kabul on Friday

More than 100 Turkish citizens were evacuated from Kabul in a military transport aircraft on Friday, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

The flight will land in Islamabad where the passengers will be transferred to Turkish Airlines civilian planes en route to Istanbul, Anadolu reported.

Over 600 Turkish citizens have now been evacuated since the Taliban took control of Kabul, according to Anadolu.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis about Afghanistan, according to a Communication Directorate readout.

Erdoğan said Afghanistan is going through a critical period once again, and Turkey wishes for a smooth transition in Afghanistan.

“If a transitional period cannot be established in Afghanistan, the pressure on migration, which has already reached high levels, will increase even more and this situation will pose a serious challenge for everyone,” he said.

Erdoğan said that the European Union should assist the Afghan people in Afghanistan and neighboring countries, especially Iran.

If necessary measures are not taken in Afghanistan and Iran, a new wave of migration is inevitable, he continued. Turkey has been in contact with Iran and additional measures have been taken on Turkey’s border with Iran to control the refugee flow, Erdogan said in a TV interview on Thursday.

On Thursday, Erdoğan said Turkey brought 83 foreigners to Turkey but did not indicate nationality.

Nearly 6,000 passengers have departed Kabul in the last 24 hours on 17 US flights, Pentagon says

Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, vice director for logistics of the Joint Staff, said the US was accelerating the pace of evacuations from Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport and had extricated nearly 6,000 passengers in the past 24 hours that included Americans and at-risk Afghans.

“The airport remains secure. The evacuation flights are steadily increasing and we are doing everything we can to maximize safe evacuations,” he said today, speaking from the Pentagon.

Taylor said in the last 24 hours, 16 C-17s and one C-130 had departed Kabul, carrying the nearly 6,000 passengers that included “a couple of hundred” American citizens. 

Since August 14, 13,000 total evacuees have been airlifted out of Kabul and 18,000 had departed since early July, he said.

Taylor also said the number of American troops on the ground at this time is 5,800. 

The general confirmed that US flight operations resumed after pausing “while we adjusted resources and personnel to ensure a temporary capacity issue at one of our stopover locations.”

Evacuation flights from Kabul were paused to address "temporary capacity issue," Army official says

Army Maj. Gen. William "Hank" Taylor, Joint Staff deputy director for regional operations, speaks at a briefing in Washington, DC, on August 20, 2021.

Joint Staff Regional Operations Deputy Director Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor addressed the “pause” in US evacuation flights from Kabul at a Pentagon press conference on Friday.

“We did pause flights earlier today leaving Kabul, while we adjusted resources and personnel to ensure a temporary capacity issue at one of our stopover locations, although flight operations have resumed. And US military flights to Qatar and other locations are departing … Kabul as we speak right now,” Taylor said.  

“We are looking for additional locations for these initial flights to land. We’re grateful for our allies — including Germany, where flights will land today — who are cooperating with us in this global effort. Aircraft availability is not an issue. We intend to maximize each plane’s capacity. We’re prioritizing the evacuation of people above all else, and we’re focused on doing this as safely as possible with a great sense of urgency,” Taylor said.

Taylor later added that the pause lasted 6 to 7 hours, “to ensure that flights at our intermediate staging bases could receive more personnel, and that has been cleaned up.”

CNN’s Clarissa Ward earlier reported that no US evacuation flights were observed leaving Hamid Karzai International airport for at least 8 hours.

Biden considering rescue operations for Americans and Afghan allies stuck behind Taliban checkpoints

President Biden said on Friday the US is considering rescue operations to get Americans and Afghan allies past Taliban checkpoints and to the airport in Kabul for evacuation if necessary.

Biden was also asked why the area around Hamid Karzai International Airport hasn’t been secured yet and whether there are plans to do so. 

“(T)he reason why we have not gone out and … set up a perimeter way outside the airport in Kabul is that it’s likely to draw an awful lot of unintended consequences in terms of people who, in fact, are not part of the Taliban,” the President responded.

He said coordinating with Taliban leadership is how previous evacuations were successful.

The President said that “there will be judgements made on the ground, by the military commanders at the moment and I cannot second-guess each of those judgements to be made.”  

Biden says he took "consensus opinion" on Afghanistan withdrawal

President Biden said he got “all kinds of cables” with “all kinds of advice” on Afghanistan when asked Friday about an internal State Department memo from mid-July warning the situation in the country could rapidly deteriorate and lead to the collapse of the Afghan government.

“If you notice,” Biden said, of the type of advice he claimed to get, “it ranged from this group saying — they didn’t say it…would fall when it did fall — but saying that it would fall, to others saying it wouldn’t happen for a long time, and they’d be able to sustain themselves through the end of the year.”

“I made the decision,” the President continued. “The buck stops with me. I took the consensus opinion. The consensus opinion was that in fact, it would not occur, if it occurred, until later in the year. It was my decision.” 

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

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

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.”

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

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. 

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

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.”

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

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.

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.

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.”

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

“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.

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

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.

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.”

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.

Biden on Afghanistan evacuation efforts: "This is one of the largest, most difficult air lifts in history"

President Biden said that the US has made “significant progress” in Afghanistan, saying that more than 18,000 people have been evacuated from the country since July and about 13,000 since the US military lift began on Aug. 14.

The President said “thousands more” have been evacuated in private charter flights facilitated by the US government. He said those evacuated include American citizens, permanent residents, Special Immigrant Visa applicants and Afghans who have “worked alongside us.”

“This is one of the largest, most difficult air lifts in history, and the only country in the world capable of projecting this much power on the far side of the world with this degree of precision is the United States of America,” Biden said in remarks from the White House with Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan standing behind him.

Biden said the “United States stands by its commitment that we’ve made to these people and it includes other vulnerable Afghans such as women leaders and journalists.”

“In fact, working in close coordination with the management of the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, we have successfully evacuated all 204 of their employees in Afghanistan on US Military aircraft earlier this week,” Biden said.

As Biden speaks, chaos continues to unfold on the ground near the Kabul airport. CNN’s Clarissa Ward reported Friday that no US flight had left Kabul in eight hours. A senior White House official says the the pause on US flights at Kabul will be lifted and flights are set to resume soon.

NOW: Biden speaks about Afghanistan evacuations as US scrambles to find more places to fly evacuees