Biden’s national security advisor says ‘we can’t count on’ people getting safely to Kabul’s airport despite talks with Taliban

jake sullivan
US National Security advisor Jake Sullivan speaks during the daily press briefing on the situation in Afghanistan at the White House on August 17, 2021.
  • The White House said Tuesday the Taliban pledged safe passage for civilians leaving Afghanistan.
  • But National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the evacuation is a "risky operation" and that "we can't count on anything."
  • The US is scrambling to evacuate tens of thousands Americans and Afghans since the Taliban takeover.
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Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden's national security advisor, said on Thursday that getting Americans out of Afghanistan is a "risky operation" and that "we can't count on anything," despite assurances of safe passage from the Taliban.

Sullivan was speaking to Lester Holt on NBC Nightly News about the US efforts to evacuate Americans and Afghans after the Taliban swiftly seized control of the country on Sunday. Thousands of people have descended on Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul in the days since in an attempt to flee the country.

"We right now have established contact with the Taliban to allow for the safe passage of people to the airport and that is working at the moment to get Americans and Afghans at risk to the airport," Sullivan told NBC. "That being said, we can't count on anything."

Read more: After 20 years of destruction, the US has a moral obligation to let in 1 million Afghan refugees

The White House said Tuesday that the Taliban had promised to allow for safe passage out of Afghanistan for the civilians involved in the US evacuation operation. Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of US troops in Kabul, said interference in the evacuation would be met with "overwhelming force."

Reports on the ground contradicted the Taliban's promises of safe passage, with some Afghans telling CNN they were turned away and pushed back from entering the Kabul airport by armed Taliban fighters.

Speaking with NBC, Sullivan also said there were other worrying factors, including "the potential for a terrorist attack by a group like ISIS-K, which of course is a sworn enemy of the Taliban."

But Sullivan insisted: "We will get any American who wants to get to the airport and who we get in contact with who says, 'I want to get out and get on a plane,' we will make that happen."

"We will keep working to minimize the risks and maximize the number of people on planes," he added.

Biden told ABC News on Wednesday that the US is seeking to evacuate 10,000 to 15,000 Americans currently in Afghanistan, as well as 50,000 to 65,000 Afghans and their families.

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