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Biden, national security team discuss counter-terror ops in Afghanistan

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US President Joe Biden (C) with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (R) and Secretary of State Tony Blinken. (File photo)

US President Joe Biden has discussed counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan with his national security team amid warnings by the US Embassy in Kabul that Americans in the capital city should not go to the airport "because of potential security threats."

Biden and his national security advisers "discussed the security situation in Afghanistan and counter-terrorism operations, including ISIS-K," said a White House official on Saturday as cited in report by the local Axios news outlet.

According to the official, the national security team further "discussed the aggressive efforts to finalize agreements with additional third-party country transit hubs," in addition to evacuation efforts.

The Biden administration on Friday announced that its evacuation flights from Kabul can now land throughout the Middle East and Europe as Qatar has reached capacity, resulting in temporarily halted flights.

According to the report, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris — who joined by secure video teleconference enroute to Singapore — met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley and other senior officials.

The US Embassy guidance came a day after the embattled US president reiterated his commitment to considering "every opportunity and every means" to get Americans and Afghan allies through Taliban checkpoints and into the airport.

"Because of potential security threats outside the gates at the Kabul airport, we are advising US citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates at this time unless you receive individual instructions from a US government representative to do so," said the US embassy guidance.

Biden vows risky evacuation, no guaranteed outcome

Facing harsh criticism of his handling of the chaotic US pullout from Afghanistan, Biden sought to assure Americans in Afghanistan of certain evacuation but insisted that he “cannot promise” the final outcome.

"I cannot promise what the final outcome will be or that it will be without risk of loss. But as commander in chief, I can assure you that I will mobilize every resource necessary," Biden said during a White House press conference on Friday aimed at responding to critics who say his administration miscalculated the speed with which the Taliban would take over, and poorly planned the evacuations of Americans and Afghan allies.

The US president further described the airlift as one of the largest, most difficult of its kind, and emphasized that an attack in Kabul is a major concern following the release from prisons of Taliban’s fellow militants.

He also declared that US forces are "keeping a close watch on any potential terrorist threat at or around the airport."

Biden says US in ‘constant contact’ with Taliban

Biden further pointed out that he is counting on cooperation from the Taliban, which the US went to war with and which eventually ousted the US-sponsored Afghan government a week ago.

"To the best of our knowledge, the Taliban checkpoints, they are letting through people showing American passports," Biden stated at his press conference.

He then insisted that US officials are in constant contact with the Taliban, threatening that "any attack on our forces or disruption of our operations at the airport will be met with a swift and forceful response."

One major obstacle in getting Afghan citizens who helped the US effort out of the country has been Taliban checkpoints at the airport. Biden also suggested it was hard to sort out who was an American ally and who simply wanted to flee Afghanistan.

"There's a whole lot of Afghanis who would just as soon come to America, whether they [had] any involvement with the United States in the past at all rather than stay under Taliban rule or any rule," he claimed.

He also asserted, "We're making the same commitment" to evacuate Afghan allies as Americans.

The White House said earlier on Saturday that "in the last 24 hours, six US Military C-17s and 32 charters departed Kabul. The total passenger count for those 38 flights is approximately 3,800."

Nearly 17,000 people have so far been evacuated since August 14.

The development came as Taliban's political leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, arrived in Kabul on Saturday to discuss with senior political and tribal leaders of Afghanistan the prospect of forming a new “inclusive” government.

Meanwhile, Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the US argue that Biden did not act swiftly enough to withdraw vulnerable people from Afghanistan in the face of the rapid Taliban advances.

Bolstering the critics' case was disclosure of an internal "dissent" memo dated July 13 from some diplomats at the US embassy in Kabul. They warned of swift gains by the Taliban coupled with a collapse of Afghan security forces, according to a source familiar with the situation who confirmed an account of the document published by the Wall Street Journal.

Less than a week earlier on July 8, Biden had said a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was "not inevitable."

Asked about the cable, Biden said it was an outlier opinion.


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