Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed reports that Americans are being assaulted by the Taliban on their way to the airport in Kabul. According to Politico, Austin confirmed the reports in a briefing call with House lawmakers on Friday. “We’re also aware that some people, including Americans, have been harassed and even beaten by the Taliban,” Austin reportedly said on the call. “This is unacceptable and (we) made it clear to the designated Taliban leader.”
The briefing took place less than an hour after Biden claimed that Americans were not having issues with getting to the airport.. Biden’s claim was almost immediately refuted by his own Defense Secretary, as well as Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. “We’ve communicated to the Taliban that that is absolutely unacceptable and we want free passage through these checkpoints for documented Americans,” Kirby said when asked about Austin’s remarks.
Austin did not elaborate on efforts to ensure the safety of Americans on their way to Hamid Karzai International Airport. He specifically declined to “rule in or out” the possibility of U.S. troops moving beyond the airport to help Americans and allies, according to Politico. He also added that “with the exception of those cases, we continue to see Americans and appropriately credentialed Afghans continue to move through.”
Multiple journalists have reported on the difficulties they faced on their way to the airport. Ian Pannell of ABC News, who has been reporting from the ground in Kabul, said Biden’s claim “totally” doesn’t match with what he has seen. “It was breathtaking,” Pannel said. “Last night on ‘World News,’ we had American citizens who had exactly that experience. They tried to get into the airport, they had waved their American passports…they were beaten by the Taliban with the rubber fan belts from a vehicle.”
“I’m not quite sure what advice the president is receiving, but the truth on the ground is that these people who are in fear of their lives can’t get through,” Pannell added. CNN reporter Clarissa Ward also reported on difficulties her crew faced while traveling to the airport. “We had difficulty getting into the airport,” Ward said on Friday. “Anyone who says any American can get in here, is, you know – technically it’s possible, but it’s very difficult, but it’s extremely difficult and it is dangerous,” she added. Ward’s camera crew were confronted and threatened by armed Taliban militants earlier in the week.
On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Austin had no answer when asked if the government was relying on good faith from the Taliban for the evacuation to run smoothly. “So it sounds like you’re saying this depends on diplomacy with the Taliban, that’s it, that’s our only option, is getting them to agree to do this?” a reporter asked Austin. The Defense Secretary looked around the room in silence before General Milley interjected and instructed Americans to make their way to the airport. He also stated that the military “does not” have the capability to collect large numbers of Americans. “We don’t have the capability to go out and collect large numbers of people,” Austin said.
As National File previously reported, over 10,000 Americans were still in Kabul as the city fell to the Taliban. It is unknown how many are stranded away from the airport.
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