US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday described as “incredibly volatile” the situation at the overcrowded Kabul airport where many people have died as thousands of foreign nationals and Afghans try to flee the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.
The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan on Sunday, two weeks before the US was set to complete its troop withdrawal after a costly two-decade war.
The insurgents stormed across the country, capturing all major cities in a matter of days, as Afghan security forces trained and equipped by the US and its allies melted away.
Thousands of Afghan nationals and foreigners are fleeing the country to escape the new Taliban regime and to seek asylum in different nations, including the US and many European nations, resulting in total chaos at Kabul airport and reportedly seven fresh deaths.
“Crowds have massed at the gates outside the airport. It's an incredibly volatile situation, it's an incredibly fluid situation. We've seen wrenching images of people hurt, even killed that hit you in the gut. And it's very important to make sure to the best of our ability, because it's such a volatile situation, that we do something about the crowding at the gates of the airport, and that's exactly what we're doing,” Blinken told Fox News in an interview.
“First, the more we move people out of the airport who are already in, the more we alleviate what has been overcrowding inside the airport, the more we can get people inside the airport and reduce some of the crowding at the gates. But second and most important, we're in direct contact with Americans and others to help guide them to the airport, right place, right time, to get in more safely and effectively,” he said.
Defending the decision of US President Joe Biden to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, which many say was unplanned and done in haste resulting in the Taliban grabbing power, Blinken said more than two dozen countries were working with the US in moving people out of Kabul.
“We've reached an agreement with about two dozen countries over four continents who are now helping or soon going to help with the transit of people out of Kabul and this is one way to make sure we have enough flight capacity to move people from those places to their ultimate destinations,” he said.
“We are moving them to places where we can finish processing them, finished doing security checks and that too will make things run more smoothly. It will get the flow to a point where we hope and expect that some of these scenes of overcrowding, which are so dangerous, can be alleviated,” Blinken said.
In the last 24 hours, about 8,000 people on about 60 flights have evacuated from Kabul airport.
About 30,000 people on military flights and on charter flights that the US helped organise have got out of the airport since the evacuation effort began at the end of July.
“We've now asked through the authority that the president has airlines to help participate in moving people not (out) of Kabul, but from these third country sites where we are taking them as we finish processing them, going through security checks,” Blinken said.
He said there will be plenty of time to look back to figure out who was saying what and when, and what should have happened differently.
“There's going to be plenty of time to figure out exactly what happened, what might have been done differently, to learn the lessons from this chapter, and to take account of them,” he said.
“I got to tell you right now, I'm focused on one thing and one thing only - and that's the mission to get people out of Afghanistan, to get our people out, to get our partners out, to do it as fast as we can, to do it as effectively as we can, to do it as safely as we can,” he asserted.
Blinken said the Biden administration was not avoiding accountability. “This is not about avoiding accountability. In our system, thankfully, there is accountability, there always will be accountability, but there is a time and place for everything at the time and place right now is this mission, and I'm seeing people around this country rally to it. I'm seeing allies and partners around the world rally to it. That's got to be our focus,” he said.
Blinken said the US went to Afghanistan 20 years ago with one mission and one purpose in mind which was to deal with the people who carried out the 9/11 attack and bring al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to justice.
He said this was accomplished a decade ago and to diminish the capacity of al-Qaeda to attack the US again from Afghanistan.
“And that, to the president's point, has been successful. We got bin Laden a decade ago... Al Qaeda's capacity to do what it did on 9/11, to attack us, to attack our partners, our allies, from Afghanistan, is vastly, vastly diminished,” he said.
“Are there al-Qaeda members and remnants in Afghanistan? Yes, but what the president was referring to was its capacity to do what it did on 9/11, and that capacity has been very successfully diminished,” he said.