President Biden addressed the nation to announce that the Pfizer COVID vaccine has now received full approval from the FDA. In an upbeat tone, the commander-in-chief lauded his administration’s national rollout plan. What he failed to do was mention the latest situation in Kabul airport.
With reports earlier in the day suggesting that many of the Afghan nationals the president had promised to assist could be left behind, Biden left the stage quickly without answering a single question from the press.
A Taliban Red Line
On Monday, Aug. 23, Sky News spoke in Doha, Qatar, with Taliban spokesperson Dr. Suhail Shaheen who said of the withdrawal date:
“It’s a red line. President Biden announced that on 31 August, they would withdraw all their military forces. So if they extend it, that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that … If the U.S. or U.K. were to seek additional time to continue evacuations — the answer is no. Or there would be consequences.
“It will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation, it will provoke a reaction.”
Most likely in response to the apparently immovable position of the Taliban leadership, John Johnson, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, told CNN, “We are currently prioritizing American citizens and legal permanent residents for entry … Due to a deteriorating security environment, we are asking all others not to come to the airport at this time — the gates remain closed.”
Less than one hour before the scheduled start time, the president tweeted: “Once screened and cleared, we will welcome Afghans who helped us in the war effort to their new home in the United States of America. Because that’s who we are. That’s what America is.” However, as reported originally by the Daily Mail, the screening process might not be as thorough as many would expect. The State Department – presumably in a rush to be efficient – sent out a number of digital Special Immigration Visas (SIVs) to Afghans who had helped in the U.S. effort; the SIVs were “nameless,” which resulted in the screenshotting and sharing among countless others who made their way to the airport.
Best estimates so far suggest that thousands of people who may not have been eligible have already boarded planes.
At the G7 meeting on Tuesday, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to plead with the president to extend the withdrawal time in order to rescue the Afghans that now seem certain to be left behind. It is unlikely that Johnson will have adopted this stance without first screening other G7 leaders for their level of support.
Read more from Mark Angelides.