- President Biden spoke to the nation from the White House Roosevelt Room on Sunday evening
- He ignored a question from a reporter about increased dangers faced by Americans in Kabul
- He said discussions were under way for troops to stay past his Aug. 31 deadline to continue the evacuation
- Some 33,000 people had been evacuated from the country since July, he added
- His speech marked the latest White House effort to show it was in control of a chaotic operation
- The president described the evacuation as ‘hard and painful’ and admitted ‘a lot could still go wrong’
- It followed fresh concerns about the fate of American nationals stuck in Kabul
- He is due to speak to G7 leaders on Tuesday to coordinate response efforts
- Critics have accused him of being slow to communicate with allies
- And he faces more questions about whether he was warned of rapid collapse
President Joe Biden turned his back on a reporter who asked about the threats Americans in Afghanistan face in the wake of his chaotic withdrawal from the country.
Biden turned on his heel and ignored a reporter who shouted ‘Mr President what about ISIS and the threat Americans face now?’ at the conclusion of Sunday evening’s press conference about the crisis.
Moments before the reporter asked her question, the president said ‘Thank you,’ in an apparent signal that the press conference had ended.
But he has since taken heat from viewers and commentators who said the question was a sufficiently important one to merit an answer.
Biden’s snub came just hours after his own national security adviser Jake Sullivan told NBC News that there is a ‘genuine threat’ ISIS could attack the evacuation effort at Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul.
Sullivan, who also raised the prospect of sending US troops back into Kabul, said: ‘I know that the scenes around the airport are heartbreaking, large crowds of people wanting to leave
‘I know that there is complexity and there is turbulence on the ground and in Kabul, and it’s very risky and dangerous because there’s a genuine threat from ISIS. That is the reality of what we are up against, and I’m not going to sugarcoat that reality.’
The gaffe came after Biden revealed U.S. forces may stay beyond his deadline of Aug. 31 during a speech on Sunday evening he tries to accelerate the operation to rescue Americans after days of chaos and crushes at Kabul airport.
He said that U.S. forces had expanded the perimeter around the airport amid fears terrorists may seek to exploit the operation by attacking Americans or Afghan civilians.
But things were moving in the right direction with some 33,000 people brought to safety, he said.
‘Let me be clear – the evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul is going to be hard and painful,’ Biden said during a speech in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
‘No matter when it started, when we began, it would have been true if we had started a month ago, or a month from now.
‘There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss and heartbreaking images you see on television.
‘It’s just a fact.’
His speech marked the latest attempt by the White House to seize control of a crisis that is rapidly turning into a humanitarian and political disaster.
A similar effort on Friday backfired when Biden claimed that he knew of no cases of Americans being stopped from reaching Kabul airport – only to be flatly contradicted by the Pentagon.
Things have only worsened since then, with reports that seven people died in the crush around the airport, including a two-year-old.
Biden said that as many as 33,000 people had been evacuated since July, including some 11,000 during a single 36-hour period.
Defense officials ‘hope’ they will not have to extend the evacuation operation, he added, but ‘there are going to be discussions I suspect on how far along we are in the process.’
He also said troops were maintaining constant vigilance against terrorist threats, particularly from the local affiliate of ISIS, sworn enemies of the both the U.S. and the Taliban.
‘The security threat is changing rapidly,’ he said.
‘There are civilians crowded at the airport, although we have cleared thousands of them.
‘We know that terrorists may seek to exploit the situation and target innocent Afghans or American troops .’
Every day that American troops and civilians are at the airport is another day of risk that terrorists launch an attack from distance.
But he said the Taliban had been helpful.
‘We discussed a lot with the Taliban,’ he said. ‘They’ve been cooperative in extending some of the perimeter.’
But he declined to describe further ‘technical changes’ designed to improve security.
‘So far the Taliban has not taken action against U.S. forces,’ he said, rapping his knuckles on the lectern as if knocking on wood.
‘So far they have, by and large, followed through on what they said in terms of Americans to pass through .
‘And I’m sure they don’t control all of their forces. It’s a rag tag force.
‘And so we’ll see if what they say turns out to be true.
Conditions deteriorated further at the weekend. The U.S. was forced to tell Americans not to try to brave the chaos around the airport unless they have been told to report.
And it emerged that evacuation flights were dropping flares and making steep combat landings after warnings that terrorists of the Islamic State might try to shoot down a plane.
Biden is still facing questions about why his administration did not have a better evacuation plan after being warned that the Taliban could sweep into Kabul within days.
Against that backdrop of criticism, the White House tried to show a president hard at work on a Sunday.