tv National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Afghanistan CSPAN August 24, 2021 12:16am-12:43am EDT
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have time to order the congressional directory with contact information for members of congress and the biden administration. go to c-span shop.org. >> national security advisor jake sullivan provided an update on evacuation efforts in afghanistan. announcing more than 37,000 people have been removed from afghanistan in the past week. he spoke to reporters at the white house for about 30 minutes. >> we are pleased to have our turn guest, jake sullivan, who will give brief opening remarks and take some questions. with that i will turn it over.
>> good afternoon everyone. i will make some comments, and then i will take your questions. i want to start once again by saluting our troops and civilians at the kabul airport. kabul fell just over one week ago. within 48 hours they secure the airfield. they safely and effectively drawn down our embassy compound and retrograde our embassy personnel. they have now facilitated the evacuation of more than 37,000 people out of the country since august 14. american citizens, third country nationals, our afghan allies, and afghans at risk of persecution or worse. in the last 24 hours alone, 28 u.s. military flights have evacuated approximately 10,400 people from kabul. in addition, 61 coalition aircraft have evacuated approximately 5900 additional people. that is more than 16,000 people
in 24 hours, and the flights are continuing hour-by-hour as we speak. we have established a network of transit centers from multiple countries in the gulf in europe, where we are getting your -- u.s. citizens on flights home, and we are running biometrics and bio graphic akron checks on evacuees before ringing them to the united states or having them relocated to a third country. all told, 26 countries on four continents are contribute into this effort. one of the largest air lifts in history. a massive military diplomatic security humanitarian undertaking. a testament to the power and purpose of the united states and our allies. i want to provide an update on american citizens. we have helped thousands of americans leave kabul already. we contacted american still in afghanistan by email, by phone, by text to give them specific instructions.
we have developed a method to safely and efficiently transport groups of american citizens onto the airfield. for operational reasons, i'm not going to go into further detail on this. many people have asked reasonably why we cannot provide a precise number of american citizens still in the country. let me explain. when americans have come to afghanistan over the years, we asked them to register with the embassy. many have left without the registering. others never register at all. that is their right, of course. and it's our responsibility to find them, which we are now doing hour-by-hour. in the days remaining, we believe we have the wherewithal to get out the american citizens who want to leave kabul. this operation is complex. it is dangerous, it is fraught with challenges, operational, logistical, human, and that has produced searing images of pain and desperation. but no operation like this, no
evacuation from a capital that has fallen into civil war could unfold without those images. the question is, are we on track to fulfill our objectives of this operation? to bring out our people. so many of our afghans who helped us, and so many of the afghans at risk. and we believe we are. as we conduct these operations we sustain the highest level of vigilance for an attack against the airport by a stash by isis k or another terrorist group. our commanders on the ground have taken every step they can to prepare for such an attack. our president has authorized every capability that those commanders have asked for to protect the airfield against such an attack. we remain in close touch with allies and partners to coordinate the evacuation of their own citizens, and their priority personnel, as well as to respond to the ongoing political and security situation in afghanistan. the president has spoken twice
now with the british prime minister. he has spoken with the german chancellor, the french president, the spanish president, the italian prime minister, the emir of qatar and the crown prince of the uae. tomorrow we will participate in a g7 leaders meeting in afghanistan to ensure the world leading democracies are aligned and united on the way forward. we are working with partners to address the acute humanitarian needs of the afghan people. and we will remain persistently vigilant against the terrorist threats. in afghanistan and in all to pull other theaters. we have proven in other places that we can suppress terrorism without a permanent military presence on the ground, and we will do the same in afghanistan. finally, we are deeply moved by the outpouring of support from so many americans, so many of them veterans, to help the afghan evacuees, those afghans at russ, our afghan allies settle in the united states.
this is the best of the american spirit and we look forward to working with them in the days, weeks and months ahead and i'm happy to take your questions. >> a taliban spokesman has said that it would be a redline for the u.s. to keep troops in afghanistan past the august 31 deadline. are you engaged in talks with the taliban over extending that deadline, and how are the talks going? >> we are in talks with the taliban on a daily basis through the political and security channels. i won't get into the details of those discussions there to protect those discussions, which are covering a wide range of issues. we are consulting closely with allies and partners on the issue of the evacuation and its progress. the president just got off the phone with the ritter's prime minister. we are taking this day by they -- day by day and believe we are taking in norma's progress. one week ago, i don't think almost anyone in this briefing room would have thought we would be standing here with 37,000
people already evacuated from the country. we believe we are making progress, we will keep making progress in the president will make his decision about the size and scope. >> has the president decided whether he will need more time beyond august 31 to get all u.s. personnel and afghan people out of the country? >> the president believes we are making substantial progress. dozens of flights, thousands now, tens of thousands of people evacuated from the country. we believe today will be an efficient and effective day. tomorrow in the next day as well. he is taking this day by day and will make the determinations as we go. >> the administration thinks that we need the agreement to extend beyond august 31. >> as i said, we are engaging with the taliban, consulting with the taliban on every aspect of what's happening in kabul. what's happening at the airport,
on how we need to ensure that there is a facilitated passage to the airport for american citizens. third country nationals and so forth who will continue those conversations with them, ultimately it will be the president's decision how this proceeds, no one else's. >> you said we have the wherewithal to get americans out, but forgive me if i did not get the quote right, you did not say we have the ability to get them out. you did not set a timeframe by august 31. >> as i said before and as the president said before, we believe that we have time between now and the 31st to get out any american who wants to get out. >> i wanted to ask, you said that you could not leave afghanistan without these chaotic scenes. my question is, why did the
administration prepare the american public and say to the american public, there are going to be very chaotic scenes, it is going to be rough. there will be a rough couple of weeks. instead of having the president saying, don't worry, we won't be evacuating ambassadors or diplomats from the roof of the embassy, don't worry about that. why, if you knew there would be chaos, the administration not prepare the american public for the chaos? >> i'm glad you asked this question and i want to address the nature of an evacuation in a circumstance like this and then i will come to your specific point on messaging. whether kabul fell in august, september, december or next august, the fact is, whenever it fell, there were going to be american citizens in kabul who needed to be evacuated. there were going to be third country nationals in kabul who were going to have to be evacuated. there were going to be afghans
still in the fight who had supported the u.s. war effort over the last 20 years we were going to have to be evacuated. an evacuation operation in a dangerous situation was going to have to happen at some point. when you run an operation like that, when you are trying to position assets to go in and secure and airfield in a city that has been taken by opposing forces, the government that has collapsed, your contingency plan is going to hit head on with reality, and there will be complexities, challenges and difficulties, and you make adjustments, and you ultimately get an operation going that is moving out thousands, if not, tens of thousands of people daily. that is what we have accomplished over the course of the week. it has not been without its immense difficulties, and we are very mindful of those difficulties. , but that is how we have watched the last week unfold. why the president did not walk
out and say, let me explain to you exactly what is going to unfold in afghanistan, all along the president has been clear that the united states was not going to enter a third decade of american military deployment in the middle of another country civil war. and in his speech in april and in his speech in july and in comments he has made since then, he has made clear that that could mean difficult times in afghanistan. we have been clear eyed about this from the start. but what we were not prepared to do, with the president was not prepared to do was to say that for that reason, we need to keep american men and women fighting and dying in this civil war. >> whether it's august 30 forced or -- 31st or after, it's clear that all the eligible afghans that worked for u.s. forces or the u.s. government are not going to be able to get out. for those watching, what do you say to them? should they try to get to a third country on their own?
should they wait for some diplomatic solutions? >> first, we are in touch with the afghans at risk eligible for special immigrant visas and other categories of support from the u.s. government. we are trying to get as many as them to the airport as quickly as possible to get them on flights home. as i said yesterday in comments on the sunday shows, we will continue to get afghans at risk out of the country, even after u.s. military forces have left. >> the president has criticized his predecessor, he has good sized the afghan army and afghan government. one group he has -- we has not criticized is the taliban. why is that? and why does the president continue to say that the taliban is facing an existential question how it will be viewed on the world stage. they are going door to door destroying families of the translators. don't they already know who they are?
>> first, the president has been very clear about his views of the taliban. you have asked him repeatedly, do you trust these guys, and he has told you repeatedly, no i do not. none of us do. because we have seen the horrific images from the last time we were in power. because we have seen the way they have conducted this war. because we have seen the fact that they have been responsible for the deaths of american men and women through deck -- through two decades of war, the war the president was not continued -- prepared to continue for another decade. we have no illusions about the taliban. from our perspective, but what we need to do is focus on our task. our task is to get thousands and thousands of people out of the country as safety and efficiently as possible. that is what we are doing. >> friday, the president said that we got rid of al qaeda in afghanistan. sunday, the secretary of state
said, there is al qaeda in afghanistan. so, are you presenting the president with the full picture, or is he just missed aligned with the intelligence when he makes the public statements? >> he was referring to al qaeda's capability to attack the united states. which the intelligence community tells us it's not present in afghanistan. today it is now present. what is present in afghanistan to our forces at the airport is a serious threat from isis k, which we are trying to deal with. and of course there is a possibility that al qaeda could reconstitute a plot in afghanistan. that's why you heard from the president repeatedly about the need for a capability that will allow the united states, working with partners to continue to suppress the terrorism threat in afghanistan. from al qaeda, isis k or anyone else. just as we work to suppress the terrorism threat from al qaeda and isis in yemen, syria,
somalia and many other countries. and let me just finish by saying, the president has been clear that from his perspective, american counterterrorism capabilities have evolved to the point where we can suppress that terrorism threat -- we can't suppress that terrorism threat without keeping thousands of troops on the ground in the country. we have proven that in other countries, and that's what we intend to do in afghanistan. the president has spoken about the terrorism issue in afghanistan on multiple occasions. >> do you regret not moving quicker to evacuate more afghans to the united states? >> i'm very glad you asked that question. this refers to the special immigrant visa program. this special immigrant visa program has been around for a significant number of years and was never designed as conceived by congress, for a mass evacuation circumstance. your individual applicant for a special immigrant visa activity took, under the law, the way it was applied by the various agencies in the u.s. government
through multiple administrations, 18 to 24 months per person to get through the various vetting and other requirements to
get their visas. sometimes longer, sometimes multiple years. when we took office in january, the trump administration had not processed a single special immigrant visa since march of 2020, and nearly a year. so what we did when we came in was move as rapidly as possible to process as many applications as possible, as fast as possible, trimming months and months off of that process. working with congress to get them to actually change the law over the summer to relax the requirements so we can move people forward. even then we put in place and evacuation operation using charter aircraft starting in july to begin moving sib's and their families out. as i said the last time i was at this podium, we did contemplate a big move of afghans and others in the july, early august timeframe.
we made the determination not to do so because, not just afghan government officials, but supporters of afghanistan, including many people who want to come out now, said that doing so would trigger a complete crisis of confidence in the government. as it turns out, not taking out -- not doing that evacuation did not exactly say the afghan government. that was a considered judgment at the time. once we face the circumstance in which we needed to move rapidly to secure the airfield to get those folks out, that's precisely what we did in precisely what we are doing now. >> does the president intend to fire the resignation and administration officials who handled this? >> it's your job to ask those kinds of questions. it's my job to keep doing what we are doing, which is to get as many people out as possible. >> how do you get american and afghan allies out of the country
by august 31? what happens if they said we are not willing to extend, is the u.s. going to abide by the deadlines? >> i won't take this on as a hypothetical question. what i will say is that we are in touch with the taliban daily, we are in touch with our allies and partners, we are reviewing our progress in this particular operation, which we feel has been substantial over the past few days, and the president will make his own determination. >> is there a number percentagewise, the number of evacuees that are american citizens thus far, and i know you want to get into operational details, but the president made clear that the area around the airport has had an expansion in the safe zone. does that mean american troops are operating outside the perimeter of the airport? >> american troops are not operating outside of the perimeter. it has happened is, through these military channels of communication with the taliban,
they have extended the perimeter from the point of view of their checkpoints to allow americans through, to allow third country nationals through, to allow sib holders through. it's not happening right at the gate, but rather a substantial distance away from the gate. i'm not going to get into the precise details of those distances, but that is what he was referring to with respect to the extension of the perimeter. on the question of relative ratios, the significant majority of those coming out our afghan evacuees. because the total number of americans in the country was a relatively limited number of folks. so in terms of percentages of the 37,000, the substantial bulk of them are afghan evacuees, but there have been a few thousand americans who have already been evacuated and we are working on the rest now. >> do you have anything more specific, people traveling with passports, documentation?
>> the reason we cannot give you a precise number is because not every american who comes into afghanistan goes and puts themselves in a database of u.s. embassy. they don't have to. many choose not to. it's our responsibility to put out the call to every means we know how. try to work through to get in contact with them and ultimately build as credible a list as we can of folks holding those passports. >> what about americans waiting to get out, how many americans have you taken? >> we can get you the precise number on that. >> did you mean kabul or the entire country? second, one of the things that you bragged about over the weekend was the repeatedly with which you guys negotiated over the last several days with third countries, the ability to bring flights into -- to expand the
number of places throughout europe and the middle east. why was that not done months ago ? you yourself just said new the chaos was going to erect at some point. why would -- erupt at some point. why would you not do it before? >> i will take your second question first. i have to tell you i bristle at saying, we bragged. i have not bragged about anything. i'm giving you the good and the bad and that means a lot to me. secondly, it is certainly the case that we have had to add countries and add capacity in places. we did spend months negotiating transit centers to set up as part of our contingency plan in both the gulf and in europe. as it turns out, we have been able to produce a through point that exceeded our optimistic expectations in terms of the number of folks who could get out. the fact is, we are actually over performing in terms of the
evacuation numbers, therefore, we need a higher ceiling in terms of the number of beds and other facilities and transit centers. so we are adding capacity. you can't go from a standing start. you can't go from zero to yes and 24 hours. this is something that we have prepared, pre-position, engaged with allies and partners on over the course of time. so that when we pick up the phone and call they don't say, what are you talking about. they know what we are talking about. they know it's gone from a 5000 cap to 10,000 cap, they adjust and that reflects the work of painstaking diplomacy over the course of many months. >> the question about afghanistan allies. >> we are trying to get americans out wherever they may be in afghanistan. >> how many sib's are being brought to the united states? is there a goal for how many you intend to bring to the united states? was there long term plan?
and what else is this administration doing to expedite the process of getting sibs out of afghanistan? >> we are not putting a precise number on it, the program does not put a precise number on it. there is not a cap or target. we are working to get as many out as we possibly can. if you think about the fact that there has been 20 years of conflict in afghanistan, the sheer number of afghans who have in one way or another word for the united states, won't put a precise number on it or an estimate on it, i will only put a principal. the principle is, we are working to get out as many afghan allies as possible. >> prime minister johnson will ask president biden to extend the deadline. did he make that in the call and what would he tell them even if he does make that? >> i won't read out the precise calls. the president continues to consult with the prime minister and other allies on how the
evacuation should proceed from here and he will make the decision. >> you have no idea what you will say when prime minister does that? that is what's reporting right now. >> i am not going to preview what the president will say in the g7 meeting tomorrow. at the moment, he's focused on private conversations with foreign leaders. we will have the opportunity to have that engagement and that private session with the g7 leaders. and i'm not going to read out what our sensitive conversations among leaders between the united states are. >> how is this administration determining what americans are still left and which ones are not? there are some people that did not register with the embassy. how has the ministration tried to determine who is there and who is not? >> sure. what we have done is we have put out through multiple different means, telephones, emails, texts
, and publicly on radio, online, through every possible broadcast and targeted means possible to americans who may potentially be in afghanistan. please respond, please contact us, please tell us your location and if you would like to leave. please tell us how many are with you. and then we have done a series of calls through all of the folks who responded to them have a refined conversation with each of them. we have tried to take that and match it up against a plan to, as i said before, put americans into groups to officially transfer them onto the airfield. but, of course, when you are trying to determine a precise -- >> you can find programming online at c-span.org. we will bring this now to bring you live gavel-to-gavel coverage of the house, which just came back into session. today.