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Biden Pledges To Get Americans And Afghan Allies Out Of Afghanistan

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Biden made new commitments today as the evacuations from Kabul continue to face hurdles.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, let me be clear. Any American that wants to come home, we will get you home.

CHANG: Biden also said that this commitment extends to Afghan civilians who helped the U.S. and are now facing deadly reprisals from the Taliban. NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow was there for the president's speech and joins us now. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Afternoon, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right, so this was really the first time the president spoke extensively about the evacuation operation in Afghanistan. Did he shed any new light on how it's going?

DETROW: Yeah, he said despite a pause of a few hours this morning, the number of people being evacuated keeps going up. The White House said this afternoon that 13,000 people have now been flown out by the military in the past week. But at one point, the president indicated that any American who wants to get to the airport is able to right now. And I pressed him on that when I asked a question. I asked how that statement lines up with the chaos and the violence being documented and reported outside the airport. President Biden said there is an agreement with the Taliban to allow Americans with passports through, but he did concede this.

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BIDEN: It is a process to try to figure out how we deal with the mad rush of non-Americans, those who didn't help, those who are not on the priority list, just any Afghan, any Afghan to be able to get out of the country.

DETROW: And, of course, of the people the president is trying to get out of the country, there's people who can't make it to Kabul to begin with. So this is an ongoing challenge.

CHANG: Right. Well, earlier this week, he had said that the U.S. might keep troops past the August 31 deadline he had originally set if there were still Americans in the country. Where does all of that stand now?

DETROW: He didn't firmly commit to that, but he did leave open the possibility that this operation will extend beyond August 31. Biden was also much more committed to evacuating Afghans who worked with the U.S. military and are in danger. Earlier this week, he almost framed that as something he'd like to do but that it was a far lower concern for him than evacuating Americans. And today he reiterated the U.S. is committed to getting these Afghans out, but again, the visa process has been frustratingly slow and has been for months and months. And it's the same point over and over again - there are real questions about how these people can, first of all, get to Kabul and then, second of all, get into the airport, given the scenes there and the Taliban presence there.

CHANG: Exactly. Well, you know, all week, Scott, we've seen the White House really struggle to get their hands around this crisis. Do you have a better sense today from the president about how he's approaching this and how he thinks it's going?

DETROW: Yeah, I was really struck by the difference between Monday and today. Earlier this week, in his speech and in that interview with ABC News, he was defensive - almost flip, really - about the chaos on the ground, saying this sort of scene would have happened no matter what and that the decision to leave was the right one. And Biden kept saying, this was no longer worth American boots on the ground, especially if Afghanistan's government and military was not fighting on its own.

So that's much different than today. He comes into the East Room flanked by top national security officials, and he delivered this message about managing a serious crisis. Biden is notably still not conceding any mistakes in getting to this point, but he is really trying to own the response to it at this point and emphasizing that the full resources of the military are now involved. There's also the fact that from the U.S. perspective, things are going much better now than they were at the beginning of the week. Thousands of troops are on the ground, planes are being filled and taking off, and the number of people being evacuated is quickly rising.

CHANG: That is NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow. Thank you, Scott.

DETROW: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.