Stranded in the White House

The Biden administration wants to portray the Afghan disaster in the best light. But it cannot do that by denying that some Americans — we don’t know how many — are currently stranded in Afghanistan.


Taliban fighters stand guard at a checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 25, 2021.

AP Photos

The Biden administration says it does not know how many U.S. citizens are in Afghanistan hoping to leave in the face of the Taliban takeover.

For days, Pentagon officials said they had no ability to venture outside the Kabul airport to find those Americans and bring them to safety. Now the military says it is doing just that.

“The Pentagon is ramping up evacuations from Kabul’s airport by deploying American helicopters and troops into select spots in Kabul to extract stranded American citizens and Afghan allies,” The New York Times reports.

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Defense Department spokesman John Kirby would not confirm that any such rescue missions are being conducted. But he said on Monday: “I would just say that commanders on the ground have the authority to conduct local missions as they deem appropriate to the need.”

Here’s the thing: The Biden administration will not admit that there are Americans “stranded” in Afghanistan. In a recent surreal exchange in the White House briefing room, spokeswoman Jen Psaki pushed back against Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy, who asked about criticism of President Biden’s decision to withdraw American troops “before getting these Americans who are now stranded.”

“First of all, I think it’s irresponsible to say Americans are stranded,” Psaki responded. “They are not. We are committed to bringing Americans, who want to come home, home.”

Doocy then asked if the official White House position was that “There are no Americans stranded.”

“I’m just calling you out for saying that we are stranding Americans in Afghanistan,” Psaki said, “when we have been very clear that we are not leaving Americans who want to return home. We are going to bring them home.”

Just for the record: There is some number, likely thousands, of Americans who want to get out of Afghanistan but who cannot safely travel through the country, much less get through Taliban lines around the Kabul airport. They are stranded. Hundreds of news reports in the past week have made reference to that simple fact.

Three examples, in addition to the New York Times’ story quoted above: Yesterday, The Washington Post reported that “The Pentagon said U.S. troops had made multiple sorties beyond the airport to reach stranded Americans.” Last week, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer said: “Thousands of Americans remain stranded in [Afghanistan] right now.” And at the same time, CBS News reported, “Thousands of Americans are stranded.”

At the Pentagon on Saturday, a reporter asked Kirby whether helicopter missions “may be a way that other Americans who are still stranded might be able to get to the airport.” Kirby did not object to the use of “stranded.” Instead, he simply said he would not discuss future operations.

But now, the White House spokeswoman insists all that is wrong. No Americans are “stranded.”

The Biden administration obviously wants to portray the Afghan disaster in the best light, although it is hard to see what that best light is. But it cannot do that by denying the existence of what is in front of everyone’s face, which is that some Americans — we don’t know how many — are currently stranded in Afghanistan. If they are not, in fact, stranded, why do they need to be rescued?

Even President Joe Biden himself conceded the need for rescue missions. Last week, in one of the few times he has taken questions on the Afghanistan issue, he was asked, “Are you considering rescue operations to recover Americans and Afghan allies stuck behind Taliban checkpoints?”

“Yes,” the president answered. “We’re considering every opportunity and every means by which we can get folks to the airport.”

So a reminder of the reality that even the president at least indirectly acknowledges: U.S. citizens are stranded in Afghanistan. And the U.S. government needs to rescue them, not to deny that they are stranded at all.

Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.

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