US ‘has capacity to evacuate 300 Americans remaining in Afghanistan’.
The US has the capacity to evacuate approximately 300 US citizens remaining in Afghanistan who want to leave before Joe Biden’s Tuesday deadline, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.
He also said the administration’s plan is not to have “an ongoing embassy presence” after the final US troop withdrawal.
With the US president warning that another terrorist attack is “highly likely” after last week’s suicide bombing at Kabul airport, Mr Sullivan said the US has shown in other countries that it is capable of “suppressing the terrorism threat… without a large permanent presence on the ground. And we will do that in Afghanistan as well as we go forward”.
Mr Biden has pledged to keep up air strikes against the Islamic extremist group whose airport attack killed scores of Afghans and 13 American service members.
The Pentagon said a US drone mission in eastern Afghanistan killed two members of the so-called Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate early on Saturday in retaliation for the airport bombing, and Mr Biden said the extremists can expect more.
“This strike was not the last,” he said in a statement. “We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay.”
The evacuation of Americans proceeded as tensions rose over the prospect of another IS attack. The State Department issued a new security alert early on Sunday instructing people to leave the airport area immediately “due to a specific, credible threat”.
Mr Sullivan said that for those US citizens seeking to leave Afghanistan by Mr Biden’s deadline, “we have the capacity to have 300 Americans, which is roughly the number we think are remaining, come to the airport and get on planes in the time that is remaining”.
He added: “We moved out more than that number just yesterday. So from our point of view, there is an opportunity right now for American citizens to come, to be admitted to the airport and to be evacuated safely and effectively.”
He also pledged the US “will make sure there is safe passage for any American citizen, any legal permanent resident” after Tuesday, as well as for “those Afghans who helped us”.
But untold numbers of vulnerable Afghans, fearful of a return to the brutality of pre-2001 Taliban rule, are likely to be left behind.
There also are roughly 280 others who have said they are Americans but have not told the State Department of their plans to leave the country, or who have said they plan to remain.
Mr Sullivan said the US would continue strikes against IS and consider “other operations to go after these guys, to get them and to take them off the battlefield”.
He added: “We will continue to bring the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan to make sure they do not represent a threat to the United States.”
The administration’s plan “is not to have an ongoing embassy presence in Afghanistan”, Mr Sullivan said. “But we will have means and mechanisms of having diplomats on the ground there, be able to continue to process out these applicants, be able to facilitate the passage of other people who want to leave Afghanistan.”