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President Biden is once again scheduled to head home to Delaware Saturday, as thousands of Americans and Afghan allies remain stranded in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover last weekend.
The White House announced that Biden would leave for Wilmington around midday following a meeting with his national security team to get updated on the situation. Vice President Kamala Harris, who was traveling to Southeast Asia, is expected to attend virtually.
As of late Friday evening, Biden had no public events scheduled for Saturday or Sunday.
The president was originally set to take a long weekend with an early afternoon departure from the White House on Friday. But the White House said he changed his mind.
He gave an address on the status of the chaotic evacuations from Hamid Karzai International Airport outside Kabul on Friday afternoon.
Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan (Department of Defense)
Later, Biden spoke by phone to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Qatar Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani from the Executive Mansion.
Biden’s trip on Saturday would be his 19th to his home state since taking office on Jan. 20.
The president faced intense backlash for being at Camp David in Maryland last weekend as the Taliban rapidly swept through Afghanistan, taking the capital of Kabul on Sunday.
He curtailed his trip and returned to the White House to address the nation on Monday, admitting that “this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.
Biden’s weekend plans had been the subject of confusion since the Federal Aviation Administration issued an airspace restriction for Wilmington effective Thursday night. White House issued an initial schedule for Friday that included an early afternoon departure from Washington.
Then, shortly before noon Friday, the White House confirmed that Biden would remain in the nation’s capital that night following his address, but left open whether he would head to Delaware later in the weekend.
In his remarks from the East Room of the White House, Biden insisted that Taliban fighters were letting Americans pass through checkpoints on their way to the airport — a statement that was later contradicted by reporters on the ground in Kabul as well as Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who admitted on a call with lawmakers that the Islamic fundamentalists were beating American citizens who attempted to get through the checkpoints.
The president also claimed that al Qaeda was “gone” from Afghanistan, thus satisfying the mission of the U.S.-led NATO force that invaded the country in fall 2001. However, a day earlier, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby admitted that “we know that al Qaeda is a presence, as well as ISIS, in Afghanistan and we’ve talked about that for quite some time.”
Biden added Friday that 13,000 people had been flown out of Afghanistan on U.S. military aircraft since Saturday, and thousands more had been evacuated on private charter flights.
Though the president estimated earlier this week that up to 15,000 Americans remain in Afghanistan, along with up to 65,000 Afghans and families of Afghans who worked with U.S. forces during the war, administration officials have acknowledged that they do not have an exact count of how many evacuees remain.
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