‘Terrorists’: Trump’s extraordinary attack
Donald Trump initially supported bringing fleeing Afghan civilians to the US. Now the former president has really changed his tune.
Former US president Donald Trump has suggested thousands of “terrorists” are among the Afghans who have been evacuated from Kabul in return for helping American forces.
According to the Pentagon, 64,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan so far, including American citizens and personnel representing NATO and other allied nations.
But the bulk of evacuees are vulnerable Afghans deemed eligible for Special Immigrant Visas, which were set up to protect people who risked their lives working with US troops, and were employed either by or on behalf of the US government.
These people are under threat from the Taliban. The militant group promised that Afghans who helped the US and other NATO forces would be “forgiven”, but it has already started to hunt them down, threatening their families should they refuse to turn themselves in.
President Joe Biden’s vow to evacuate all Afghans who assisted the US is looking shakier by the day, with just a week left until the August 31 deadline he set to withdraw all US forces.
That includes the 6000 Americans troops who are currently maintaining control of Kabul International Airport.
Today Mr Biden reportedly told other G7 leaders he’d decided to stick with the deadline, and the Pentagon said there had been “no change” to the withdrawal timeline.
Meanwhile the Taliban said it would not tolerate an extension to the deadline, adding that it would no longer allow Afghans to leave.
“They can evacuate all people, but we will not allow Afghans to leave, and we won’t extend the deadline,” said spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
“All people should be removed prior to that date. After that we do not allow them, it will not be allowed in our country, we will take a different stance.”
Mr Trump was initially supportive of bringing the Afghans to America. A week ago, on August 16, he slammed Mr Biden for failing to evacuate them before the Taliban took over the country.
“Can anyone even imagine taking out our military before evacuating civilians and others who have been good to our country and how should be allowed to seek refuge?” he asked, saying “all civilians” would have been removed if he were still president.
Mr Trump changed his tune two days later, taking umbrage at images of 640 refugees packed onto a single US C-17 aircraft.
“This plane should have been full of Americans. America first!” he said.
Today he went further.
“Biden surrendered Afghanistan to terrorists and left thousands of Americans for dead by pulling out the military before our citizens. Now we are learning that out of the 26,000 people who have been evacuated, only 4000 are Americans,” said Mr Trump.
“You can be sure the Taliban, who are now in complete control, didn’t allow the best and brightest to board these evacuation flights. Instead, we can only imagine how many thousands of terrorists have been airlifted out of Afghanistan and into neighbourhoods around the world.”
“What a terrible failure. NO VETTING. How many terrorists will Joe Biden bring to America? We don’t know!”
A few hours after Mr Trump’s statement, during an address from the White House, Mr Biden disputed the claim that “no vetting” was taking place.
“We’re conducting thorough security screening in the intermediate stops they’re making for anyone who is not a US citizen or permanent resident,” the President said.
“Anyone arriving in the US will have undergone a background check.”
The “intermediate spots” are places like Qatar and Germany, where the Afghans are being held and processed before being moved to their final destinations.
Mr Trump’s change of stance followed some pushback against the idea of resettling thousands of Afghans from prominent Republicans, including a couple of his former senior advisers.
“If the US is not careful, all we could have to show for 20 years in Afghanistan is a failed terror state, a humanitarian catastrophe and an immigration policy that has brought the threat of jihadism inside our shores,” said former White House adviser Stephen Miller.
“Raise your hand if you want this plane landing in your town?” asked 2020 Trump campaign adviser Steve Cortes, referring to the same C-17 plane as his former boss.
Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy, got a lot of attention yesterday by accusing people of caring more about “bringing 30,000 unvetted Afghan refugees into our country than getting our own people out safely”.
“Yes, let’s help the Afghans who helped us, but let’s ensure that we’re properly vetting them so we don’t get a bunch of people who believe they should blow themselves up at a mall because somebody looked at their wife the wrong way.”
Other Republicans have advocated loudly on the Afghans’ behalf.
“We need to care for them,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told WBKO News.
“We owe it to these people who are our friends, who worked with us, to get them out safely if we can.”
“When you fought on behalf of Americans to protect our people, you’re welcome in my neighbourhood,” said Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse.
“We are pushing, pushing, pushing to get as many Afghans out of Afghanistan as we can. And we’d love to have them here in Iowa,” said Iowa Senator Joni Ernst.
She was backed up by her state’s Republican Governor Kim Reynolds.
“They are vetted,” said Ms Reynolds.
“It is completely different to what’s happening at the southern border. Completely different.”
And Congressman Adam Kinzinger, a frequent critic of his party’s right wing, publicly slammed colleagues for “fearmongering” about Afghan refugees.
“If anybody wants to go out and fearmonger and continue that darkness in your heart, and speak in it so you can win an election, then you’re either evil at heart yourself or you’re a charlatan who is only interested in winning re-election,” he said.
Mr Kinzinger, a US Air Force veteran, has blamed both Mr Biden and Mr Trump for the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The two presidents, meanwhile, have blamed each other.
The Biden administration has acknowledged a threat of terrorist activity in Kabul. On Sunday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said there was a “real” risk of an attack by ISIS on US troops.
“The threat is real. It is acute. It is persistent. And it is something that we are focused on with every tool in our arsenal,” Mr Sullivan told State of the Union.
Mr Biden issued a similar warning during a media conference the same day.
“We know that terrorists may seek to exploit the situation and target innocent Afghans or American troops,” the President said.
“We are maintaining constant vigilance.”
He said the military was “under no illusions about the threat”.
Across the Atlantic, James Heappey, Britain’s Minister for the Armed Forces, said terrorists had tried to board some of his country’s rescue flights.
“The checks that are being done are entirely necessary, because there are people trying to take advantage of this process to get into the UK to cause us harm,” Mr Heappey told BBC radio.
The Biden administration is under building pressure over its shifting promises regarding the evacuation from Afghanistan.
The Pentagon says it does not know exactly how many Americans are left in the country, with the August 31 deadline a week away.
But White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has taken issue with reporters saying Americans are “stranded” in the Taliban-controlled country.
“I think it’s irresponsible to say Americans are stranded,” she said.
“They are not. We are committed to bringing Americans who want to come home, home. We are in touch with them via phone, via text, via email, via any way that we can possibly reach Americans to get them home if they want to return.”
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