QUESTION: We go now to the State Department and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Mr. Secretary, good morning to you, sir.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good morning, Major. Thanks for having me.
QUESTION: In another venue this morning, your counterpart, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, said the United States has secured or is looking into, quote/unquote, “alternate methods” to move U.S. personnel from where they are to the Karzai International Airport. What does that mean? What specifically can you tell us about that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, Major, we’ve gotten about 8,000 people out over the last 24 hours. And if you go back to July when this effort really started, we’ve gotten about 30,000 people out between our military flights and the charters that we’ve organized to get out of Kabul and out of Afghanistan. But we’ve seen these wrenching scenes of people crowded at the gates, of people hurt, people killed. It’s an incredibly volatile situation, and we’re very focused on that. And here’s what we’re doing.
First, we’re moving people out as quickly as we can from inside the airport and out of Afghanistan to alleviate crowding in the airport so we can get more people in from the outside and alleviate some of the crowding outside. But second and most important – and this goes to Jake Sullivan’s point – we’re in direct contact with American citizens and others, and we’re able to guide them the best way to get to the airport, what to do when they get there. And that is the, I think, safest and most effective way to get people there, get them in, and get them out. That’s what we’re focused on.
One other point. We’ve also now have agreements with more than two dozen countries on four continents to help service as transit points or other relocation points for people that we’re getting out of Afghanistan as we finish processing them, as we finish doing security checks. And that too I think is going to alleviate some of the bottlenecks that we’ve seen in the system to enable this to flow even more quickly and more effectively.
QUESTION: With your indulgence, Mr. Secretary, can we get precise on this? When Jake Sullivan says “alternate methods,” does that mean U.S. military is now getting outside of the perimeter of the airport and going to find Americans and bringing them safely there?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The best way, the most effective way, the way I’m focused on to get folks in, again, is to be in direct contact with them and to help guide them and to give them instructions on where to go, when to go there, and then we can bring them into the airport safely and effectively.
QUESTION: So they are still effectively on their own getting to the airport?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Again, we found that the best way to do this is to be in direct touch with them. The President and the Secretary of Defense have been clear that we will do whatever it takes to get Americans home and out of harm’s way.
QUESTION: Civilian commercial airliners are being added to the mix. Why? And what is that going to look like?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah, so there’s a process by which we can ask civilian airliners to join in this effort – not to bring people out of Kabul but to bring them from these different staging points that we have arranged with, as I said, now nearly two dozen countries around the world. Because once they’re there, they’ll spend some time there where we can finish processing them, when we can finish doing security and background checks, and then they move on to their ultimate destination. We need more planes in the mix to do that piece of it, to move them from these initial points of landing on to places that they’ll ultimately resettle.
QUESTION: How long will Karzai International Airport remain open under the security perimeter provided by the United States military?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, what we’re focused on is getting as many people out as fast as we can as effectively and as safely as we can. It’s also important to note the Taliban has said that it intends to keep the airport open. It wants a functioning airport. And it has made commitments about the safe passage of people with no deadline attached to that, and we will hold the Taliban to that commitment.
QUESTION: Do we have a deadline attached to it, Mr. Secretary? My question is essentially: Will it stay open under the auspices of the U.S. military after August 31st?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And again, our focus is making sure every single day we’re getting as many people out as we can as fast as we can. That’s our focus.
QUESTION: And under that umbrella, Mr. Secretary, of all the people – that includes U.S. citizens, quite obviously. You have said and the President has committed to our Afghan allies, interpreters and the like. Does it also – that umbrella term – extend to those in NGOs who assisted the United States throughout the 20-year campaign in Afghanistan?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah, Major, a few things. Obviously, American citizens are our priority as well as the people who worked directly for us. Allies and partners, we’re committed to them and to helping them get out. But also, to your point, Afghans more broadly at risk. We’re focused on all of that. But our intense focus is making sure that we get our fellow Americans out if they want to leave.
QUESTION: The President said that we have an agreement with the Taliban. Mr. Secretary, that implies we are negotiating with them. Does that not confer upon them already legitimacy?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: No, we have – we’ve had for a long time contact with the Taliban both at a political level in Doha going back – going back some years, as well as now on the ground in Kabul a working relationship in order to deconflict, in order to work through any problems with people getting to the airport. That’s been very important to making sure that we can actually advance our own interests in getting people out safely and effectively as possible. So that’s the nature of the relationship.
QUESTION: And someone in our audience might listen to you, Mr. Secretary, and say, “Oh, so we have to ask the Taliban for permission for American citizens to leave.” True or not true?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: They are in control of Kabul. That is the reality. That’s the reality that we have to deal with. We have one mission —
QUESTION: How comfortable are you with that, Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: My – what I am focused on, what we’re all focused on, is getting people out and making sure that we’re doing everything possible to do that. And in this case, it is, I think, a requirement of the job to be in contact with the Taliban, which controls Kabul. And look, what we’ve seen, Major, is also pretty remarkable. Go back a week. The government fell. And by the way, I was on the phone with President Karzai* the day before, when he was telling me his intent, as he put it, to fight to the death. Well, the next day he was gone. The military collapsed.
And in the space of that week, our military went in, secured the airport, got our embassy to safety at the airport from the embassy compound, began this remarkable evacuation effort. And as I said, we had about 8,000 people out just in the last 24 hours. Since going back to the end of July, it’s 30,000 people. And that’s quite extraordinary. It doesn’t just happen. A tremendous amount of planning and effort went into that, including a lot of pre-planning. And that’s what we’re focused on now, getting that mission done.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you may have heard in our poll that 60 percent of those we talked to now fear that there is more threat of terrorism in the United States because the Taliban is in control of Afghanistan. Are they wrong?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Remember, Major, we went to Afghanistan indeed for one reason, one major purpose, and that was to —
QUESTION: Right. But right now, they’re fearful. Are they wrong?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The threat of terrorism metastasized out of Afghanistan a long time ago. It is more acute in many other places around the world. And in Afghanistan itself, we were able to vastly diminish al-Qaida and any threat that it poses. If it reconstitutes, we’re putting in place measures over the horizon, as we say, to make sure we can see it and act on it. And we have terrorist threats, again, that are more acute in other places in the world where we don’t have military forces on the ground. Since 9/11 our capacity to deal with terrorism effectively in places where we don’t have boots on the ground has grown immensely, and we now are able to do things that we couldn’t do 20 years ago. If this threat re-emerges in Afghanistan, we’ll deal with it.
QUESTION: Secretary of State Antony Blinken, we thank you for your time.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks for having me.