Blinken says U.S. will "do whatever it takes" to evacuate Americans from Kabul

Blinken says U.S. will "do whatever it takes" to evacuate Americans from Kabul

By Melissa Quinn

/ CBS News

Washington — Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged Sunday that the U.S. will do "whatever it takes" to get all Americans who want to leave Afghanistan out of Kabul as the administration works to contain the fallout from the Taliban's takeover of the country.

In an interview with "Face the Nation," Blinken said the Biden administration has found the "safest and most effective way" to get U.S. citizens to the main airport in Kabul for their evacuation out of Afghanistan is by making direct contact with them and guiding them on the best way to the airport and what to do when they arrive.

The "president, secretary of defense have been clear that we will do whatever it takes to get Americans home and out of harm's way," he said on "Face the Nation."

Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan a week ago, the Biden administration has been scrambling to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies safely out of the country through its main airport in Kabul. While the U.S. military controls the airport, there have been scenes of deadly chaos outside its gates, where scores of people desperate to flee Afghanistan have crowded with hopes of getting out of the country.

On Saturday, the U.S. embassy in the capital urged U.S. citizens to "avoid traveling to the airport" unless they've received individual instructions from the U.S. government to do so, due to ongoing security threats.

Blinken said the U.S. is moving people out of the Kabul airport "as quickly as we can" to alleviate crowding and allow more people in. The administration is also speaking directly with American citizens and others to give them instructions on when and where to go, he said.

"We've seen these wrenching scenes of people crowded at the gates — people hurt, people killed," he said. "It's an incredibly volatile situation and we're very focused on that."

In a 24-hour period beginning early Saturday, roughly 7,800 people have been evacuated on military and commercial aircraft, and a total of 25,100 people have been relocated from Afghanistan since August 14, according to a U.S. defense official.

To bolster relocation efforts, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday authorized 18 commercial planes from six U.S. airlines to carry evacuees from locations outside of Afghanistan. Blinken said the U.S. has agreements with more than 24 countries on four continents to help serve as transit points for those leaving Afghanistan, where they will be sent for further processing before heading to their final destination.

"We need more planes in the mix to do that piece of it, to move them from these initial points of landing onto the places that they'll ultimately resettle," Blinken said.

President Biden, who has been roundly criticized for his handling of the U.S. drawdown and chaotic evacuation of Americans and Afghans who helped American troops during the 20-year war, has said the withdrawal would be completed by August 31. But in the wake of the Taliban's swift takeover, he and top administration officials have not said whether U.S. forces would remain in Afghanistan after the end of the month, instead stressing the focus is on evacuating as many people as possible, and as fast as possible, each day.

"Our intense focus is making sure that we get our fellow Americans out if they want to leave," Blinken said.

With the Taliban now in control of Afghanistan, 60% of Americans believe the terrorism threat to the U.S. will increase, according to a new CBS News poll published Sunday. But Blinken said the Biden administration is "putting in place measures over the horizon" to detect and act on threats from al Qaeda if it reconstitutes in Afghanistan.

"Since 9/11, our capacity to deal with terrorism effectively in places where we don't have boots on the ground has grown immensely," the secretary of state said. "And we now are able to do things that we couldn't do 20 years ago. If this threat reemerges in Afghanistan, we'll deal with it."