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Biden okays new plan to evacuate US citizens, at-risk Afghans as Islamic State terror threat looms

US President Biden said on Sunday that a new plan is on the anvil to move Americans stranded in Afghanistan to safety in the airport

US President Joe Biden said on Sunday that his administration was executing a new “plan to move groups of Americans stranded in Afghanistan safely to the Kabul airport compound for evacuation as the security situation in the country had deteriorated.

Biden said the security situation in Afghanistan was changing rapidly and his administration was under no illusions about the threat from Islamic State militants in Afghanistan.

The US President said he has directed the State Department to contact Americans stranded in Afghanistan by phone, email and other means so that they could be moved to the airport.

“For security reasons, I'm not going to go into detail, but I will say again today what I've said before: Any American who wants to get home will get home," the US President said at a press conference in the White House. 

Afghan allies of the West and vulnerable Afghans such as women activists and journalists would be helped too, he said.

"Let me be clear, the evacuation of thousands from Kabul is going to be hard and painful" and would have been "no matter when it began," Biden said.

"We have a long way to go and a lot could still go wrong."

However, at the same time Biden also said the Taliban had been "cooperative" about extending the airport perimeter.

As part of the new plan, the US administration has also asked six commercial airlines including United Airlines and American Airlines to help bring home people from temporary locations in the Middle-east countries to where they have been evacuated from Afghanistan in US military planes.

This reflects how dire the situation is as thousands of people are still stuck in Afghanistan waiting to fly out. The last time the US forces had sought help from commercial airlines was during the Iraq War in 2003.

Asked by a reporter whether the United States would extend an Aug. 31 deadline for evacuations, Biden replied: "Our hope is we will not have to extend but there are going to be discussions I suspect on how far along we are in the process."

A NATO official said at least 20 people had died in the past seven days in and around the airport. Some were shot and others died in stampedes as thousands of people have rushed to the airport in a desperate attempt to escape reprisals from the Taliban.

This is the third press conference that Biden has held in a week as his approval rating has fallen to a 7-month low due to the way he has handled the Afghanistan situation and the Covid pandemic. 

Biden’s arch rival and predecessor Donald Trump had issued a statement criticising his handling of the Afghanistan situation. "He ran out of Afghanistan instead of following the plan our Administration left for him – a plan that protected our people and our property, and ensured the Taliban would never dream of taking our Embassy or providing a base for new attacks against America. The withdrawal would be guided by facts on the ground," Trump said in a statement.

Biden, on his part, has said he was only following the decision to withdraw US troops that had been taken by his predecessor Donald Trump. He also blamed Trump for leaving the Taliban "in the strongest position militarily since 2001."

Also read: US sees risk of Islamic State terror strike at Kabul airport