Deputy NSA Finer: ‘Severe Consequences’ If Taliban Interferes With Evacuations

The Biden administration has been “quite clear” to the Taliban that there will be “severe consequences” if it interferes with efforts to remove Americans and others from Afghanistan, and “we have the military forces in place to be able to execute that,” White House Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer insisted Monday. 

“We’re not seeing them interfering at this time with people’s ability to get to the airport, and it is going to be very important that that continues going forward,” Finer said on CNN’s “New Day.”

However, he said the United States is “not in the position now and will not be in a position going forward” to provide security throughout Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul, which fell Sunday to the Taliban.

“We are focused on the airport,” said Finer. “We are focused on these priority populations and executing the evacuations that the president has ordered.”

The administration said Sunday that it was taking steps to secure Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport as it looked to evacuate thousands of American citizens, locally employed staff, and their families. American-backed President Ashraf Ghani has fled the country and the Taliban plans to declare a new “Islamic Emirate” after having seized the presidential palace. 

Monday, the airport was chaotic when thousands rushed onto the tarmac in hopes of fleeing Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. Reuters reported at least five people have been killed while people tried to force their way onto airplanes. 

All evacuation flights were temporarily halted as gunfire was heard at the airport, according to CBS News. U.S. troops reportedly fired into the air in an effort to control the crowd, however the Taliban claimed the troops had opened fire in civilians.

“The images that we’re seeing out of Kabul international airport this morning are very serious,” said Finer. “We’re going to be focused throughout the course of the day and beyond on ensuring that that airport is safe and secure.”

He added that the people of Afghanistan are in danger and are “looking for a way out or a refuge,” and are “caught in a very dangerous situation.”

President Joe Biden has ordered the evacuation of thousands of vulnerable Afghans, “both people who have applied for special immigrant visas to the United States, as well as others who are vulnerable, activists, women, judges, people who are potentially going to be in the crosshairs going forward,” Finer continued.

Those people will be flown out, but “the prerequisite of that is getting the airport back safe and secure,” said Finer. “That will be the main line of effort. These flights have already brought (back) 2,000 people who worked alongside the United States and their family members to the United States in the last couple of weeks.”

The United States, meanwhile, “has the forces that are necessary to bring stability and security to that airport,” said Finer. “I think they have gone a great distance towards doing that since some of those images have aired. There will be more forces flowing in throughout the course of today and tomorrow and we believe we have what’s necessary to be able to enable these flights to continue as soon as possible that is the most important thing.”

Biden has come under criticism for remaining at Camp David and not addressing the American people after the fall of Kabul, but Finer insisted that the president “has been deeply engaged in all of the policy conversations and in this situation as it evolves in realtime. We have met with the president and his entire national security team daily, often multiple times a day. That will continue again today. The president has spoken to this issue a number of times in recent weeks.”

Meanwhile, there are far more people who must be evacuated from Afghanistan than have shown up at the airport, said Finer.

“People who worked alongside the United States’ mission the last two decades, many of whom are applying for a special program visa created by Congress, face additional risks because they supported our mission,” said Finer. “We’ve started to begin the process of evacuating local staff of our mission in Afghanistan, our embassy, and our Afghans, who are particularly vulnerable because of their circumstances.”

He said the flights are being timed and that people should come to the airport when their flights are called, and that it’s “not just a free-for-all.”

“It can’t, for security reasons, work that way,” said Finer. “When people’s flights are timed we’re asking them to show up at the airport to get on those flights. We have messaged quite clearly both to applicants and people who might be eligible for these flights as well as publicly that case. This will be establishing clear security at the airport and that is the main focus of the effort today. We believe we have the troops in place, personnel in place to be able to execute that. That’s moving forward in real-time and has improved since some of these images aired.”

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