by Katherine Doyle, White House Correspondent | August 23, 2021
Speaking to reporters in Singapore, Vice President Kamala Harris touted a “successful drawdown” of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, despite a volatile security situation for Americans and allies attempting to leave Afghanistan.
Harris, speaking alongside Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana presidential palace, the first stop on her two-country tour, conceded that a review of U.S. efforts should occur but praised the drawdown
“There’s no question there will be and should be a robust analysis of what has happened. But right now … our focus has to be on evacuating,” Harris said, pointing to U.S. citizens and Afghan allies. “And to that end, we have seen a successful drawdown of the embassy and, thankfully, without any American casualties.”
Harris said that, for now, Washington remains “singularly” focused on evacuations.
“Listen, this is a difficult mission,” she stressed.
Harris has participated in daily security briefings with the president on Afghanistan, including while traveling to Singapore on Friday to meet with Lee and President Halimah Yacob, a trip aimed at cementing ties with U.S. partners in the Indo-Pacific region and an effort to counter China’s growing economic and security influence.
Last week, the vice president stood alongside Biden as he delivered remarks on the crisis at the White House. But, until Monday, she had said little on the U.S. withdrawal as the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan.
Thousands of Americans and Afghans who aided the U.S. military mission remain in the country and are unable to reach Kabul’s international airport, where evacuation flights are underway. The security situation in Kabul has also advanced, leading U.S. officials to instruct those seeking to leave the country to hold in place.
“We hope Afghanistan does not become an epicenter for terrorism again,” Lee said, adding that Singapore had offered aircraft to aid the evacuations.
Harris will need to convince leaders in Singapore, where she will deliver a major foreign policy address on Tuesday, and Vietnam that the U.S. commitment to Southeast Asia is strong. The vice president will travel to Vietnam on Tuesday.
While Harris backed Biden’s plan to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, confirming to CNN earlier this year that she was the last person in the room before the president finalized his decision, she had previously called for conditions to be met.
During the presidential campaign, Harris wrote that her support for leaving the war was contingent on ensuring “that the country is on a path to stability, that we protect the gains that have been made for Afghan women and others, and that it never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists.”
Harris has not spoken publicly about her assessment of the security threat leading up to the U.S. withdrawal. According to the president, the speed of the Taliban takeover took his administration by surprise.
The vice president’s decision to leave the country during the crisis has come under fire and drawn comparisons to her handling of the migrant crisis along the southern U.S. border. Harris, who the president charged with stemming the flow of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, traveled to Guatemala and Mexico earlier this year to discuss the medium to long-term policies that Washington hopes will stop people from leaving their home countries. Under pressure, she later traveled to the border to meet with officials.
The security in Afghanistan has become more perilous through the week for the Americans and Afghan allies who remain there.
On Sunday, Biden’s national security adviser warned of an “acute” terrorist threat to the evacuation efforts by the Islamic State.
“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,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Monday that several thousand Americans had been evacuated as efforts ramp up. Officials estimated last week that 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. citizens were in Afghanistan.
The United States has evacuated 15,000 people over the past 24 hours, and 37,000 since Aug. 14, according to the White House.