In an interview on Sunday, Austin said there have been “tough encounters with [the] Taliban,” coming about two days after President Joe Biden denied that Americans were having difficulties getting to the Kabul airport.
“If you have an American passport, and if you have the right credentials, the Taliban has been allowing people to pass safely through,” Austin told ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, but he later stressed, “There’s no such thing as an absolute.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on Saturday confirmed reports that Americans have been beaten by Taliban terrorists near the airport. Video footage posted by CNN’s Clarissa Ward and ABC News showed news crews being harassed or told to leave by Taliban members in Kabul.
Biden has received criticism for making statements that appear to either be confusing or inaccurate about the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, coming weeks after he ordered U.S. troops to pull out of the country. The president and other top White House officials, including Austin, have said that the Taliban took over the country much quicker than they had anticipated.
“As we learn about those incidents … we certainly go back and engage the Taliban leadership and press home to them that our expectation is that they allow, you know, our people with the appropriate credentials to get through the checkpoints,” Austin added Sunday.
Just two days before, Biden told reporters at the White House that he was “aware of no circumstance where American citizens are—carrying an American passport—are trying to get through to the airport.” His comments, however, didn’t square up with the reports and video footage from Kabul, as well as Austin’s and Kirby’s remarks.