President Biden appeared to get his math wrong during his address to the nation Tuesday on the withdrawal from Afghanistan by misstating the percentage of Americans who managed to get out of the war-torn country.
In his remarks, Biden proclaimed the chaotic evacuation of Americans, Afghan allies and third-country nationals from Hamid Karzai International Airport outside Kabul to have been an “extraordinary success” and estimated that “about 100 to 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan with some intention to leave,” the same figure quoted by Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday.
“The bottom line: 90 percent of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave,” the president said.
However, the official transcript released by the White House replaced the word “Ninety” with a strikethrough and added “Ninety-eight” in parentheses.
The administration has not yet provided an exact count of either the number of US citizens who were flown out of Afghanistan during the withdrawal operation, nor the exact number who remain.
At the Pentagon on Monday, US Central Command commander Gen. Kenneth “Frank McKenzie” told reporters that US military aircraft evacuated 6,000 Americans.
Later in the briefing, McKenzie tweaked his statement, saying: “We have evacuated more than 6,000 U.S. civilians, which we believe represents the vast majority of those who wanted to leave at this time.”
In his remarks on Tuesday, however, Biden dropped the number of evacuated US citizens, putting it at “more than 5,500.”
Similarly, while Biden and Blinken say the number of American citizens stuck in Taliban-controlled territory sits between 100 and 200, McKenzie would only say Monday that the number was in the “very low hundreds.” Before Biden spoke Tuesday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told MSNBC that while the military believes “we got the vast, vast majority of American citizens out,” the number left behind was “probably in the low hundreds … And there were also several hundred others that didn’t want to leave.”
If Biden gave the correct number of Americans evacuated, and if the White House correction of his statement gave the right percentage, the number of Americans left in Afghanistan who wish to get out is at least 110. If the evacuation numbers given by McKenzie are more accurate, the number is at least 120.
If Biden’s uncorrected statement was accurate, the number would be much higher — between 550 and 600.
“For those remaining Americans, there is no deadline,” the president said. “We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out.”
In total, the evacuation operation took 123,000 people out of Afghanistan, though the administration has not said how many of those are legal permanent US residents — or holders or applicants for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) based on their work with American-led NATO forces during the 20-year war that drove the Taliban from power before bringing them back.