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Congressman Crow On Pushing President Biden To Evacuate Afghan Allies

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

For the first time, President Biden has allowed for some wiggle room on the August 31 deadline he set to get all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. In an exclusive interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulous, Biden said that deadline could be pushed back if the evacuation effort was ongoing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ABC NEWS BROADCAST)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We're going to try to get it done before August 31.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOUS: But if we don't, the troops will stay.

BIDEN: If we don't, we'll determine at the time who's left.

STEPHANOPOULOUS: And...

BIDEN: And if there's American citizens left, we're going to stay till we get them all out.

CHANG: We'll note he said American citizens there. Left unsaid is whether the deadline would be pushed in order to evacuate all of the Afghans who helped U.S. troops or diplomats over these last 20 years; Afghans who could be vulnerable to Taliban retribution, even though the Taliban claims they are offering a blanket amnesty. Those are the people that Democratic Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado has been urging the president to help flee the country together with a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Crow, who served in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army, spoke to cohost Mary Louise this evening before Biden's interview was released. In it, he said he wants the U.S. to stay until American citizens and Afghan partners are out.

JASON CROW: I don't think it'll take months. I certainly think it's going to take weeks. I mean, the bottom line is we have thousands of American citizens that have to make their way to the airport. And I think we're going to have to help them do that because the security situation is not such that they can make their way on their own. I think we have at least 20,000 Afghans. We know, as of last week, 21,000 Afghans that are in the SIV pipeline - that's the Special Immigrant Visa program. And the planning figure that we use is for every one of those principal applicants, there's about 3 1/2 family members. So if you multiply that number by 3.5, plus the original applicant number, that's over 80,000 Afghan SIVs. And then you add on top of that those who are eligible for the P-1 and P-2 visa program and, you know, students and other vulnerable people.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Yeah. I'm also wondering about the Afghan military, who may be in great danger for having fought the Taliban, for having been the official enemy. I'm thinking of the 600 troops who are now helping secure the Kabul airport - I mean, right now. Pentagon officials are telling us at NPR that once that mission ends, they can apply for visas, which potentially opens the door to - what? - another huge stream of potential refugees.

CROW: Well, once we're out, I mean, those folks aren't going to survive, let alone be able to apply for these visas. So the math doesn't work. You know, if the Department of Defense is saying that they can move 6- to 7,000 people out a day once the operation is at full steam but we only have less than two weeks, that math does not add up. That doesn't even get us the SIV folks, let alone the commandos, the members of the NDS, security services and all the others who stood by us for 20 years.

I may not be here having this conversation with you right now had it not been for the service of those Afghans. And we owe to them the same level of loyalty and protection and service that they provided to us over the last 20 years. It's a moral issue. It's a national security issue, and we have to make sure we're doing what's necessary to get it done.

KELLY: Is it an issue that seems to be getting traction with the White House? What are you hearing back?

CROW: Well, I'm pushing very hard. You know, I've been very clear that I agree with the president's decision to withdraw. I think it was the right one. And actually, the events of the last couple of weeks show that this was not a military fight that we could win. But I have also been very clear that I think that this needs to be done better, that it's not going well and that we need to make a commitment to do it right and use the full power and force of the U.S. military and the resources that are at our disposal to get it done the right way.

KELLY: Well, and I will note the president today has largely reiterated his defense of the withdrawal and said he doesn't see a way that this could've been done without some chaos, that the chaos was - some chaos was inevitable.

Let me turn you here in the moments that we have left - and this is a question since you sit on the intelligence committee and since there's growing controversy over the intelligence. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said today he never saw an intelligence report predicting Afghanistan could collapse within days, that the range of scenarios he was seeing ranged from weeks to months to years after a U.S. pullout. How about you? Was there intelligence predicting such a rapid collapse?

CROW: Well, I can't go into specific intelligence as a member of the committee, but I do have very substantial concerns over a couple of things. No. 1, intelligence blind spots - and there's a difference between an intelligence failure and an intelligence blind spot, what we didn't know. And there are a number of things that we knew we didn't know, which I'm concerned about. After 20 years, hundreds of billions of dollars poured into the Afghan military, how did we not know certain elementary things, like the will of the Afghan soldier to fight, whether or not they were getting paid, whether or not they would dissolve within a matter of days. And then secondarily, some of the assessments about leadership and whether or not that would collapse as fast as it did - I do have some very real concerns about potential intelligence problems and failings, but there's also another...

KELLY: So intelligence blind spots - it sounds like you're willing to go there - if not quite an intelligence failure.

CROW: That's right. I think that's where we should go - but also operational concerns and policy concerns. No one thing led to this.

KELLY: Democratic Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado, thank you for your time.

CROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.