In an exclusive interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, President Joe Biden said the U.S. is committed to getting every American out of Afghanistan -- even if it means potentially extending the mission beyond his Aug. 31 deadline for a total withdrawal.
"We've got like 10 to 15,000 Americans in the country right now. Right? And are you committed to making sure that the troops stay until every American who wants to be out is out?" Stephanopoulos asked Biden.
"If there's American citizens left, we're gonna stay to get them all out," Biden said.
The Biden administration estimates between 10,000 and 15,000 Americans were in Afghanistan at the time when the Taliban entered Kabul last weekend and assumed control of the country after deposed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled. That does not include the 50,000-65,000 Afghan nationals awaiting special visas, who now fear retribution from the Taliban for assisting the U.S. during the 20-year war.
"Americans should understand that we're gonna try to get it done before Aug. 31," he said. "We'll determine at the time who's left."
Despite extricating roughly 700 people on their first day of operations, the Biden administration hopes to fly between 5,000 and 7,000 people a day to safety from Hamid Karzai International Airport.
"The commitment holds to get everyone out so that, in fact, we can get out and everyone who should come out. And that's the objective. That's what we're doing now. That's the path we're on. And I think we'll get there," he declared.
The president cautioned that his focus is on completing the mission by Aug. 31, but when pressed by Stephanopoulos, conceded the mission could take longer.
Biden's comments go further than statements from his Cabinet and aides. Hours before clips of the interaction were released, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters the U.S. would keep evacuating Americans “until the clock runs out.”
Biden and his staff have been criticized for the chaos that ensued earlier this week at the airport, now the only way out of Afghanistan. A handful of people died attempting to escape by clinging on to the outside of a U.S. military plane.
However, Biden defended their actions Wednesday.
"No, I don't think it could have been handled in a way that, we're gonna go back in hindsight and look — but the idea that somehow there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don't know how that happens," he insisted. "I don't know how that happened."