US focused on evacuation in Afghanistan, grateful to partners like Singapore: US V-P Kamala Harris

Ms Kamala Harris, Vice-President of the United States, speaking at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy event at Gardens by the Bay on Aug 24, 2021. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - The United States is "laser focused" on evacuating its citizens, as well as international partners and those who have helped it, from Afghanistan, visiting US Vice-President Kamala Harris said on Tuesday (Aug 24).

US President Joe Biden had made the "courageous and right decision" to end the war in Afghanistan because the US had achieved what it went there to do, she added.

Ms Harris, who is in Singapore on an official visit, addressed the issue of Afghanistan at the start of her speech on US policy and partnerships in the region.

"We were at war in Afghanistan for 20 long years. Many members of our military gave their lives in Afghanistan, as did many from our allies and partners," she said.

"The United States has been focused on safely evacuating American citizens, international partners, Afghans who worked side by side with us, and other Afghans at risk."

She also thanked American soldiers and international partners involved in the ongoing evacuation operation, which comes as the Taleban regained control of much of the country.

"We are extremely grateful to our men and women in uniform and embassy staff who are on the ground, as we speak, making this historic airlift happen in an incredibly difficult and dangerous environment."

Ms Harris' speech at Gardens by the Bay was hosted by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and the US Embassy in Singapore.

The Vice-President, who leaves for Vietnam on Tuesday, also expressed America's gratitude to its international partners - including Singapore - for their help with the evacuation.

On Monday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that Singapore would be offering the Republic of Singapore Air Force's A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport to help with airlifting efforts.

Thousands of people have been trying to get into Kabul's international airport in the hope of getting on an evacuation flight, after the Afghan capital fell to the Taleban on Aug 15. These included Afghans who had helped the US and its allies over the past two decades by working as translators for military operations.

Since then, the Taleban has sought to get the situation under control by firing guns into the air and using batons to force people to form queues outside the airport.

After her speech, senior members of Ms Harris' delegation took part in a panel discussion moderated by Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee, who asked them if the US would have a harder time persuading other nations to work together with it, given the "unfortunate" images coming out of Afghanistan.

Responding, Mr Kin Moy, senior bureau official for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the Department of State, pointed out that the US is an Indo-Pacific nation and is already investing in the region more than any other country in the world.

"If you look at the foreign domestic investment, if you look at how many jobs we help create in the region, I think that the track record is actually very, very good," he said, noting that it shows the US is committed to the region.

America's presence in South-east Asia has created an opportunity for all countries here to thrive, Mr Moy said, adding that it is looking to create even more opportunities in the region.

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