▶ Watch Video: Taliban looks to win over Afghans as U.S. military flights leave Kabul As thousands attempt to flee Afghanistan following the rapid Taliban takeover, former President George W. Bush says the United States has the responsibility and resources to help refugees and should “secure safe passage for them now, without bureaucratic delay.” The Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan as the U.S. withdrew its forces from the 20-year U.S.-led war, which began during Mr. Bush’s first term. Taliban fighters took control of the presidential palace on Sunday, and on Monday huge crowds of civilians were seen desperately clamoring to escape the capital, flooding its airport. “Laura and I have been watching the tragic events unfolding in Afghanistan with deep sadness,” Mr. Bush said in a statement. “Our hearts are heavy for both the Afghan people who have suffered so much and for the Americans and NATO allies who have sacrificed so much.” The former president said “the Afghans now at the greatest risk are the same ones who have been on the forefront of progress inside their nation.” Mr. Bush said the U.S. government “has the legal authority to cut the red tape for refugees” in order to help during “urgent humanitarian crises.” He said the U.S. has “the responsibility and the resources to secure safe passage for them now, without bureaucratic delay.” In July, the Biden administration announced “Operation Allies Refuge” to support relocation flights for Afghans and their families who helped the U.S. government and are applying for Special Immigrant Visas. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday that 22,000 at-risk Afghans will make their way to the U.S. Other countries and U.N. humanitarian agencies are also working to help Afghan civilians. Earlier this month, Germany and the Netherlands suspended any deportations of migrants from Afghanistan due to the threat posed by the Taliban. It was under Mr. Bush’s leadership that the U.S. first launched the war in Afghanistan in 2001 following the 9/11 terrorists attacks. The Taliban, which had sheltered al Qaeda terrorist leaders, was driven from power but continued a long guerrilla-stye war to regain ground. During the Taliban’s earlier reign, from 1992 to 2001, women were kept under the control of male family members and not allowed to work, and girls were forced out of school. Many Afghans now fear a return to extremist rule. The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan comes after the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban in 2020 to bring the U.S. military mission to an end. President Biden oversaw the drawdown of U.S. troops this year, a move he stood by on Monday despite the Taliban’s rapid resurgence and the chaos of the evacuation effort. In his statement, Mr. Bush said he and his wife, Laura, have confidence in the military personnel who are working to help carry out the evacuations. He offered a message of thanks and support for them and all U.S. veterans who served during the 20-year war: Many of you deal with wounds of war, both visible and invisible. And some of your brothers and sisters in arms made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror. Each day, we have been humbled by your commitment and your courage. You took out a brutal enemy and denied Al Qaeda a safe haven while building schools, sending supplies, and providing medical care. You kept America safe from further terror attacks, provided two decades of security and opportunity for millions, and made America proud. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts and will always honor your contributions.