Joe Biden rejected calls from domestic and international allies to keep troops Afghanistan to evacuation efforts after the end of the month, citing the growing threat of a terrorist attack.
In a move likely to fuel criticism that America is abandoning its Afghan partners TalibanThe US president has made clear that he intends to withdraw troops from Kabul airport by next Tuesday’s deadline.
“We’re now on our way to being done by August 31st,” Biden said at the White House on Tuesday. “The sooner we can finish, the better. Every day of operations brings additional risks to our forces.”
The president acknowledged that completing the airlift – one of the largest in history – by August 31 depends on the Taliban continuing to cooperate and allowing access to the airport without any disruption to operations.
Biden also noted that he has asked the Pentagon and the State Department for “contingency plans to adjust the schedule if this becomes necessary.”
He continued, “I am determined to ensure that we complete our mission, this mission. I am also aware of the increased risks that I have been made aware of and the need to take these risks into account.”
He said these “severe and growing” risks include potential terrorist attacks by ISIS, the Afghan branch of the Islamic State who is also a sworn enemy of the Taliban. “Every day we are on the ground is another day when we know that ISIS seeks to target the airport and attack both US and allied forces and innocent civilians.”
Biden noted that 70,700 people have been evacuated from Kabul since August 14. But his reluctance to extend the August 31 deadline has disappointed politicians at home and leaders abroad who maintain it is unrealistic.
“There is no possible way to get every American who is still in Afghanistan in the next seven days,” Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, said at a news conference.
Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican senator and former presidential candidate, added: “We have received all indications that evacuation efforts cannot be finished by August 31. Americans are still stuck in counties outside Kabul and it is unacceptable that there are still no plans to deliver These individuals to safety.”
There are particular concerns for Afghan civilians who, if left behind, face reprisals from the Taliban for their work with Western forces, missions and NGOs.
Romney added: “Leaving vulnerable Afghans – many of whom have risked their lives and the lives of their families in the service of our country – to face the wrath of the Taliban would be a disgrace and a moral failure. Evacuation efforts should only end when the mission is finished.”
The United States made an agreement with the Taliban, who overthrew the Afghan government with appalling speed, to withdraw its forces by August 31, including from the Kabul airport. But the Biden administration was unable to determine the number of Americans in Afghanistan or the number of evacuees.
On Tuesday, a hypothetical meeting of the Group of Seven – Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States – debated when to withdraw and ended with the bitter disappointment of those seeking to persuade Biden to extend the deadline.
“During the G7 meeting, many leaders expressed their concerns about this timing, August 31, and we also had the opportunity to express our opinion on that,” said Charles Michel, President of the European Council.
Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister, added after the meeting: “We will continue to act until the last possible moment. But you heard what the President of the United States said, you heard what the Taliban said.
“I think you have to understand the context in which we are doing this. We are confident we can get thousands more. But the situation at the airport has not improved at all, there are public order issues, horrific scenes of those trying to get out, which is difficult for our military also “.
The Taliban have allowed the airlift to continue without major interference so far. But at a press conference in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said his group would not accept “any extension” of the deadline.
Mujahid also said the Taliban were still allowing foreigners to leave but were preventing Afghans from reaching the airport on the grounds that it was dangerous and that their skills were needed to rebuild the country. He added: “We ask the Americans to change your policy, please, and do not encourage the Afghans to leave.”
The 2020 deal struck by then-President Donald Trump and the Taliban initially set a May deadline for the complete withdrawal of US forces, after nearly 20 years of war there. Biden extended the deadline to August 31 but failed to predict how quickly the Afghan government and military would collapse.
Both Democrats and Republicans argued that more time was needed and the Taliban should not be allowed to dictate terms.
Mickey Sherrill, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a former Navy helicopter pilot, said after a classified briefing, “Make no mistake, this evacuation is a very dangerous mission and is set to become even more dangerous in the coming days. I have requested that SecDef and SecState encourage the President most powerfully.” Possible phrases to reconsider this deadline.”
Ben Sassi, a Republican senator from Nebraska, added frankly, “Damn the deadline. The American people will not hand over our fellow citizens to the Taliban. The Americans want us to stay until we get our people out, and so do our allies.”
The Biden administration needs to cut out the Stockholm Syndrome. There is absolutely no reason to trust the Taliban – they are violently preventing the Americans and our Afghan partners from getting to the airport.”
The United States accelerated its round-the-clock airlift of evacuees from Afghanistan to the highest level as of Tuesday. The White House said about 21,600 people were safely removed from Afghanistan in the 24-hour period that ended early Tuesday, surpassing the 16,000 who left the previous day.
But the Axios website reported on Tuesday that it had obtained an email in which a US official described conditions at Al Udeid Air Base in Doha, Qatar, where many Afghan refugees reside, as a “living hell” filled with feces, urine and rats. “Nobody makes excuses” and “everyone is focused on trying” to improve conditions, said John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman.
Meanwhile, CIA Director William Burns secretly visited Kabul on Monday to meet with the Taliban’s political leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar, according to multiple media reports that the White House refused to confirm.