Politics

Biden says Afghanistan evacuation on track to finish by Aug. 31 deadline as threats to Kabul airport grow

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Key Points
  • President Joe Biden said the U.S. is on track to finish its evacuation of Afghanistan by Aug. 31.
  • Biden warned that staying longer carries a growing risk of terrorist attacks and conflict with the Taliban.
  • His remarks come amid pressure from U.S. allies abroad and Democrats in Congress to extend the deadline.
  • The president said the U.S. is working with its allies in the G-7 to present a united approach to the Taliban that holds them accountable for their actions.
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Biden on House pushing through budget, developments in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden told G-7 leaders during an emergency meeting on Tuesday that he will keep the timeline previously set for the full U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, though the U.S. is also making contingency plans should an extension proves necessary.

"We are currently on pace to finish by August the 31st," Biden said from the West Wing of the White House, in his third address on Afghanistan since the country fell to the Taliban.

"In addition, I've asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timetable should that become necessary," Biden said.

The president has faced political pressure to extend the withdrawal deadline from U.S. allies in Europe, such as the United Kingdom, as well as from his own party in Washington. However, Biden made clear Tuesday that he believes the sooner the U.S. can finish the evacuation operation the better.

The president warned that staying longer carries serious risks for allied troops and civilians. ISIS-K, an affiliate of the terror group based in Afghanistan, presents a growing threat to Hamid Karzai International Airport, the president said.

"Every day we're on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both U.S. and allied forces and innocent civilians," he said.

Biden also described the U.S. relationship with the Taliban on the ground in Kabul as "tenuous." The militants have cooperated with the U.S. on the evacuations, the president said, but the longer the U.S. stays the greater the risk that fighting will break out.

The U.S. has evacuated or helped to get approximately 70,700 people out of Afghanistan since Aug. 14, according to figures released by the White House Tuesday evening. Since the end of July, the U.S. has relocated nearly 75,900 people.

As of Tuesday, approximately 4,000 American passport holders and their families have been airlifted from Afghanistan though there are still several thousand Americans believed to be awaiting evacuation.

Biden said that the leaders of the world's seven major industrialized democracies, the European Union, NATO and the United Nations have agreed to "stand united in our approach to the Taliban."

"We will judge them [Taliban] by their actions and we'll stay in close coordination on any steps that we take moving forward in response to Taliban behavior," Biden said.

The G-7 leaders, in a joint statement following their virtual meeting, expressed "grave concern" about human rights, particularly for women, in Afghanistan and called for countries around the world to support efforts to relocate vulnerable Afghans.

A Marine with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit walks with the children during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 24, 2021.
Sgt. Samuel Ruiz | U.S. Marine Corps | via Reuters

The Taliban said earlier Tuesday that the group will no longer allow Afghan nationals to leave the country on evacuation flights nor will they accept an extension of the withdrawal deadline beyond the end of the month.

"We are not in favor of allowing Afghans to leave," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters during a press conference on Tuesday.

"They [the Americans] have the opportunity, they have all the resources, they can take all the people that belong to them but we are not going to allow Afghans to leave and we will not extend the deadline," he said. Evacuations carried out by foreign forces after Aug. 31 would be a "violation" of a Biden administration promise to end the U.S. military's mission in the country, Mujahid said.

Though the Biden administration has tried to project confidence that it can complete the evacuation by the end of the month, members of the president's own party have expressed doubts.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Monday after a classified briefing with intelligence officials, that it was "very unlikely" the U.S. could evacuate all remaining American citizens, special immigrant visa applicants, and at-risk Afghans from the country by an Aug. 31 deadline.

A U.S. Marine provides assistance during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, August 22, 2021.
US Marines | Reuters

"I am encouraged to see the numbers of people evacuated, increasing readily to the point where we evacuated 11,000 people in a single day," Schiff said.

"Nonetheless, given the logistical difficulties of moving people to the airport and the limited number of workarounds, it's hard for me to see that being fully complete by the end of the month. And I'm certainly of the view that we maintain a military presence as long as it's necessary to get all U.S. persons out and to meet our moral and ethical obligation to our Afghan partners."

Crowds of people gather outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 23, 2021.
Asvaka News | via Reuters

More than 5,000 U.S. troops are on the ground in Kabul assisting with the emergency evacuation efforts. Nearly 200 aircraft are dedicated to the evacuation effort in some capacity.

The Pentagon said Monday that evacuees are flying from Kabul to temporary safe-haven locations across the Middle East and Europe, including U.S. installations in Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Italy, Spain and Germany.

So far, Afghan nationals arriving in the United States will be housed at either Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, Fort Lee in Virginia, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey or Fort Bliss in Texas.

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Afghan refugees arrive in the U.S.