President Joe Biden indicated that he plans on sticking to the August 31 deadline for full withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. In a remark given on August 24, the president said that 70,700 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan since August 14. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to provide a “detailed report” on Wednesday as to how many Americans have been evacuated from Afghanistan and how many still remain in the country.
“We are currently on a pace to finish by August the 31st. The sooner we can finish, the better. Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops… But the completion by August 31st depends upon the Taliban continuing to cooperate and allow access to the airport for those who [..] we’re transporting out and no disruptions to our operations,” Biden said in a statement.
The president has instructed the State Department and Pentagon to prepare contingency plans to adjust the timetable in case of disruptions to the evacuation process. Biden highlighted the threats posed by terror groups like ISIS-K.
Some American lawmakers have supported extending the deadline. Democrat Representative Jason Crow said that he is not confident of Washington evacuating all Americans by August 31. “There are more of those folks in Afghanistan right now than we have the capability to evacuate between now and the end of the month. That’s why the mission must be extended,” Crow said to Politico.
Republican Representative Steve Scalise believes that Washington should inform the Taliban that its top priority is to get all Americans out of Afghanistan “regardless of what timeline was initially set.”
In an interview with the BBC, UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said that the possibility of an extension at the moment “is unlikely.” The UK has pulled out 8,458 people from Afghanistan since August 13. Wallace believes that the government must plan its evacuation based on the August 31 deadline and accept “every day we get after that” as a “big bonus.”
“Everyone knows that the rest of the international community wishes to have more time but there are two other people with a vote in that – that is the Taliban and the president of the United States. And in the end, both of them have significant power in that final decision,” Wallace said.
There is a growing concern about the risk of suicide bombings by the Islamic State at Kabul airport, the site of the evacuation efforts. The airport has been overwhelmed by Afghans and foreign nationals as they seek to flee the Taliban-controlled nation. One U.S. official revealed to Reuters that it was no longer a question of “if” militants would attack the airport but a question of “when.” The priority is to get out of Afghanistan before the militants make a move.
Gen. Eberhard Zorn, Germany’s top military commander, said that Berlin and Washington were concerned about ISIS suicide bombers slipping into the crowds in Kabul.
Meanwhile, the Taliban is blocking Afghan nationals from escaping the country. In a press conference, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said that academics and doctors must “work in their own specialist areas.” He insisted that they should not go to “those Western countries.”
“The road, which goes to the airport, is blocked. Afghans cannot take that road to go to the airport, but foreign nationals are allowed to take that road to the airport… We are not allowing the evacuation of Afghans anymore and we are not happy with it either,” Mujahid said.
Meanwhile, G7 nations have asked the Taliban to guarantee safe passage to all people who wish to leave Afghanistan even after August 31. Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it the G7’s “number one condition” for the Taliban.