WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden told G-7 leaders during an emergency meeting on Tuesday that he would adhere to the pre-established timetable for the full withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, although the US is also putting in place contingency plans if an extension proves necessary should prove.
“We are currently well on the way to being finished by August 31,” said Biden from the west wing of the White House in his third televised address on Afghanistan since the country fell to the Taliban.
“I also asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans in order to adjust the schedule should this be necessary,” said Biden.
The president faced political pressure to extend the withdrawal period from US allies in Europe, such as Britain, as well as from his own party in Washington. However, Biden made it clear on Tuesday that the sooner the U.S. can complete the evacuation operation, the better.
The president warned that staying for long periods posed serious risks to Allied troops and civilians. ISIS-K, an offshoot of the terrorist group based in Afghanistan, poses a growing threat to Hamid Karzai International Airport, the president said.
“Every day we are there is another day we know that ISIS-K is trying to attack the airport and target both US and Allied forces and innocent civilians,” he said.
Biden also described US relations with the Taliban on the ground in Kabul as “poor”. The militants have worked with the US in the evacuations, the president said, but the longer the US stays, the greater the risk that fighting will break out.
According to the White House Tuesday evening, the US has evacuated or helped evacuate approximately 70,700 people from Afghanistan since August 14. The US has relocated nearly 75,900 people since the end of July.
As of Tuesday, approximately 4,000 American passport holders and their families had been flown out of Afghanistan, although several thousand Americans are believed to be awaiting evacuation.
Biden said the leaders of the world’s seven major industrial democracies, the European Union, NATO and the United Nations, have agreed to “stand together in our dealings with the Taliban.”
“We will judge them [Taliban] through their actions and we will stay in close coordination on any steps we take in response to the Taliban’s behavior, “Biden said.
In a joint statement following their virtual meeting, the G7 leaders expressed “serious concern” about human rights, especially for women, in Afghanistan and called on countries around the world to support efforts to relocate vulnerable Afghans.
A Marine from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit walks with the children during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 24, 2021.
Sgt. Samuel Ruiz | US Marine Corps | via Reuters
The Taliban said Tuesday that the group would no longer allow Afghan nationals to leave the country on evacuation flights, nor would they accept an extension of the exit period beyond the end of the month.
“We are not in favor of allowing Afghans to leave the country,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters during a press conference on Tuesday.
“She [the Americans] have the opportunity, they have all the resources, they can take all the people who belong to them with them, but we will not allow Afghans to leave and we will not extend the deadline, “he said. Evacuations by foreign forces after August .31 would be a “violation” of the Biden government’s promise to end the US military’s mission in the country, Mujahid said.
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Although the Biden government tried to 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 secret briefing with intelligence officials that it was “very unlikely” that the US would remove all remaining American citizens, special immigrant visa applicants and vulnerable Afghans US could evacuate land by August 31st.
A U.S. Marine provides assistance with an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2021.
US Marines | Reuters
“I am encouraged to see how many people have been evacuated, to the point where we have evacuated 11,000 people in a single day,” Schiff said.
“Still, given the logistical difficulties involved in transporting people to the airport and the limited number of workarounds, I can hardly assume that this will be fully completed by the end of the month. And I certainly believe that we have a military.” Presence as long as it is necessary to get all US people out and to honor our moral and ethical obligations to our Afghan partners. “
Crowds gather in front of the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, 23 August 2021.
Asvaka News | via Reuters
More than 5,000 US soldiers are on site in Kabul and are helping with the evacuation efforts. Almost 200 aircraft are in some way earmarked for evacuation.
The Pentagon announced Monday that evacuees were flying from Kabul to temporary safe havens in the Middle East and Europe, including U.S. installations in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Italy, Spain and Germany.
To date, Afghan nationals arriving in the United States have been accommodated at either Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, Fort Lee, Virginia, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, or Fort Bliss, Texas.