President Joe Biden is not extending the Aug. 31 Afghanistan withdrawal deadline, despite many more people needing to be evacuated and allies urging the president to extend it.
Biden spoke with G7 leaders earlier Tuesday regarding Afghanistan and was expected to face pressure to extend the withdrawal deadline. The Taliban repeatedly said it won’t allow the U.S. to extend, warning during an interview Monday that remaining will “provoke a reaction.” The decision is in part due to security risks involved in staying longer, according to a CNN report.
“Completion by August 31st depends on the Taliban continuing to cooperate, allow access to the airport … and no disruption to our operations,” Biden said after declaring the administration is on schedule to complete the mission on time.
The president also said he’s asked for contingency plans in the event he changes his mind – although the Aug. 31 deadline is now less than one week away. Biden said he’s keeping in mind the “increasing risks” and “significant challenges” that the administration must factor in.
“I’m determined to ensure we complete our mission, this mission,” Biden said.
The U.S. has ramped up its evacuation operations, announcing that around 21,600 people were evacuated from Kabul between August 23 at 3:00 am to August 24 at 3:00 am. The U.S. has evacuated and helped with evacuating around 58,700 people since August 14, according to a White House official. The U.S. has re-located approximately 63,900 people since the end of July.
Despite the numbers, many more people still need to be evacuated, and the administration will not give a specific number for how many Americans have been successfully removed from the country. Internally, the number of Americans in Afghanistan is up in the air, with some estimations suggesting around 10,000.
“The longer we stay, starting with the acute and growing risk of a terrorist group known as ISIS-K … 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,” Biden said.
Numerous lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic California Rep. Adam Schiff, have also backed extending the deadline or publicly worried about whether the U.S. can evacuate everyone in time. (RELATED: Impossible To Fact Check ‘In Real Time’: Misleading Biden Presser Diverges From Reality On The Ground)
“I think it’s possible, but I think it’s very unlikely,” Schiff said following a classified briefing Monday evening. “Given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated, the number of SIVs [Special Immigrant Visas], the number of others who are members of the Afghan press, civil society leaders, women leaders, it’s hard for me to imagine all of that can be accomplished between now and the end of the month.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also expressed his skepticism during a press conference Tuesday.
“I’m less confident after leaving that briefing,” McCarthy said. “There’s no possible way that we can get every American that’s still in Afghanistan out in the next seven days.”
The Aug. 31 deadline is significant because military on the ground in Kabul will need to begin their own evacuations in the days preceding this timeline. This means there will likely be less people being evacuated as the days inch closer to Aug. 31.
Biden’s decision stands in contrast to comments he made during an ABC News interview Aug. 18. At the time, he vowed to remain in Afghanistan until all Americans were evacuated – even if this meant delaying the withdrawal deadline. It’s unclear whether the administration will be able to successfully get all Americans out of Afghanistan under the current deadline.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Tuesday that the administration is “on pace to finish by August 31st.” Biden “conveyed that our mission in Kabul will end based on the achievement of our objectives,” she added.
“During a meeting this morning with the G7 leaders, the President conveyed that our mission in Kabul will end based on the achievement of our objectives. He confirmed we are currently on pace to finish by August 31st and provided an update on progress in evacuating Americans who want to come home, third-country nationals, and Afghans who were our allies during the war,” Psaki said.
“He also made clear that with each day of operations on the ground, we have added risk to our troops with increasing threats from ISIS-K, and that completion of the mission by August 31st depends on continued coordination with the Taliban, including continued access for evacuees to the airport. In addition, the President has asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timeline should that become necessary,” the statement continued.
Psaki’s assurance that the U.S. is “on pace” is quite different from what many lawmakers suggested. Internal Pentagon numbers indicate that around 8,000 Americans may still remain in Afghanistan, an official with direct knowledge of the situation told the Caller.
This official expressed skepticism that the U.S. will successfully evacuate all Americans by the drawdown date.