Biden: Afghanistan evacuations ‘currently on a pace’ to finish by Aug 31 deadline
President Joe Biden informed Americans that the ongoing evacuations in Afghanistan are "currently on a pace" to finish by the August 31 deadline.
"The sooner we can finish, the better," he said from the White House Tuesday evening. "Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops but the completion by August 31 depends upon the Taliban continuing to cooperate, allow access to the airport for those who are transporting out and no disruption to our operations."
However, Biden has asked his national security team to create contingency plans in case a situation arose for which the deadline needed to be extended slightly, the official said.
The president added that more than 70,000 people have been ushered out of the country by the U.S. military since August 14—when the Taliban took control of the country. He said within the past 12 hours, 19 U.S. military flights have carried more than 6,000 evacuees from Kabul.
Biden said he also met Tuesday morning with G7, United Nations, NATO and European Union leaders to update them on the evacuation progress.
The president said the world leaders agreed to work in close cooperation to get as many people out of Afghanistan as possible and to stand united against the Taliban. The leaders also reaffirmed their commitments to provide humanitarian aid to Afghan refugees.
"The United States will be a leader in these efforts," Biden added. "And we look to our international partners to do the same."
After more than a week of evacuations plagued by major obstacles, including Taliban forces and crushing crowds that make approaching the airport difficult and dangerous, thousands are still in need of evacuation.
The Taliban, who have wrested control of the country back nearly 20 years after being ousted in a U.S.-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks, insist the airlift must end on Aug. 31. Any decision by Biden to stay longer could reignite a war between the militants and the approximately 5,800 American troops who are executing the airlift at Kabul airport.
First, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in an interview with Sky News, said that Aug. 31 is a "red line" the U.S. must not cross and that extending the American presence would "provoke a reaction."
Then, earlier on Tuesday, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said his group will accept "no extensions" to the deadline.
The latest warning signaled the Taliban could insist on shutting down the airlifts out of the Kabul airport in just over a week.
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Despite the warning, lawmakers, veterans organizations and refugee advocates in the U.S. were urging Biden to keep the U.S. military in the Kabul airport as long as it takes to airlift not just Americans, but Afghan allies and other Afghans most at risk from the Taliban. They say ending the evacuation could strand countless Afghans and foreigners still hoping for flights out.
Employees of the collapsed Afghan government, civil society activists and women are among the at-risk Afghans who have gone into hiding or are staying off the streets since the Taliban takeover of the country.
Since the Taliban seized the capital Aug. 15, completing a stunning rout of the U.S.-backed Afghan government and military, the U.S. has been carrying out the evacuation in coordination with the Taliban, who have held off on attacking Americans under a 2020 withdrawal deal with the Trump administration.
Earlier on Tuesday, a U.S. official told The Associated Press CIA Director William Burns secretly swooped into Kabul on Monday to meet with the Taliban's top political leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar.
Details of their discussion were not released, but the meeting represented an extraordinary moment for a CIA that for two decades targeted the Taliban in paramilitary operations. And it gave a sense of the extent of the wrangling happening ahead of the end of America's two-decade war in the country.
The CIA partnered with Pakistani forces to arrest Baradar in 2010. He spent eight years in a Pakistani prison before the Trump administration persuaded Pakistan to release him in 2018 ahead of peace talks.
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Later Tuesday, the chief Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby, said the military will need "at least several days" to fully withdraw its several thousand troops and their equipment from Kabul. He said commanders are still aiming to leave by Aug. 31. He said there is enough time to get all Americans out but was less specific about completing the evacuation of all at-risk Afghans.
Since Aug. 14, the U.S. has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of about 37,000 people.
U.S. allies and other countries also are conducting evacuations, and would have to shut down their operations and leave before U.S. troops do.
This story was reported from Detroit. The Associated Press contributed.