President Biden has decided to adhere to his initial August 31 deadline for withdrawing American forces from Afghanistan.
“We are currently on a pace to finish [the withdrawal] by August 31,” Biden said in remarks at the White House. “The completion by August 31 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 added that he has “asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timetable, should that become necessary.”
Biden made similar remarks during a virtual meeting with European heads of state earlier on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Biden “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,” Psaki said. “The President has asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timeline should that become necessary.”
A Taliban spokesman said on Tuesday that the U.S. must withdraw all its forces from the country by August 31, with “no exceptions.”
In response to the Taliban threat, Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) urged Biden to ignore the withdrawal deadline.
“Damn the deadline. The American people are not going to surrender our fellow citizens to the Taliban. Americans want us to stay until we get our people out, and so do our allies,” Sasse said in a statement. “If President Biden accepts the Taliban’s terms he’ll be the one holding the shovel in Afghanistan’s ‘graveyard of empires.'”
The U.S. has evacuated close to 60,000 people from Afghanistan since August 14, including thousands of Afghans who worked with the American military or defense contractors. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday that the U.S. had evacuated “several thousand” Americans from Afghanistan, but declined to give a specific number. U.S. troops are currently turning away some Afghans at the Kabul airport to give priority to American citizens and green card holders, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.
Kirby said that should the U.S. stick to the withdrawal deadline, there will be “zero” American troops in the country after August 31, and that some level of communication with the Taliban is necessary to keep operations going.
“There’s no question, as we work through this, that the daily communication with Taliban commanders is going to have to continue,” Kirby said at a press conference. “That’s just a hard fact.”