The U.S. has begun to reduce troop levels at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan ahead of President Biden’s August 31 deadline for a full withdrawal, multiple outlets confirmed on Tuesday.
A senior defense official said some troops not critical to the evacuation effort from Afghanistan have already left the airport, in comments to CNN.
“So far, the reduction does not affect the mission,” the official said. “If you can have a smaller mission set and still conduct the mission, then you can reduce your footprint and reduce your risk.”
The reduction has started with thousands of Americans still in Afghanistan. Around 4,000 Americans, along with their families, have been evacuated from Afghanistan since mid-August, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday. The White House estimated last week that there were at least 11,000 Americans in the country.
In response to a question from a reporter, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that the evacuation of civilians would need to halt before the August 31 troop withdrawal deadline, to give the military time to evacuate troops and equipment.
“That would be correct, yes,” Psaki said. “We would need to be time to wind down the presence.”
The U.S. has evacuated roughly 60,000 people from Afghanistan in total since August 14, including thousands of Afghans who helped American troops and defense contractors during the two-decade war.
President Biden told European heads of state on Tuesday that he would stick by the August 31 withdrawal deadline. Earlier on the same day, the Taliban warned that the group would not accept an extension of the deadline.