With thousands of desperate Afghans and foreigners gathered at Kabul airport hoping to flee Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers, US President Joe Biden is expected to decide as soon as possible on Tuesday whether the August 31 deadline to allow Americans and their allies to safety is extended.
Biden warned on Sunday that the evacuation would be “tough and painful” and that a lot could still go wrong. US troops could stay longer than August 31 to oversee the evacuation, he said.
On Monday, a government official told Reuters that Biden would decide within 24 hours whether to extend the timeline to give the Pentagon time to prepare.
Aside from the need to remove thousands of Americans, citizens of allied countries and Afghans working with US troops, Defense Department officials said it would take days to secure and restore the 6,000 troops deployed to the airlift. make it work, fly away.
Some Biden advisers argued against extending the self-imposed deadline for security reasons. Biden was able to make his intentions known on Tuesday during a virtual meeting of the Group of Seven Rich Nations.
Two US officials had said the US was expected to continue the evacuations after August 31. A senior State Department official told reporters the country’s commitment to high-risk Afghans “doesn’t end on August 31.”
Later on Monday, Democratic U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters after a briefing on Afghanistan by intelligence officials that he did not believe the evacuation could be completed in the remaining eight days.
“I think it’s possible, but I think it’s very unlikely given the number of Americans that have yet to be evacuated,” Schiff said.
A Taliban official said foreign troops had not applied for an extension and it would not be granted if they did. Washington said negotiations are continuing.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States is in daily talks with the Taliban and is making “huge progress” in evacuating Americans and others.
About 10,900 people were evacuated from Kabul on Monday between 3 a.m. and 3 p.m. local time, meaning the United States had facilitated the removal of 48,000 people since Aug. 14.
US defense officials had told Reuters that almost everything would have to go perfectly to free every US citizen by August 31, given concerns about reaching the airport, terrorist attacks and complicated processing times.
State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that the United States has discussed future control of the airport with the Taliban, as well as US partners and allies.
“Does it still hurt? Yes”
The swift takeover of the Taliban and the ensuing chaos in Afghanistan has rocked US politics, with opposition Republicans criticizing Biden for the withdrawal, which was initiated by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump. Biden’s opinion polls have fallen.
Biden’s fellow Democrats who control Congress have promised to investigate what went wrong in Afghanistan in recent weeks and during the 20-year conflict, America’s longest war.
For its part, the powerful US military is grappling with the collapse of US-backed Afghan forces after 20 years of training. https://www.reuters.com/world/us/was-it-worth-it-pain-anger-inside-pentagon-after-afghanistan-crumbles-2021-08-23 “Was it worth it? Yes. It still hurts? Yes,” General David Berger, the commander of the Marine Corps, wrote in a memo to the Marines.
The difficulties at the airport were highlighted on Monday with a firefight between Afghan guards and unidentified gunmen. German and American troops were also involved, the German military said.
A local Taliban terrorist, addressing a large crowd in Kabul, urged Afghans to stay.
‘Where has our honor gone? Where has our dignity gone?’ said the unknown terrorist. “We will not let the Americans stay here. They will have to leave this place. Whether it is a gun or a pen, we will fight until our last breath.”
Working with allies
The Taliban seized power last week when the United States and its allies withdrew their troops after the war that had started after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Panicked Afghans and foreigners have since thronged the airport, screaming to catch a flight. Many fear reprisals and a return to a harsh version of Islamic law that the Taliban ruled from 1996 to 2001.
Twenty people have died, most of them in shootings and stampedes, as international forces try to bring order. A member of the Afghan armed forces was killed and several injured in Monday’s clash, the US military said.
A British government spokesman said British evacuations could not continue once US troops had left. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also said more time is needed.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the G7 virtual summit should agree on whether or not to extend the deadline and how to improve access to the airport.
The chaos at the airport also disrupted aid shipments. The World Health Organization said tons of medical supplies were trapped because Kabul airport was closed to commercial flights.
Taliban leaders, who have tried to show a more moderate face since the capture of Kabul, have begun talks about forming a government, while their forces concentrate their forces on the last opposition parties.