Washington, United States:
President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that the United States plans to complete its withdrawal from Afghanistan by August 31 and must withdraw quickly because of a growing risk of terrorist attacks.
“The sooner we’re done, the better,” Biden said of the plan to evacuate Americans, Afghan nationals and US troops from Taliban-controlled Kabul.
“Each day of operation carries additional risks for our troops.”
The US president said he discussed the evacuation with the leaders of the Group of Seven earlier Tuesday and that they agreed “to continue our close cooperation to get people out as efficiently and safely as possible”.
“We are currently on track to be ready by August 31,” said Biden, who was pressured by some European leaders to extend the deadline to ensure the evacuation of anyone seeking to flee the country.
He said meeting the August 31 deadline was contingent “on continuing the Taliban’s cooperation and allowing access to the airport for those we transport.”
“I have asked the Pentagon and the State Department for emergency plans to adjust the timetable if necessary,” Biden added.
The Taliban have so far taken “steps to cooperate with us,” Biden said, but there is an “acute and growing risk of attack by a terrorist group known as ISIS-K,” or Islamic State-Khorasan. .
“Every day that we are on the ground is another day that we know that ISIS-K is trying to attack the airport and attack the US as well as the Allies and innocent civilians,” he said.
US-led forces have stepped up operations to get thousands of people out of Kabul by August 31 — the deadline the US had set before the fall of the capital and all foreign troops had to withdraw.
Biden said the United States has evacuated 70,700 people since Aug. 14 — the day before the Taliban took power in Kabul — 6,400 of them in the past 12 hours.
US officials said more than 4,000 Americans were flown in from Hamid Karzai International Airport in the Afghan capital.
Several thousand other people have been evacuated by allied European countries, such as Germany and the United Kingdom.
– ‘It won’t be enough’ –
The Taliban on Tuesday urged skilled Afghans not to flee the country and warned the United States and its NATO allies that they would not accept an extension of the evacuation deadline.
A spokesman for the hardline Islamist group told America to stop taking “Afghan experts” such as engineers and doctors out of the country.
“This country needs their expertise. They should not be taken to other countries,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference in the capital.
European countries have said they would not be able to transfer all Afghans at risk before the August 31 lockdown, and Biden faced calls from all quarters to extend the evacuation window.
Mujahid said the Islamist group is against an extension.
“They have planes, they have the airport, they should get their citizens and contractors out of here,” he said.
Germany said on Tuesday that Western allies simply cannot fly out every Afghan in need of protection before the cut-off date.
“Even if (the evacuation) continues until August 31 or even a few days longer, it will not be enough,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told Bild TV.
France said it would have to end evacuations from Kabul airport on Thursday if the United States met the deadline, and Spain said it would not be able to rescue all Afghans serving on Spanish missions.
Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles said Taliban checkpoints and violence made it difficult for people to reach the Kabul airport to catch one of the daily Spanish military flights out of Afghanistan.
EU leaders at the G7 meeting urged Biden to continue to secure Kabul airport until operations to evacuate vulnerable Afghans are completed.
Many Afghans fear a repeat of the Taliban’s brutal interpretation of Islamic law when they first came to power from 1996-2001, or retaliation for collaborating with the US-backed government over the past two decades.
On Tuesday, Mujahid said female Afghan government officials should stay at home until security conditions in the country improve.
– Secret meeting –
Meanwhile, the World Bank said it has suspended aid to Afghanistan and was “deeply concerned” about the situation there after the Taliban took power, especially for women’s prospects.
“We have paused disbursements from our operations in Afghanistan and we are closely monitoring and assessing the situation,” a World Bank official said.
The World Bank has more than two dozen development projects underway in the country and has provided $5.3 billion since 2002, mostly in grants, according to the bank’s website.
The Taliban achieved their stunning victory after Biden withdrew nearly all US troops from Afghanistan, following a deal former President Donald Trump struck with the movement.
However, after the fall of Kabul, Biden was forced to redeploy thousands of troops to oversee the airlift.
According to The Washington Post, William Burns, head of the US Central Intelligence Agency, held a secret meeting in Kabul with Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on Monday, although no details were reported and neither the CIA nor the Taliban have confirmed.
The rush to leave Kabul has led to harrowing scenes and has claimed the lives of at least eight people.
The Taliban have repeatedly claimed to be different from their incarnation in the 1990s and have declared amnesty for government forces and officials.
But an intelligence investigation conducted for the United Nations said militants went door-to-door hunting for former government officials and those who worked with US and NATO forces.