Biden meets Kabul August 31 deadline despite criticism
US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he was meeting his August 31 deadline to complete a risky airlift of Americans, Afghans at risk and others seeking to escape Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The move challenges Allied leaders who want to give the evacuation more time and opens Biden to criticism that he has caved in to the Taliban’s demands for a deadline.
“Every day that we are on the ground is another day that we know ISIS-K is looking to target the airport and attack us, Allied forces and innocent civilians,” Biden told Home. Blanche, referring to the Afghanistan of the Islamic State group. affiliate, known to have organized suicide bombings against civilians.
He said the Taliban are cooperating and security is maintained despite a number of violent incidents. “But it is a precarious situation,” he said, adding: “We run a serious risk of it collapsing over time.”
In recent days, the United States has stepped up its airlift amid new reports of rights violations fueling concern over the fate of thousands of people who fear Taliban retaliation and try to flee the country. The Pentagon said 21,600 people were evacuated in the 24 hours that ended Tuesday morning, and Biden said an additional 12,000 people were evacuated within 12 hours. These include flights operated by the US military as well as other charter flights.
Biden said he had asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans for the evacuation that would adjust the timing of a full withdrawal if it became necessary.
Pentagon officials have expressed confidence that the airlift, which began on August 14, will be able to get all Americans out by next Tuesday, the deadline set by Biden long before the Taliban completes its takeover. But unknown, thousands of other foreign nationals remain in Afghanistan and struggle to get out.
The Taliban, who regained control of the country almost 20 years ago after being driven out in a US-led invasion after the 9/11 attacks, insist the airlift must end August 31. Any decision by Biden to stay longer could rekindle a war between militants and the roughly 5,800 U.S. troops who fly the airlift at Kabul airport.
In Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a press conference that the United States must meet the self-imposed deadline, saying that “after that, we will no longer let Afghans be taken ”on evacuation flights. He also said the Taliban would prevent Afghans from accessing the roads leading to the airport, while allowing foreigners to pass in order to prevent large crowds from congregating.
At the Pentagon, spokesman John Kirby said August 31 left enough time to get all Americans out, but he was less specific on completing the evacuation of all Afghans at risk. He said about 4,000 US passport holders and their family members were evacuated from Kabul on Tuesday.
“We expect that number to increase in the coming days,” Kirby said. He also said the military should start moving troops and their equipment out of Kabul several days before August 31 in order to be fully out by then.
It’s unclear how many Americans who want to leave are still in the country, but their status is a hot political topic for Biden. Some Republicans bristled against the United States on Tuesday appearing to comply with a Taliban edict. “We have to have the top priority to tell the Taliban that we are going to bring out all of our people, regardless of the timetable initially set,” said Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
And Democratic Representative Adam Schiff of California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters on Monday that “it was hard for me to imagine” completing the airlifts by the end of the month.
Biden decided in April that he was ending the US war, which began in October 2001. Former President Donald Trump previously agreed in negotiations with the Taliban to end the war in May.
However, Biden waited until the Taliban came to power this month, following the collapse of the US-backed government and its military, to begin executing an airlift.
Tragic scenes at the airport pierced the world. Afghans flocked to the tarmac last week and some clung to a US military transport plane as it took off, later falling to their deaths. At least seven people died that day, and seven more died Sunday in a stampede of panic. An Afghan soldier was killed in a shootout on Monday.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the Group of Seven countries will not recognize a Taliban government unless it guarantees people can leave the country if they wish, before and after the August deadline . The day before, the director of the American Central Intelligence Agency, William Burns, had met a senior Taliban leader in Kabul. The special meeting reflected the gravity of the crisis and America’s need to coordinate with a Taliban group it accused of gross human rights violations.
For now, the US military is coordinating all air traffic in and out of Kabul airport, but the Taliban will take over after the planned US withdrawal, Mujahid said. It’s unclear when commercial flights might resume, putting pressure on current evacuation efforts to get as many people out as possible.
Meanwhile, a US official said that Burns, the director of the CIA, had met with Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar – an extraordinary moment for the US spy agency, which for two decades targeted Taliban in paramilitary operations. We didn’t know exactly what they were talking about.
The CIA partnered with Pakistani forces to arrest Baradar in 2010, and he spent eight years in a Pakistani prison before the Trump administration persuaded Pakistan to release him in 2018 ahead of US peace talks with the Taliban.
Mujahid, meanwhile, rebuffed the idea that Afghans should flee, arguing that the Taliban have brought peace and security to the country. He said the main problem was chaos at the airport, and he accused the United States of attracting the engineers, doctors and other professionals the country relies on.
Previously, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she had credible information about “summary executions” of civilians and former security forces who were no longer fighting, of recruitment child soldiers and restrictions on the rights of women to move freely and girls to go to school.
She did not specify when or the source of her reports.
It has been difficult to determine how widespread the abuses could be and whether they contradict public statements by the Taliban or reflect disunity within their ranks.
From 1996 until the US-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban largely confined women to their homes, banned television and music, cut off the hands of suspected thieves, and carried out public executions.
Burns reported from Washington, Lemire from Lowell, Mass., Faiez from Istanbul. Associated Press editors Ellen Knickmeyer and Matthew Lee in Washington, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, Jamey Keaten in Geneva, and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.