President Joe Biden said the US is “on pace” to finish evacuation efforts from Afghanistan by August 31, if the Taliban cooperates, but couldn’t say how many Americans still remain or what the plan for after the deadline is.
Biden’s address was originally scheduled for noon on Tuesday, but was pushed back for reasons that weren't explained. The scheduled briefings by the State Department and the Pentagon were both canceled.
Finally showing up just after 5 pm, Biden opened his remarks by talking about his domestic economic agenda in Congress, before addressing Afghanistan. He repeated the talking points of the previous week about the 20-year war needing to end, and talked about US coordination and cooperation with the G7, NATO, UN and EU.
The US and its allies are “on pace” to finish the airlift by August 31, but the Pentagon and the State Department have been asked for “contingency plans” in case it turns out otherwise, Biden said, noting that the success of the operation depends on the continued cooperation of the Taliban.
Biden could not say how many Americans are among more than 70,000 people that have been flown out of Kabul since August 14, however. He delegated that task to Secretary of State Antony Blinken – to be announced on Wednesday.
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So far, the only estimate of the number of Americans evacuated from Kabul comes from Politico, which cited a leaked State Department cable to say 4,407 US citizens have been flown out as of Monday afternoon, out of the 26,582 total.
Following the reported visit to Kabul by the CIA Director William Burns, the Taliban announced that there could be no extension of the deadline for the US to leave Afghanistan. The US “has the resources” to complete the evacuation of its citizens by the end of the month, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the media.
A White House official then told Reuters that Biden has decided to follow the Pentagon’s recommendations and have all US troops and civilians permanently leave Afghanistan by August 31.
Some US troops deployed to secure the Kabul airport have already begun to leave, the Pentagon told reporters on Tuesday, offering no further details.
Meanwhile, the remaining US citizens in Kabul were told to "avoid traveling to the airport" unless they receive "individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do so," citing "security threats outside gates."
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The White House was caught off-guard by the complete collapse of the US-backed Afghan government on August 14. With the Taliban in control of Kabul and surrounding the Hamid Karzai International Airport, thousands of Westerners have to make their way past the group’s checkpoints – and jockey for seats on outbound flights with tens of thousands of Afghans seeking passage out of the country as well.
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