Biden to stick with Aug. 31 deadline for Afghanistan withdrawal

President Biden does not plan to extend the Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, an administration official confirmed Tuesday.

Biden will accept a recommendation from Pentagon officials that more time is not necessary to evacuate American citizens and civilians from the country. Multiple news outlets reported, however, that Biden has asked for contingency plans should the situation change and more time is needed.

The president has previously said U.S. forces would remain in Afghanistan into September if needed to bring all Americans home, but he has expressed optimism an extension would not be necessary.

“There’s discussions going on among us and the military about extending,” Biden said Sunday. “Our hope is we will not have to extend, but there are going to be discussions, I suspect, on how far along we are in the process.”

Biden held a virtual call on Tuesday morning with other Group of Seven (G-7) leaders, some of whom had advocated for the president to extend the mission into September so vulnerable Afghans could be safely evacuated.

Lawmakers on Monday suggested sticking with the Aug. 31 timeline was likely overly ambitious, given how many Americans and Afghan allies still needed to be evacuated.

“It’s hard for me to imagine all of that can be accomplished between now and the end of the month,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told reporters.

Biden has repeatedly defended his decision to pull U.S. forces out of Afghanistan after roughly 20 years, arguing the United States’ national security objectives were accomplished and it was time for Afghans to fight on their own. But the effort has been marred by images of chaos around the Kabul airport as massive crowds formed, Americans reported being threatened or beaten by Taliban fighters, and Afghan allies fear for their safety.

The United States has steadily and rapidly increased its capacity for evacuating civilians in recent days.

The U.S. military flew out roughly 12,700 people on 37 flights on Monday, the largest single day of airlifts out of the country. In total, approximately 21,600 people were evacuated from Afghanistan during the 24-hour period between early Monday and early Tuesday, a White House official said, including 8,900 people who were transported on 57 coalition flights.

Since Aug. 14, the U.S. has evacuated or facilitated the evacuation of about 58,700 people, the White House said.

The Taliban, which swiftly took control of major Afghan cities before seizing the capital of Kabul just more than a week ago, has said any extension that would keep U.S. forces in the country beyond Aug. 31 would be viewed as a red line.

The White House has acknowledged it is in contact with Taliban officials to try and secure safe passage to the Kabul airport to facilitate evacuation flights. CIA Director William Burns reportedly met with a Taliban leader on Monday, making him the highest ranking official to have talks with the group since it took power.

But officials disputed that Taliban rhetoric warning the U.S. against an extension would influence the decision-making process.

“Ultimately, it will be the President’s decision how this proceeds, no one else’s,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday.

Via The Hill