Biden says the August 31 deadline in Afghanistan could be extended


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Pentagon spokesman John Kirby arrives with U.S. Army Major General William Taylor for a press briefing on the situation in Afghanistan at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on August 16, 2021.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

US troops could remain in Afghanistan after August 31 to evacuate Americans, President Joe Biden it was said Wednesday, and the Pentagon said the U.S. military does not currently have the ability to reach people outside Kabul airport.

“If there are more American citizens left, we will stay until we get them all out,” Biden told ABC News in an interview conducted on a day when many U.S. lawmakers pressured him to extend the deadline he set for the final withdrawal.

Biden has come under fierce criticism for his withdrawal actions, which have been dominated in recent days by chaos scenes at and around Kabul airport with people desperately trying to get out of the country.

Biden defended his decisions, saying problems were inevitable in ending the country’s 20-year engagement in the country.

“The idea that somehow there is a way to get out without the chaos that ensues, I don’t know how that happens,” he said.

He also said that the Taliban are currently cooperating in helping to pull Americans out of the country, but “we still have some difficulties” in evacuating Afghan citizens adjusted to the United States.

The speed with which Taliban forces have occupied Afghanistan, with the withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign forces, has led to chaotic scenes at the airport with diplomats, foreign nationals and Afghans trying to escape but being disrupted by crowds and Taliban checkpoints.

“We will do everything we can to keep trying to deconflict and create passages for them to the airport. I don’t have the ability to go out and expand operations in Kabul,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters at the Pentagon.

A senior U.S. diplomat specifically said Wednesday that the United States expects the Taliban to allow Afghans who want to leave Afghanistan to leave safely.

I’m not satisfied

Austin said the United States is not happy with how many people are being evacuated.

“Obviously, we’re not close to where we want to be in terms of achieving numbers,” he said.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke Wednesday with their national security team about ways to speed up the evacuation of Americans and refugees from Afghanistan, a White House official said.

Biden did not ask questions after giving a speech at the White House about boosted coronavirus vaccines, turning his back and leaving while reporters shouted.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that officials were growing concerned about how many vulnerable Afghans could be evacuated.

U.S. troops guarding the evacuation fired several shots into the air overnight to control the crowd, but there were no indications of casualties or injuries, the Pentagon said earlier Wednesday.

Austin said there were about 4,500 U.S. military personnel in Kabul and that “there was no hostile interaction with the Taliban, and our lines of communication with Taliban commanders remain open.”

Speaking to reporters near Austin, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there was no evidence to suggest that Afghan security forces and the government would collapse in 11 days.

Milley said intelligence “clearly indicated that multiple scenarios were possible,” including a takeover of the Taliban following a rapid collapse of Afghan security and government forces, a civil war or negotiations.

“The time frame of the rapid collapse – which was widely estimated and ranged from weeks to months and even years after our departure,” Milley said.

Two leading Republicans in the U.S. Congress, Kevin McCarthy of the House of Representatives and Mitch McConnell of the Senate, have requested a confidential briefing for the “eight gangs” – the first eight relevant lawmakers – for an evacuation status report.

“It is of the utmost importance that the U.S. government takes care of all U.S. citizens in Afghanistan and provides the necessary information and a way to leave for all Americans who wish to leave the country,” they wrote in a letter to Biden.

Both Austin and Milley, who served in Afghanistan, admitted that troops and veterans find images from the evacuation disturbing.

“I hear strong views from all sides on this issue … what is important is that each of us will go through it in our own way,” Austin said.

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