Accessibility links

Breaking News
USA

US to End Afghan Evacuation Flights Earlier Than August 31 Deadline

update

A family walks towards a US Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2021. (US Marine Corps photo)

Despite domestic and international pressure to extend, President Joe Biden is sticking to his August 31 deadline to complete the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

His administration is ending evacuation operations to get Americans, Afghans and third-country nationals out of Afghanistan earlier than the deadline in order to allow the withdrawal of American troops and military hardware, said the White House.

"We are currently on a pace to finish by August the 31st," Biden said from the White House Tuesday afternoon. "The sooner we can finish, the better. Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops."

President Joe Biden speaks about the situation in Afghanistan from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Aug. 24, 2021.
President Joe Biden speaks about the situation in Afghanistan from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Aug. 24, 2021.

Biden said that as of Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. had helped evacuate 70,700 people since August 14. But he acknowledged that completing operations by the deadline depended on the Taliban's cooperation in allowing evacuees access to the airport. He said he had asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timetable, should that become necessary.

In his remarks, Biden did not mention ending evacuation flights earlier than the deadline, but White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed to reporters Tuesday that "there would need to be time to wind down."

WATCH: US on Track to meeting evacuation deadline

Biden: US on Track to Complete Evacuations by August 31 Deadline
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:03:01 0:00

Declining to provide "operational details," Psaki said American troops in Kabul are faced with increasing threats from ISIS-K, referring to the Khorasan network, a self-proclaimed branch of the militant Islamic State group active in Central and South Asia.

Earlier Tuesday, Department of Defense press secretary John Kirby confirmed that the military would need time to unwind before the deadline.

"Roughly speaking, you need at least several days to get the amount of forces and equipment that we have at the airport, to get that safely and effectively retrograded," Kirby said in a briefing to reporters. "I won't get into a specific tick tock."

The White House did not respond to VOA's question as to whether the U.S. will end all evacuation flights or only military ones prior to the August 31 deadline, and whether the administration will help Afghans trying to leave on commercial or charter flights to secure permission from the Taliban.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a media conference, after a virtual G-7 meeting on the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, at the European Council building in Brussels, Aug. 24, 2021.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a media conference, after a virtual G-7 meeting on the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, at the European Council building in Brussels, Aug. 24, 2021.

G-7 on Afghanistan

Tuesday morning, Biden and other G-7 leaders met virtually to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, with several pushing for him to keep U.S. troops in the country beyond next week's deadline to facilitate the ongoing multination evacuation effort.

According to the White House, Biden conveyed to G-7 leaders that the mission in Kabul "will end based on the achievement of our objectives."

After the meeting, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the G-7 had agreed on a plan to deal with the Taliban, providing they allow safe passage to Afghans wanting to leave the country even after an August 31 deadline.

But the Taliban have already rejected any extension of the deadline.

Speaking at a press conference in Kabul on Tuesday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the U.S. is capable of withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan and must adhere to the August 31 deadline.

Mujahid said that any U.S. evacuation of Afghans out of the country past that date would be an "illegal act."

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 17, 2021.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 17, 2021.

'Major mistake'

Biden's decision to stick with the withdrawal deadline has been met with criticism.

"I think it is a major mistake for the United States to feel bound to a self-imposed deadline when the Taliban remain in violation of their own obligations under the February 29, 2020, accord and when so many Afghan friends of America remain at risk in their own country," said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution.

"We have so much economic leverage against the Taliban, as well as credible military power with which to retaliate should they start shooting at us," O'Hanlon added.

It is unclear how many of the 70,700 evacuees are Afghans. Human rights organizations say Afghans have found it difficult, if not impossible, to get past Taliban checkpoints lining the airport's perimeter.

"We're disappointed in this decision by President Biden to leave without helping the most vulnerable Afghans. Our human rights community is scrambling to figure out what the U.S. withdrawal means for them," said Sarah Holewinski, Washington director of the advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

A growing number of U.S. officials have also been warning that despite the increased flow of evacuees out of Afghanistan, more time will be needed.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a key member of the House select committee on the Jan. 6 attack, does a TV news interview at the Capitol in Washington, July 26, 2021.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a key member of the House select committee on the Jan. 6 attack, does a TV news interview at the Capitol in Washington, July 26, 2021.

Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat, told reporters Monday it was unlikely the evacuation could be completed by the end of the month. He said the U.S. should maintain a military presence "as long as it's necessary" to get all Americans out and to meet the "moral and ethical obligation to our Afghan partners."

Administration members say they're continuing to negotiate with the Taliban for the safe passage of evacuees. Officials confirmed that CIA Director William Burns was in Kabul Monday to meet with the Taliban's top political leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Ayaz Gul contributed to this report.

  • 16x9 Image

    Patsy Widakuswara

    Patsy Widakuswara is VOA's Senior White House Correspondent. She joined Voice of America in March 2003. With over 20 years experience in international broadcast journalism, she currently reports via multi-media platforms from the White House where she focuses on delivering informative, engaging U.S. content to an international audience.

  • 16x9 Image

    Jeff Seldin

    Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

XS
SM
MD
LG