About 19,000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan by U.S. and allied military forces on Tuesday, according to the White House.
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden said the U.S. is on track to evacuate all American and allied citizens, as well as Afghans eligible for special immigrant visas or otherwise at risk of persecution by the Taliban, out of the country by Aug. 31.
“The sooner we can finish, the better. Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops,” the president said.
To meet the Aug. 31 deadline, U.S. military forces will need to stop evacuating people out of the airport days before their final troop withdrawal, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Tuesday. That means the window for evacuating refugees and others is even closer than the official end of American presence on the ground.
Biden has a Cabinet meeting on his schedule for 2 p.m., where he may offer remarks on the situation in Afghanistan, but has no other public events or remarks planned.
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Amid the efforts to evacuate Americans and allies, two congressmen are drawing criticism for their unannounced visit to the Kabul airport.
Officials said Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., flew in on a charter aircraft and were on the ground at the Kabul airport for several hours.
“As Members of Congress, we have a duty to provide oversight on the executive branch,’” the two said in their statement. “We conducted this visit in secret, speaking about it only after our departure, to minimize the risk and disruption to the people on the ground, and because we were there to gather information, not to grandstand.”
President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to give an update on Afghanistan on Wednesday. That briefing should include a number on how many U.S. citizens remain in Afghanistan.
The Biden administration has not yet offered a firm count. On Thursday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told “CBS Evening News” that the US doesn’t have an accurate number because of how citizens are tracked while in Afghanistan.
The latest round of evacuations brings the number of people ferried from Hamid Karzai International Airport to 82,300 people since Aug. 14, when the Taliban first took control of Kabul, the capital city, and 87,900 evacuated people since late July, the White House said.
The operation Tuesday involved 42 U.S. military flights that carried around 11,200 people out of the country collectively alongside another 48 flights from U.S. coalition allies that took around 7,800 people out of Kabul.
The Biden administration has repeatedly stressed that the withdrawal operation is on pace to be the largest U.S. air evacuation in history. “There is no other country in the world who could pull something like this off, bar none,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a Monday press briefing.
Yet the administration has also face fierce bipartisan criticism from the members of Congress and the national security community, who see the chaotic scenes of withdrawal as calamitous and avoidable. It is also unclear how many Americans and eligible Afghans remain in the country.
– Matthew Brown
BEIJING — China says it has established an “open and effective communication and consultation with the Afghan Taliban,” following a meeting between representatives of the group and Beijing’s ambassador to Kabul.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin gave no details about the Tuesday meeting between the deputy head of the Taliban’s political office, Abdul Salam Hanafi and Ambassador Wang Yu.
But he said China considered Kabul to be an “important platform and channel for both sides to discuss important matters of all kinds.”
China hosted a delegation led by senior Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar for talks last month, prior to the group’s lightning sweep to power in Kabul.
China has kept its embassy in the city open and says it has no plans for a wholesale evacuation of its citizens in Afghanistan, while relentlessly criticizing the U.S. over the chaotic scenes at Kabul airport.
“We have always respected Afghanistan’s sovereign independence and territorial integrity, pursued a policy of non-interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs and adhered to a policy of friendship toward the entire Afghan people,” Wang told reporters at a daily briefing Wednesday in Beijing.
“China respects the Afghan people’s independent decision on their own future and destiny, supports the implementation of the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned principle, and stands ready to continue to develop good-neighborly relations of friendship and cooperation with Afghanistan and play a constructive role in the peace and reconstruction of the country,” Wang said.
– Associated Press