United States President Joe Biden on Tuesday said that he will stick to the August 31 for U.S.-led evacuation from Afghanistan, the US media reported. Biden’s statement has come after Taliban earlier today warned United States and other western forces against extending the evacuation deadline saying it would provoke consequences.
The decision reflects in part the U.S. military’s concern about heightened security threats to the massive airlift that began ten days ago.
A Taliban spokesman, speaking prior to word of Biden’s decision, reiterated that the militant group would oppose any extension of the deadline. It has allowed the airlift to continue without major interference.
Pressure had grown for Biden to extend his deadline, which he set well before the Taliban completed its takeover of Afghanistan on August 15. It remains unclear whether the airlift from Kabul’s international airport can get all American citizens and at-risk Afghans who fear for their lives out be then.
Biden made his decision after consultation with his national security team, the administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a decision not yet publicly announced. Weighing the risks of keeping forces on the ground beyond the deadline, Biden opted to complete the mission by next Tuesday.
Biden asks team to make contigency plans
Biden asked his national security team to create contingency plans in case a situation arose for which the deadline needed to be extended slightly, the official said.
U.S. officials have repeatedly stressed the risk of continuing the airlift, due to threats of violence by the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate. Germany’s top military commander, Gen. Eberhard Zorn, said Tuesday the United States and Germany were particularly concerned about ISIS suicide bombers possibly slipping into crowds.
The U.S. ramped up its round-the-clock airlift of evacuees from Afghanistan to its highest level yet on Tuesday. Biden had considered whether to extend his self-imposed deadline, taking into account the continued security threats by extremist groups in the Afghan capital, the Taliban’s resistance to an extension and the prospect that not all Americans and at-risk Afghan allies can be evacuated by next Tuesday.
America’s European allies as well as U.S. lawmakers, veterans groups and refugee organizations are urging Biden to continue the evacuations as long as needed to get out all foreigners, Afghan allies and others most at risk from the Taliban.
Taliban says ‘no extensions’
At a news conference in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Tuesday his group will accept “no extensions” of the deadline.
Later Tuesday, the chief Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby, said the military will need “at least several days” to fully withdraw its several thousand troops and their equipment from Kabul. He said commanders are still aiming to leave by Aug. 31. He said there is enough time to get all Americans out but was less specific about completing the evacuation of all at-risk Afghans.
(With inputs from AP)