Washington: President Joe Biden said Tuesday the US is on track to complete its hurried airlift in Afghanistan by August 31, acknowledging he does not plan to keep American troops in the country any longer even as questions remain over who will be able to leave and when, reported CNN.
In late afternoon remarks at the White House, Biden recognized the success of the mission will depend largely on cooperation from the Taliban. He said he’s asked military leaders to be ready with contingency options to “adjust that timetable” if it becomes necessary.
“The sooner we finish the better,” Biden said. “Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops.”
Earlier in the day, Biden relayed his decision on sticking to the end-of-month deadline in crisis talks with the Group of 7, making clear the decision was in large part driven by persistent security risks.
“It is a tenuous situation,” he said in his remarks, describing an “acute” risk of attack from the ISIS affiliate operating in Afghanistan.
While the Pentagon has voiced confidence it can evacuate all remaining Americans in the country by next week, it’s less clear it will be able to assist the thousands of Afghans who assisted the war effort and are still awaiting their turn to leave.
Many Afghan allies who the US has aimed to help will be left behind, a senior administration official told CNN, adding, “That would be true whenever we evacuated and whenever the Taliban took over.”
The official said the 70,000 people evacuated in the last 10 days does not closely match the universe of Afghan allies potentially eligible to come to the US, which Biden has previously estimated at 50,000 to 65,000. Many of the 70,000 evacuated have included different groups of Afghan allies given priority by the US’ European partners.
The official declined to estimate the number of Americans still in Afghanistan, deferring to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who will speak on Wednesday, but said the number on August 14 was “probably lower than most people believe” because “a lot left in the final few weeks.”
CNN also analyzed that defying the Taliban after August 31 would only exacerbate the danger — especially after CIA Director William Burns apparently failed to secure an extension of the group’s tolerance for the US operation in secret talks with its leadership.
And according to Robert Baer, a former CIA case officer and CNN intelligence analyst, the Taliban held all the cards: “At any moment, we have to understand they could close Kabul’s airport. All they would need to do is put a couple of mortars in the middle of it. C-17s would turn around and have to leave. That’s their protocol.”
Now that the Taliban is saying that it will not allow Afghan civilians to leave the country, Biden has no capacity to force the handover of eligible refugees and visa holders short of ordering US soldiers to fight — a step he is loath to take.
By painting his decision to end the airlift by August 31 as a choice, Biden is also disguising the humiliating fact that he is an American President who is effectively being dictated to by the Taliban, whose forces are far inferior to those he commands but enjoy a superior strategic position.
Throughout this crisis, there has been a strong impression that the fury at the President from Washington’s national security, political and journalistic communities over the fate of Afghans left to face possible death at the hands of the Taliban has not been more broadly shared in the general population. That is why Biden stressed the overarching point that he is ending a war he says dragged on too long and killed far too many Americans after accomplishing its goals to degrade al Qaeda long ago.