President Biden on Tuesday said he will stick to an Aug. 31 deadline for removing US troops from Afghanistan after the Taliban said it would not allow him any additional time to evacuate US citizens and refugees.
Critics slammed Biden for appearing to give in to the Taliban and said Americans and Afghans who helped the US military may be left behind — prompting the White House to claim there would still be “contingency” plans if needed.
Biden announced the decision during a morning video chat with fellow G7 leaders. He was scheduled to brief the US public with a noon speech, but his remarks were repeatedly delayed as criticism mounted.
“Damn the deadline,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said in a statement. “The American people are not going to surrender our fellow citizens to the Taliban.”
Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that “[Biden] will have blood on his hands. People will die and people will be left behind.”
“I can tell you there’s no way we can humanly get all of our American citizens and Afghan partners out of the country by that time,” McCaul said at a news conference.
Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wrote on Twitter, “Joe Biden just caved to the Taliban’s August 31 deadline. If President Trump were there, the ‘deadline’ would’ve been the day every single American is home—and not a second before.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday afternoon took pains to distance Biden from the perception that he folded to a Taliban request.
“We asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timeline, should that become necessary,” Psaki said.
Psaki admitted that sticking to the Aug. 31 deadline would mean ending evacuation flights before Aug. 31 to allow for US troops to also evacuate. “That would be correct, yes — that there would need to be time to wind down the presence,” she said.
Shortly after Biden’s decision on the timeline, the Taliban said it would no longer allow Afghan citizens to reach Kabul’s exit.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said at a press conference that “the road to Kabul airport is closed for locals and open to foreigners… We are not in favor of allowing Afghans to leave.”
It was not immediately clear how the Taliban-imposed restriction on Afghans reaching the airport will impact the US evacuation effort.
On Tuesday morning, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines briefed lawmakers on evacuations progress.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters after the meeting that “there’s no possible way that we can get every American that is still in Afghanistan out in the next seven days.”
“We are just three weeks away from the 20th anniversary of 9/11. At no time should America ever bend or allow the Taliban to tell us when we have to stop bringing Americans out,” he said.
Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said that “what’s also painfully clear from the briefing that we just walked out of is that behind closed doors, the Biden team tells us one thing, they admit mistakes. They know this is a dangerous situation going on in Afghanistan. And President Biden tells us something different, tells us everything’s okay, it’s under control.”
Banks added: “So either Joe Biden is lying to us or he’s not in touch with the team that just briefed us in the room. And that’s a shame as well.”
In one notable chasm between Biden’s public remarks and those of military chiefs, the president on Friday said that no Americans in Afghanistan were unable to reach Kabul’s airport, but he was swiftly contradicted by the Pentagon.
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) said in a Fox News interview Tuesday that “Joe Biden looks ridiculous on the world stage” by sticking to the Taliban’s Aug. 31 deadline.
Biden’s decision to remove US troops from the 20-year conflict had broad public support and the process began under former President Donald Trump. But the execution of the departure drew a firestorm of criticism.
About 5,200 US troops are in Kabul helping with an airlift out of the Afghan capital following the Taliban’s capture of the city last week.
Taliban leaders demanded Biden not extend the timeframe for evacuations — threatening to seize control of the airport from the US.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Sky News, “It’s a red line. President Biden announced that on Aug. 31 they would withdraw all their military forces. So if they extend it, that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that.”
Shaheen said, “If the U.S. or U.K. were to seek additional time to continue evacuations, the answer is no. Or there would be consequences.”
Biden has pledged to evacuate all US citizens, though some are telling news outlets they cannot reach the airport. Biden administration officials say they aren’t sure how many Americans remain in the country.
According to a White House official, as of Tuesday morning about 58,700 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan since Aug. 14.
About 21,600 people were evacuated in a 24-hour period ending Tuesday morning, the official said. At least three babies have been born on evacuation flights, a US Army general said Monday.
The Democratic National Committee on Tuesday presented the evacuations as a smashing success — despite large crowds remaining around Kabul’s airport and an unknown number of trapped Americans.
“President Biden has defied expectations and exceeded even his own administration’s goal in successfully ramping up evacuations from Afghanistan,” the DNC said in a press release.
A senior US official told The Post on Monday that about 4,000 Americans have been evacuated from Afghanistan, meaning that thousands may remain in Taliban-ruled territory.
The official said that the Pentagon initially estimated there were 8,000-10,000 Americans in Afghanistan and the State Department estimated 10,000-15,000 US citizens.