Biden defends military withdrawal from Afghanistan
President Joe Biden defended his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
Associated Press, USA TODAY
President Joe Biden said the United States was “on a pace” to hit its Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawal from Afghanistan, but is preparing contingency plans in case needed.
His remarks from the White House came the same day the Taliban said it would stop Afghans from trying to go to the Kabul airport and told women to stay home to stay for a time to stay safe, fueling worries about how the Taliban will treat women.
In the meantime, the evacuations continued, with more than 70,000 people removed from the country in the past 10 days.
One of the main refugee groups resettling Afghan evacuees in the United States said many people, including some American citizens, still were finding it impossible to get past Taliban checkpoints and crushing throngs outside the airport.
“The United States cannot pat itself on the back for a job half-done,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
For now, the U.S. military coordinates all air traffic in and out of the Kabul airport, but the Taliban will take over there after the U.S. pullout.
— The Associated Press
The U.S. military operation to evacuate U.S. citizens and Afghans from Kabul continues despite the removal of “several hundred U.S. troops,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement Tuesday evening.
The Aug. 31 deadline set by President Joe Biden remains unchanged, Kirby said. However, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and commanders are drawing up plans if that deadline is changed, Kirby said.
At the peak of the operation to secure Hamid Karzai International Airport and to speed the evacuation, there were nearly 6,000 troops there. Among the troops flown out are headquarters and maintenance staff whose missions are complete.
“Their departure represents prudent and efficient force management,” Kirby said. “It will have no impact on the mission at hand.”
–Tom Vanden Brook
Players from Afghanistan women’s national soccer team had an “important victory” on Tuesday when they were among a group of more than 75 people evacuated on a flight from Kabul.
Global soccer players’ union FIFPRO thanked the Australian government for making the evacuation of players, team officials and family members possible, with work continuing to help more leave Afghanistan.
“These young women, both as athletes and activists, have been in a position of danger and on behalf of their peers around the world we thank the international community for coming to their aid,” the union said in a statement.
The Afghan team was created in 2007 in a country where women playing sport was seen as a political act of defiance against the Taliban.
Players had been advised this month to delete social media posts and photographs of them with the team to help avoid reprisals since the United States-backed Afghanistan government fell.
–The Associated Press
Biden said Secretary of State Antony Blinken will provide an update Wednesday on how many Americans are still in Afghanistan – a number the White House has not disclosed – as well as how many have gotten out and evacuation projections.
“Every day we’re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both US and allied forces and innocent civilians,” Biden said.
More: Brutal ISIS-K affiliate in Afghanistan poses terror threat to U.S. evacuation
Biden said that although the Taliban has worked with the U.S. to ensure the evacuation of Americans, it’s a “tenuous situation,” pointing to gun-fighting that has broken out. “We run a serious risk of it breaking down as time goes on.”
Biden said Tuesday the U.S. is on track to complete is withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan by its Aug. 31 deadline but is preparing contingency plans in case the Taliban does not cooperate with the evacuations.
“We are currently on a pace to finish by Aug. 31. The sooner we can finish, the better,” Biden said. “Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops. But the completion by Aug. 31 depends upon the Taliban continuing to cooperate, allowing access to the airport for those who were transporting out, and no disruption to our operation.”
He said he’s asked the Pentagon and State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timetable if it becomes necessary.
Biden announced the plan in an afternoon from speech the White House’s Roosevelt Room after meeting with leaders from the Group of Seven nations Tuesday morning.
“As of this afternoon, we’ve helped evacuate 70,700 people just since August the 14th. 75,900 people since the end of July,” Biden said.
The U.S. is seeking to remove Americans from the country as well as Afghan interpreters and others who cooperated with the U.S. military during the two-decade war.
— Joey Garrison
LAS CRUCES – Refugees from Afghanistan continued to arrive at Fort Bliss in El Paso Monday as part of Operation Allies Refuge.
Less clear is how exactly how many will be processed at the installation, serving as a temporary site for what presumably would be thousands of people evacuated as the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan after 20 years.
According to U.S. Army North, refugees are being welcomed to the El Paso installation’s Doña Ana Range Complex, on land overlapping Otero and Doña Ana counties in New Mexico.
Last week, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the installation was preparing to receive up to 10,000 Afghan refugees.
— Algernon D’Ammassa
Biden relayed that the U.S. mission in Kabul “will end based on the achievement of our objectives” during a virtual meeting with leaders of the Group of Seven nations, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
“He also made clear that with each day of operations on the ground, we have added risk to our troops with increasing threats from ISIS-K, and that completion of the mission by August 31st depends on continued coordination with the Taliban, including continued access for evacuees to the airport,” Psaki said.
Biden has asked the Pentagon and State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timeline if necessary, Psaki said.
The White House announced the decision after the Taliban said they are not allowing Afghan citizens from accessing the Kabul airport, disrupting U.S. efforts to remove Afghan interpreters and other allies who cooperated with the U.S. military during the two-decade war.
A White House official said the Pentagon recommended Biden stick with the Aug. 31 withdrawal given security risks facing the military from a potential terrorist attack from ISIS-K and other militant groups because of the anticipated deterioration of Taliban cooperation.
The Taliban, which took over the Afghanistan government this month amid the U.S. drawdown, has opposed the U.S. staying beyond August. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said his group would accept “no extensions” to the deadline. The militant group also told Afghans not to try to flee the country.
More: Who and what to know as Afghanistan moves toward a new government
Withdrawing the nearly 6,000 U.S. troops from Hamid Karzai International Airport will take time and likely curtail or halt civilian evacuation flights before Aug. 31. It took several days to fly in the troops and their equipment, and it will take some time to get them out safely.
The withdrawal must be done in a sequenced and precise way, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Tuesday. Security will be “paramount.”
Some equipment may be left behind. If it needs to be destroyed, Kirby said, “we’ll do that, and we’ll do that appropriately.”
Read more: Exclusive: Americans’ harsh judgment on Afghanistan costs Biden’s approval, down to 41%
The Taliban will stop Afghans from trying to go to the Kabul airport as evacuations continue ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline for the U.S. to withdraw from the country.
Taliban spokesman Zabidullah Mujahid said during a Tuesday press conference that Afghans should not go to the airport or otherwise attempt to leave the country.
“The way to the airport has been closed now. Afghans are not allowed to go there now. Foreigners are allowed to go,” he said, via the translator on BBC. “But we have stopped Afghan nationals (from going) because the crowd is more. There is danger that people will lose their lives. There might be stampede.
“We are again reassuring you to come to your homes, come back to your jobs, come back to your normal life. There is no danger for you. We are reassuring you,” he said.
Separately, he said women should stay home to remain safe, for a time. Women would not be permanently prevented from going to work, he said.
Mujahid discouraged the U.S. from instructing Afghans to leave Afghanistan.
“We are asking Americans to change your policy and please don’t encourage Afghans to leave. Don’t encourage our engineers, our doctors, our military. We need them. We need that talent. Do not take them out to foreign countries,” Mujahid said, according to the BBC’s translation.
Previously, the Taliban had pledged to uphold the rights of women despite their history of enforcing strict codes that allowed for violence against them.
The U.S. has evacuated about 58,700 people from Afghanistan since Aug. 14, and the Taliban have said they will not accept an extension of the Aug. 31 deadline.
More: Biden’s approval rating drops to lowest point amid rise in COVID, Afghanistan fallout
On Tuesday, the White House released its latest evacuation numbers out of Kabul: In the 24 hours ending at 3 a.m., approximately 21,600 people have been evacuated. They flew out on 37 U.S. military flights – including 32 C-17s and five C-130s – carrying around 12,700 people, and 57 coalition flights that flew 8,900 people.
The Biden administration says this brings its evacuation tally to about 58,700 people since Aug. 14.
This comes a week before the Aug. 31 deadline negotiated between the U.S. and Taliban for full U.S. withdrawal. On Monday, the Taliban warned that going beyond that date would provoke a “reaction” because it indicated the U.S. occupation was continuing. On Tuesday, they emphasized that point.
New threat: Brutal ISIS-K affiliate in Afghanistan poses terror threat to U.S. evacuation
A Taliban spokesman says the U.S. must complete its evacuation of people from Afghanistan by the Aug. 31 date the Biden administration set for the withdrawal of all American troops.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Tuesday his group will accept “no extensions” to the deadline. He says life is returning to normal in the country, but chaos at the airport remains a problem. Many Afghans are desperate to flee the Taliban takeover of the country.
Mujahid says he is “not aware” of any meeting between the Taliban and the CIA, but he did not deny that such a meeting took place. An official says the director of the U.S. agency met with the Taliban’s top political leader in Kabul on Monday.
– Associated Press
More: Amid Taliban takeover, fear Afghanistan’s media landscape will ‘disappear’
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said Tuesday the rental logistics company would offer free housing for up to 20,000 refugees fleeing Afghanistan in host locations around the world.
“The displacement and resettlement of Afghan refugees in the US and elsewhere is one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our time. We feel a responsibility to step up,” Chesky wrote in a series of tweets announcing the move.
The company will pay for the housing of the Afghan refugees, who will be housed by partnered hosts in cities around the world. Non-governmental organizations and regional partners helping refugees resettle will also be involved in the process.
Chesky did not say how long the refugees will be offered housing or if the company is helping with any long-term resettlement efforts.
The U.S. has ferried almost 64,000 people out of Afghanistan, while other nations like Canada, France and Germany and the United Kingdom have also taken refugees.
Airbnb did not specify in which countries it would house refugees, but it operates in all countries accepting displaced Afghans.
The partnership is not the first time Airbnb has used its housing to help those in need. In March 2020, the company offered up to 100,000 sites for free lodging to medical first responders and relief workers combatting the coronavirus pandemic.
President Joe Biden will meet Tuesday morning with leaders of the G7 nations to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.
Biden is expected speak on that meeting and offer other updates at noon from the White House.
On Monday, press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden has had multiple conversations with world leaders in recent days, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, Spanish President Pedro Sánchez, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, the emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
“We remain in close touch with allies and partners to coordinate the evacuation of their own citizens and their priority personnel, as well as to respond to the ongoing political and security situation in Afghanistan,” Psaki said.
– Katie Wadington
More: For Biden, fallout from the Afghanistan withdrawal abroad complicates agenda at home
WASHINGTON — William Burns, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, held a secret in-person meeting with the Taliban’s acting leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar, in Kabul on Monday, U.S. officials told the Associated Press. The Washington Post first reported on the meeting.
The meeting was the highest-level meeting between a Biden administration official and the Taliban since the fundamentalist group took full control of the country on Aug. 15. While Burns directs the U.S.’s main spy agency, his longtime background is in diplomacy, making him technically the most veteran diplomat in President Joe Biden’s orbit.
The meeting comes as American and allied forces continue a rapid effort to evacuate thousands of U.S. and allied citizens as well as Afghans who are likely vulnerable to persecution under Taliban rule.
The CIA has not released details of the meeting.
For Burns, the meeting also presented the opportunity to assess Afghanistan’s soon-to-be formal leader. For Baradar, who was imprisoned by the CIA for 11 years, the meeting was another opportunity to display the Taliban’s capability as a governing force and negotiating partner.
After his release from prison in 2018, Baradar led talks with the Trump administration in Qatar that negotiated U.S. troop withdrawal from the country. In those meetings, he met face-to-face with then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had previously also led the CIA.
On Monday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and State Department spokesperson Ned Price both confirmed the administration is in talks with the Taliban but did not elaborate on what those meetings entailed.
– Matthew Brown
Learn more: From Bush to Biden: policies that led to the chaos in Afghanistan
GENEVA – The U.N. human rights chief warned Tuesday that she had credible reports of “summary executions” and restrictions on women in areas under Taliban control in Afghanistan, fueling fears of what their rule might hold a week before U.S. forces are set to withdraw.
Michelle Bachelet urged the Human Rights Council to take “bold and vigorous action” to monitor the rights situation in Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s stunning takeover, as she sought to ensure that international attention on the country doesn’t wane.
Taliban leaders have promised to restore security and tried to project an image of moderation, but many Afghans are skeptical and are racing to the leave the country, leading to chaos at Kabul’s international airport. Amid scattered reports, it has been difficult to determine how widespread abuses might be and whether they reflect that Taliban leaders are saying one thing and doing another, or if fighters on the ground are taking matters into their own hands.
Leaders from the Group of Seven nations plan to meet later Tuesday to discuss the burgeoning refugee crisis and the collapse of the Afghan government amid wrangling over whether the full U.S. withdrawal of troops could be extended beyond the end of the month to allow more time to evacuate those desperate to leave.
– Associated Press
How did we get here?: One week in US withdrawal and Taliban recapture of Afghanistan