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Biden refuses to extend Aug. 31 deadline after Taliban threatens 'consequences'

Antony Blinken to release number of Americans in Afghanistan after John Kirby refuses to disclose details

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the worsening crisis in Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House August 16, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Biden cut his vacation in Camp David short to address the nation as the Taliban have seized control in Afghanistan two weeks before the U.S. is set to complete its troop withdrawal after a costly two-decade war. |

The Biden administration announced that it will stick to the planned Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawal of all American troops from Afghanistan as concerns grow that the U.S. military might not be able to evacuate all remaining Americans by the end of the month.

In a press conference Tuesday, President Joe Biden told reporters gathered in the Roosevelt Room that “I’ve asked Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken to give you an update and a detailed report on exactly how many Americans are still in Afghanistan and how many have got out and what our projection is.” He announced that the U.S. military has evacuated 70,700 people since Aug. 14 but would not specify how many evacuees were American citizens. 

The president also elaborated on his decision to stand by the Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan, recalling his discussions from earlier in the day with the leaders of the world’s largest democracies as well as the United Nations, NATO and the European Union: “There was strong agreement among the leaders … both about … the evacuation mission underway as well as the need to coordinate our approach to … Afghanistan as we move forward.”

“We agreed that we will continue ... our close cooperation to get people out as efficiently and safely as possible. We are currently on a pace to finish by Aug. 31,” he added. “The sooner we can finish, the better. Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops but the completion by Aug. 31 depends upon the Taliban continuing to cooperate and allow access to the airport for those who … we’re transporting out.”

The president indicated that he had “asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timetable should that become necessary.” He maintained that “I’m determined to ensure that we complete ... this mission.”

“I’m also mindful of the increasing risks that … I’ve been briefed on and the need to factor … those risks in. There are real and significant challenges that we also have to take into consideration the longer we stay,” he said. Biden specifically mentioned “the acute and growing risk of an attack by a terrorist group known as ISIS-K, an ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan which is the sworn enemy of the Taliban as well.”

Biden added, “Every day we’re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both U.S. and allied forces and innocent civilians. Additionally, thus far, the Taliban have been taking steps to work with us so we can get our people out. But it’s a tenuous situation.” He further warned, “We run a serious risk of it breaking down as time goes on.”

The president did not take questions from the press after his remarks.

At an emergency G7 summit, a gathering of the world’s largest democracies, Biden indicated that he planned on sticking by the Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawal. The president cited concerns that the Taliban, which has taken control of Afghanistan following the drawback of U.S. military presence, would retaliate against the U.S. for failing to abide by the Aug. 31 deadline if American troops remained in the country beyond the end of the month as the justification for his decision.

Biden’s concerns stem from comments made by Taliban spokesperson Dr. Suhail Shaheen in an interview with Sky News Monday. Shaheen told the news outlet that “If the U.S. or U.K. were to seek additional time to continue evacuations — the answer is no. Or there would be consequences.”

“It will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation it will provoke a reaction,” Shaheen added.  

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Twitter Sunday that he would “convene G7 leaders on Tuesday for urgent talks on the situation in Afghanistan.” According to Reuters, Johnson had hoped that Biden would extend the Aug. 31 deadline. 

The announcement that the Aug. 31 deadline will remain in place comes as the Pentagon faces criticism for refusing to identify exactly how many Americans remain stranded in Afghanistan as the Taliban continues to take control of the country following the exit of U.S. troops.

During a press briefing Monday, U.S. Department of Defense Spokesperson John Kirby and U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, the deputy director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were asked how many Americans have been evacuated from the country. While Taylor told reporters that “since the beginning of evacuation operations on Aug. 14, we have evacuated approximately 37,000 [people],” he did not specify how many of the evacuees were American citizens.

Citing statistics Taylor shared about the military escorting 42,000 people to safety since the end of July, a reporter asked Taylor if he had “any breakdown of the number of U.S. citizens in that 42,000 that have gotten out.” He responded by saying, “I do but I don’t have that right now.”

Another reporter reminded Kirby that he had previously claimed that “2,500 Americans” have been evacuated before requesting an updated figure. Kirby declined to give a specific figure: “We think that … overall … we’ve been able to evacuate several thousand Americans and … I’d be reticent  to get … more specific than that but since the 14th, we believe we have been able to evacuate several thousand.”

After reporters asked Kirby additional questions, another reporter circled back to the topic of how many American civilians remain in Afghanistan. The reporter asked the Pentagon spokesman “Were you being deliberately vague when you said the number of Americans was several thousand or was it because you’re not sure of the number?”

Stressing that the number of American citizens in the country is “the most important number,” the reporter urged Kirby to verify the specific number and “give it to us.” Kirby reiterated his previous response: “I think I’m just going to leave it at several thousand right now.” 

“Tell us why,” the reporter replied. Kirby explained that “the number’s very fluid and it literally changes nearly by the hour.” 

Public opinion polling taken in recent weeks has shown that the American people disapprove of how the Biden administration has handled the Afghanistan exit. A Rasmussen poll released Tuesday found that 59% of likely voters do not believe the Biden administration is doing enough to evacuate Americans from Afghanistan. In comparison, 28% view the administration’s efforts as satisfactory.

As the Biden administration suggested that up to 65,000 Afghan evacuees may be brought to the U.S., a Rasmussen poll released Monday found that voters believe that the U.S. should make evacuating American citizens from Afghanistan a higher priority than admitting Afghan refugees into the country. A poll released last week by the Trafalgar Group found that 69.3% of Americans disapproved of Biden’s handling of Afghanistan while 23.1% approved. 

The situation in Afghanistan has also harmed Biden’s overall approval rating. As of Tuesday afternoon, the RealClear Politics average, an aggregation of public opinion polls, found that the president had a net disapproval rating of 2.3 percentage points. His approval rating stood at 46.6%, the lowest of his presidency so far, while the share of Americans who disapproved of his job performance had reached a record high of 48.9%. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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