President Biden on Tuesday told world leaders gathered virtually for a meeting of the Group of 7 nations that he is aiming — for now — to get American troops out of Afghanistan by his Aug. 31 deadline, but said there was still a possibility of extending that mission, a senior administration official said.
Military officials will start withdrawing the 6,000 forces in Kabul as early as this week or this weekend, according to an American military official, who said U.S. forces would continue to fly evacuation missions up til the last few days of the withdrawal. Then they will need to give priority to the remaining troops and equipment, and to any American citizens wanting to leave.
Officials said the military needs to start moving out within the next several days in order to meet the Aug. 31 deadline, given the logistics of moving troops and equipment. Officials said military officials could slow the departure if Biden extends the deadline.
In closed-door remarks with the world leaders, Mr. Biden told his foreign counterparts that every day that American troops stay in the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, the risk escalates. He called the danger of a terrorist attack “very high,” according to a senior administration official.
The president reiterated his desire to complete the mission by the deadline, but he said withdrawal will hinge on completing the goal of airlifting all Americans and Afghan allies out of the country to safety.
For now, the president told the G-7 leaders, the mission is on track to be completed by the last day of the month. But he warned that if the Taliban did not cooperate — on Tuesday they vowed to reject any extension of Mr. Biden’s troop withdrawal deadline — that could change.
The world leaders have said they would urge the United States to delay its final exit from Afghanistan to ensure that all citizens of other countries could be evacuated safely.
The president and his team have said for days that Mr. Biden is considering whether the 6,000 troops securing the Kabul airport should stay past the Aug. 31 deadline to facilitate more evacuations.
Officials have said they are hopeful that won’t be necessary, but activists, lawmakers and representatives of other governments have expressed skepticism that all of the people seeking to flee the Taliban government will be able to do so by the end of the month.
The Taliban warned Monday that there would be “consequences” if Mr. Biden chose to leave forces in their country beyond that date. And American military and intelligence officials have warned of a heightened danger of attacks from ISIS-K, an offshoot of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, and other terror networks.
Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that came after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including floggings, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more on their origin story and their record as rulers.
The pace of evacuations has accelerated dramatically despite the chaos and desperation, mostly among Afghans, outside the airport. American officials reported Tuesday morning that 21,600 people were evacuated on Monday, and that 58,700 people had been flown out of the city since it fell on Aug. 14.
But Mr. Biden is in a bind.
If he orders an extension of the mission, he may be putting troops and diplomats in more danger. But conservatives have already accused him of being willing to “strand” Americans in Afghanistan by leaving before all of them have been evacuated.
That drew a sharp response on Monday from Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary.
“I think it’s irresponsible to say Americans are stranded,” Ms. Psaki said in response to a question from Peter Doocy of Fox News. “They are not. We are committed to bringing Americans who want to come home, home. We are in touch with them via phone, via text, via email, via any way that we can possibly reach Americans to get them home if they want to return home.”