An estimated quarter of a million Afghans eligible for evacuation from Afghanistan still remain in the country as the U.S. prepares to pull out troops and turn Kabul’s airport over to the Taliban.
The United States is making a frenzied push to evacuate as many Americans and Afghan allies as possible from Afghanistan before August 31, President Joe Biden’s self-imposed deadline to pull all U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Potentially hundreds of thousands of Afghans who worked with the U.S. military and their families, who are at high-risk for Taliban retribution, are all but assured to be left behind. As The New York Times reports:
Even if American forces continue their current pace of roughly 20,000 evacuations per day — a tall order — the estimates suggest the effort will not come close to rescuing the full group of Afghans who may be eligible to leave before President Biden’s deadline to depart, Aug. 31.
Many Afghan interpreters, advisers and others who worked with the U.S. government or American organizations over the past 20 years and their families are eligible for special visas. And many fear retribution from the Taliban and are desperate to leave.
The State Department confirmed on Wednesday that hundreds of Americans are believed to still be in Afghanistan, as well. U.S. officials are hurriedly attempting to contact each American for evacuation before the deadline closes.
On Tuesday, Biden rebuffed calls from U.S. allies and declined to extend the August 31 deadline for U.S. forces in Afghanistan over security risks and the need for cooperation from the Taliban for further evacuations.
“The sooner we can finish, the better,” Biden said during an address as the White House. “Every day we’re on the ground is another day we know that [Islamic State-affiliate] ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport, attack both U.S. and allied forces and innocent civilians.”
“Thus far, the Taliban have been taking steps to work with us so we can get our people out,” he said. “But it’s a tenuous situation. We’ve already had some gun fighting break out. We run a serious risk of it breaking down, as time goes on.”
Biden made the announcement shortly after visiting with the leaders of Britain, France, and other NATO allies who pressed the president to keep U.S. forces in Kabul past the deadline to keep Hamid Karzai International Airport out of Taliban control. Karzai has been turned into the command center for multiple countries conducting last-minute evacuations of Westerners and eligible Afghans from the Taliban-controlled country.
Biden made his decision days after the Taliban threatened “consequences” should the U.S. extend the deadline for pulling troops out of the Afghanistan.
“It’s a red line. President Biden announced that on 31 August 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. … If the U.S. or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations — the answer is no. Or there would be consequences,” Taliban spokesman Dr. Suhail Shaheen said.
“It will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation, it will provoke a reaction,” he added.
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