US deadline to leave Afghanistan ‘will be president’s, no one else’s’, says White House as Taliban push back

Biden will keep troops in Afghanistan against Taliban’s wishes if needed, says White House

John Bowden
Monday 23 August 2021 23:47
White House says President to decide troop withdrawal deadline, not Taliban
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President Joe Biden will keep US troops in Afghanistan beyond 31 August if necessary, in order to to facilitate the safe evacuations of Americans and others, the White House has said.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Monday that the president will not let the Taliban dictate the timeline of the US withdrawal, after being asked about the Taliban’s supposed 31 August “red line” for US troops leaving.

"It will be the president's decision how this proceeds," asserted Mr Sullivan, adding: "No one else”.

The White House remained vague, however, on whether the Biden administration believed such an extension would be necessary to continue evacuating Americans. Press secretary Jen Psaki and Mr Sullivan declined to comment on the specific nature of talks with the Taliban, but explained that they encompassed all issues presented by the Kabul evacuations, which have been chaotic and earned the Biden administration criticism from allies.

"In the days remaining, we believe we have the wherewithal to get out the Americans who want to leave Kabul,” said Mr Sullivan.

His comments followed remarks from a spokesperson for the Taliban earlier on Monday, who told Sky News that it would be a “clear violation” of the Doha agreement with the US for foreign troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond 31 August. The spokesperson, Suhail Shaheen, also contended that militants were not harassing those attempting to reach the airport and claimed that anyone who wished to leave could do so on a commercial flight at any time.

"So if they extended, that means they are extending occupation," said the Taliban official. “While there is no need for that, I think it will deteriorate the relation, it will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation, so it will provoke a reaction."

Commercial flights have been few and far between out of Afghanistan, and those with special immigrant visas (SIVs) are currently being told to wait while American citizens are prioritised for evacuation. The Pentagon ordered several commercial airline companies to assist in the humanitarian evacuation effort.

Meanwhile, heartbreaking images of desperate notes from stranded Afghans were stuffed into a Humvee parked in front of the British and Canadian embassies in Kabul. The Taliban told the brother of an Afghan translator that he was accused of helping the Americans and was therefore sentenced to death, according to letters obtained by CNN.

“You have been accused of helping the Americans,” the Taliban apparently wrote in the first of three letters sent to the brother of the US aide. “You are also accused of providing security to your brother, who has been an interpreter.”

The US was dispatching helicopters and special forces around Kabul to extract Americans and escort them to the airport for evacuation, The New York Times reported, adding that the top US military official on the ground in Afghanistan was communicating with Taliban officials around security at the airport.

Amid the unrest and as criticism mounted, Mr Biden quipped about the situation while hosting WNBA champions the Seattle Storm on Monday afternoon.

“I may need work after this. I’d be a good ball boy,” Mr Biden joked at the White House.

Mr Biden told reporters on Sunday that it was his “hope” that the deadline for withdrawal would not need to be extended, but the president left open the possibility of doing so.

“There's discussions going on among us and the military about extending,” said Mr Biden. “Our hope is we will not have to extend.”

Several thousand US troops have been deployed to secure Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul amid the US transport flights departing the country; US forces are not currently in operation outside of the airport, according to the White House, and have yet to engage Taliban or other militant forces in the area.

In recent days national security officials including Mr Sullivan have also raised the possibility of an Isis-led attack on the airport, though the militant group is seen to be at war with the Taliban forces that conquered Kabul one week ago.

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