Biden Rebuffs G-7 Call for More Time to Finish Afghan Airlift
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden rebuffed calls from international allies and members of Congress to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan past his Aug. 31 deadline, saying the U.S. is confident it will complete evacuations by then.
During a virtual Group of Seven meeting on Tuesday, Biden said that the U.S. is “on pace to finish by August 31st,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki in a Tuesday statement.
The White House expressed confidence it could evacuate an unknown number of Americans and Afghan allies from the country in the coming days -- an aspiration that has faced withering criticism from G-7 allies and members of Congress from both parties.
During the G-7 meeting, Biden “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.”
Biden asked his adminstration for contingency plans to adjust the timeline “should that become necessary,” Psaki said.
The G-7 meeting, convened Tuesday by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was likely the last chance to press Biden to push back the U.S. withdrawal date. It effectively means that civilian evacuations at the Kabul airport must end within the next few days to allow enough time to get remaining U.S. and other troops out.
Earlier in the day, a Taliban spokesman said at a news conference that “the airport is now closed and Afghans are not allowed to go there now. Only foreigners are allowed to go.” It only served to underline the obstacles on the ground, with a new regime in charge.
Biden disappointed some of his closest allies abroad -- and U.S. lawmakers of both parties. Instead, he took the advice of the Pentagon, sticking to an Aug. 31 deadline given the security risk facing the U.S. military from potential terrorist attacks by ISIS-K or other Islamic militant groups. He asked for backup plans and stressed his commitment to getting every American out who wants to leave now.
The degree of discord was apparent in the final G-7 statement that had little in terms of concrete steps yet warned that “we will judge the Afghan parties by their actions, not words.”
“In particular, we reaffirm that the Taliban will be held accountable for their actions on preventing terrorism, on human rights -- in particular those of women, girls and minorities -- and on pursuing an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan.”
The fate of foreigners and Afghans whose ties to outside powers leave them vulnerable to Taliban reprisals dominated the buildup to the meeting. Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron were among those expected to urge Biden to shift his position -- though the British government also warned that was unlikely due to the deteriorating security situation in Kabul.
Johnson said the G-7 agreed Tuesday on a road map for how to deal with the Taliban, and that the “number one condition that we are insisting upon is safe passage” beyond Aug. 31 for those who want to leave Afghanistan.
There has been growing tension in the G-7 over the U.S. decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, which precipitated the rapid collapse of the government that took Western nations by surprise.
According to a British diplomatic memo, Biden told the G-7 bloc in June he’d maintain enough of a security presence in Afghanistan to ensure they could continue to operate in Kabul following the main U.S. withdrawal.
The Taliban takeover left the U.S. and other governments facing a race against time to evacuate nationals and Afghans they had pledged to help, while facing stinging criticism over their failure to anticipate events in Afghanistan.
In Washington, Biden’s determination to stick to the evacuation deadline drew criticism from lawmakers.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who opposed the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan from the start, told Fox News that “the president needs to forget about the Aug. 31 deadline.”
“We need to send in enough American personnel -- military personnel -- to rescue our people,” the Kentucky Republican said Tuesday. “there are more American soldiers there now than before the president made the decision to leave. Extend the deadline, get outside the perimeter, make sure that every single American who wants to leave is able to get out with our assistance and our Afghan allies.”
Democrats also questioned Biden’s decision.
Representative Adam Smith of Washington state, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said “it would be malpractice” to not have a contingency plan if the evacuation must continue past Aug. 31.
Representative Elissa Slotkin of Michigan cited “strong bipartisan support” to extend the deadline.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.