International

Biden decides to stick with final pullout on August 31, Britain says won’t be kicked out of Kabul

By PTI

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden has announced that he is sticking to his August 31 deadline to complete the risky airlift of Americans, endangered Afghans and others seeking to escape from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

The decision defies allied leaders who want to give the evacuation more time and opens Biden to criticism that he acceded to the Taliban’s demands for a deadline.

Biden quoted Islamic State at the White House on Tuesday as saying, “Every day we are on the ground and we know that ISIS-K is trying to target the airport and attack both us and allied forces and innocent civilians.” Has been doing.” The group’s Afghanistan ally, which is known to have carried out suicide attacks on civilians.

He said the Taliban was cooperating and security was closed despite several violent incidents.

“But this is a difficult situation,” he said, “that we run a serious risk of it breaking down over time.”

In recent days the US has intensified its airlift amid new reports of rights abuses, raising concerns about the fate of thousands of people who fear retaliation from the Taliban and are trying to flee the country. Huh.

The Pentagon said 21,600 people were evacuated in the 24 hours ending Tuesday morning, and Biden said an additional 12,000 people were evacuated in the 12 hours.

These include flights operated by the US military as well as other charter flights.

Biden said he had asked the Pentagon and the State Department for evacuation contingency plans that would adjust the timeline for full evacuations if necessary.

Pentagon officials expressed confidence that the airlift, which began on August 14, could take out all Americans by next Tuesday, the deadline Biden had set long before the Taliban completed their takeover.

But thousands of other foreign nationals unknown remain in Afghanistan and are struggling to get out.

The Taliban, who have taken back control of the country nearly 20 years after being ousted in a US-led offensive following the 9/11 attacks, insist that the airlift should end on August 31.

Any decision by Biden to stay longer could restart a war between terrorists and the nearly 5,800 US soldiers who are carrying out the airlift at Kabul airport.

In Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference that the US should stick to its set deadline, adding that “after that we will not allow Afghans to be driven out”.

He also said the Taliban would block Afghans from entering the airport, while allowing foreigners to pass through to prevent large crowds.

At the Pentagon, spokesman John Kirby said August 31 was sufficient time to evacuate all Americans, but he was less specific about completing the evacuation of all at-risk Afghans.

He said about 4,000 US passport holders and their family members had been evacuated from Kabul as of Tuesday.

“We expect this number to increase in the coming days,” Kirby said.

With the full US withdrawal, the Pentagon said several hundred US troops had been withdrawn because they were no longer needed to complete evacuation missions.

Two members of the US Congress flew unannounced into Kabul airport in the midst of an ongoing chaotic evacuation on Tuesday, surprising the State Department and US military personnel who had to divert resources to provide security and information to lawmakers, US officials he said.

Officials said that Rep.

Seth Moulton and Rep.

Peter Meijer took off on a charter plane and was on the ground at Kabul airport for several hours.

Officials said the two men were taking off on another charter plane from Kabul, after officials complained that they were taking seats that could go to other Americans or Afghans fleeing the country.

Two officials familiar with the flight said officials at the State Department, Defense Department and White House were furious about the incident because it was done without the coordination of diplomats or military commanders directing the evacuation.

According to officials, the US military came to know about the visit as the legislators’ plane was inside Kabul.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing military operations.

The Associated Press contacted the offices of Moulton and Meijer, but did not immediately receive any comment.

Moulton served in the Marine Corps.

A senior US official said the administration saw the lawmakers’ visit as clearly unhelpful, and other officials said the visit was seen as a distraction for soldiers and commanders at the airport, who were fighting thousands of Americans. , racing against time to evacuate at-risk Afghans. and others as soon as possible.

The Pentagon has repeatedly expressed concern about security threats in Kabul, including the Islamic State group.

When members of Congress have visited war zones regularly over the past two decades, their visits are usually lengthy planned and coordinated with officials on the ground to ensure their safety.

President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he is sticking to his August 31 deadline to complete the risky airlift as people flee Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

He said a major reason for the time limit is the IS threat targeting the airport.

An Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State group is known for carrying out suicide attacks on civilians.

Kirby said these are headquarters staff, maintenance workers and others.

“It will have no impact on the mission,” he said.

It’s unclear how many Americans who want to leave are still in the country, but their status is a hot political topic for Biden.

Some Republicans came down heavily on the US on Tuesday for complying with the Taliban decree.

“The top priority we need is to let the Taliban know that we’re going to get all of our people out, regardless of what a timeline has been set initially,” said Louisiana Rep. Steve Skalis.

and Democratic Rep.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff of California, told reporters Monday that it was “hard for me to imagine” wrapping up the airlift by the end of the month.

One of the main Afghan refugee groups in the US said many people, including some American citizens, still found it impossible to cross Taliban checkpoints and crush crowds outside the airport.

“America can’t pat itself on the back for half-done work,” said Krish O’Mara Vignaraja, president and CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

Biden decided in April that he was ending the US war, which began in October 2001.

Former President Donald Trump had earlier in May agreed to hold talks with the Taliban to end the war.

However, Biden waited for the Taliban to come to power this month, following the collapse of the US-backed government and its military, to begin carrying out an airlift.

The tragic scenes at the airport have shook the world.

Afghans stormed the tarmac last week and some clung to US military transport aircraft as they took off, killing them later.

At least seven people died that day and another seven were killed in a stampede on Sunday.

An Afghan soldier was killed in an encounter on Monday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Group of Seven would not recognize the Taliban government unless it guaranteed that people could leave the country before and after the August deadline.

A day earlier, US Central Intelligence Agency director William Burns met with a top Taliban leader in Kabul.

The extraordinary meeting reflected the seriousness of the crisis and the need for the US to coordinate with a Taliban group that it has accused of gross human rights abuses.

For now, the US military coordinates all air traffic in and out of Kabul airport, but the Taliban will take over after the US withdraws.

Meanwhile, a US official said CIA Director Burns met with Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, an extraordinary moment for the US spy agency, which has targeted the Taliban in two decades of paramilitary operations.

It was not clear what exactly they discussed.

The CIA partnered with the Pakistani military to arrest Baradar in 2010, and spent eight years in Pakistani prison before the Trump administration persuaded Pakistan to release him in 2018 ahead of US peace talks with the Taliban.

Meanwhile, the Mujahid pushed back the idea that Afghans needed to flee, arguing that the Taliban had brought peace and security to the country.

He said the main problem was the chaos at the airport, and accused the US of luring the engineers, doctors and other professionals on whom the country depends.

Earlier, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she had credible reports of “brief executions” of civilians and former security forces who were no longer fighting, the recruitment of child soldiers and the free movement of women and girls. Restrictions on the rights of go to school.

He did not specify the time or source of his report.

It has been difficult to determine how widespread the abuses may have been and whether they contradict the Taliban’s public statements or reflect disparities in its ranks.

From 1996 to 2001, until the US-led invasion, the Taliban largely confined women to their homes, banned television and music, chopped off the hands of suspected thieves, and carried out public executions.

Britain says it has evacuated 8,600 British nationals and Afghans from Kabul in recent days, 2,000 of them in the past 24 hours.

But Defense Secretary Ben Wallace conceded that “we’re not going to get everyone out of the country” before the US-led mission ends on August 31.

Britain and other allies are pressing President Joe Biden to extend the evacuation before the month-end date agreed with the Taliban.

But Wallace told Sky News it’s unlikely Biden would agree.

The government said one of the people removed from the British plane turned out to be a person on the UK’s no-fly list.

Wallace said the person was identified and screened upon arrival in the UK and was judged “not a person of interest” for security services.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksson Soreid has said that the deadline for the evacuation of people in Afghanistan should be extended beyond 31 August.

“One of the main concerns is that the airport will be closed,” Ericsson Soreide told Norwegian broadcaster TV2 on Tuesday morning.

“The civilian part is now closed, so we are completely dependent on the US military operation to be able to evacuate.”

He spoke with 157 people evacuated from Afghanistan as a plane landed in Oslo.

So far Norway has evacuated 374 people from Afghanistan.

“There is no guarantee that we will be able to help all Norwegian citizens who seek aid this time,” she told NRK, another Norwegian broadcaster, adding Norway will continue as long as the airport in Kabul remain open.

In neighboring Sweden, Foreign Minister Ann Linde said even she could not guarantee that she could help all who wanted to move out.

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