Biden vague on Afghanistan endgame: President Biden’s remarks in the aftermath of the deadly terrorist attacks at Kabul airport indicate that U.S. operations in Afghanistan may continue beyond the August 31 deadline for the permanent withdrawal of U.S. troops, raising further questions about the mission’s current parameters.
Biden vowed to retaliate against ISIS-K militants responsible for Thursday’s suicide bombings, but at least 13 U.S. military personnel were killed, but he did not provide a timeline for when the attacks would take place. He also noted that there would be “many opportunities” to evacuate people at risk after August 31, despite pledging to maintain his current timeline for withdrawal.
“These ISIS terrorists will not win. We will protect the Americans there. We will pull out our Afghan allies and our goal will continue,” Biden said in his speech. “America is not afraid. I have the utmost confidence in our brave service members who carry on this mission with courage and respect to save lives and protect Americans, our partners, our Afghan allies from Afghanistan.
Biden came under tremendous pressure from lawmakers to complete the evacuation process regardless of his deadline. The president vowed to move forward with evacuation planes despite the bombing, stressing that U.S. authorities have enough time and resources to evacuate all Americans who want to leave Afghanistan by August 31.
He said the military would retaliate against ISIS-K with strength and precision “in our time, in our chosen place, in the moment we choose.” It is unclear whether those attacks could have taken place after the permanent US military presence in Afghanistan was withdrawn.
According to Biden, further evacuations could be achieved after the August 31 deadline through a variety of means, including coordination with the Taliban. He did not elaborate on other potential methods.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
When asked to define the end of the mission during a press briefing shortly after Biden’s speech, White House Press Secretary Jen Saki said the August 31 deadline would serve as a formal endpoint, the administrative attitude said. At the same time, she pledged an ongoing U.S. commitment to those staying in the country.
“This mission is over, yes, 31st. But our commitment to bring out American citizens who are not ready to leave will continue,” Saki said. “There is no end to that timeline to pull out our Afghan partners.”
According to the White House, U.S. officials have evacuated more than 100,100 people from Afghanistan since Aug. 14. The State Department says 500 of the 1,500 U.S. citizens believed to be still in Afghanistan since Wednesday have been evacuated.
In a statement earlier this week, Saki said, “The mission in Kabul will end based on the achievement of our goals.” At the time, she indicated that Biden had requested contingency plans if an extension was needed.