President Biden declared Tuesday he is sticking to his Aug. 31 deadline for completing a risky airlift of Americans, endangered Afghans and others seeking to escape Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The decision defies allied leaders who want to give the evacuation more time and opens Biden to criticism that he caved to Taliban deadline demands, the AP reports. "Every day we’re on the ground is another day that we know ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both us and allied forces and innocent civilians,” Biden said at the White House, referring to the Islamic State group's Afghanistan affiliate, which is known for staging suicide attacks on civilians.
He said the Taliban are cooperating and security is holding despite a number of violent incidents. "But it’s a tenuous situation," he said, adding, "We run a serious risk of it breaking down as time goes on." The United States in recent days has ramped up its airlift amid new reports of rights abuses that fuel concern about the fate of thousands of people who fear retribution from the Taliban and are trying to flee the country. The Pentagon said 21,600 people had been evacuated in the 24 hours that ended Tuesday morning, and Biden said an additional 12,00 had been flown out in the 12 hours that followed.
At the Pentagon, spokesman John Kirby said Aug. 31 leaves enough time to get all Americans out, but he was less specific about completing the evacuation of all at-risk Afghans. He said about 4,000 American passport holders and their family members had been evacuated from Kabul as of Tuesday. He also said the military would have to start moving troops and their equipment out of Kabul several days prior to Aug. 31 in order to be out entirely by then. (The Taliban said Tuesday that it will no longer allow Afghans to leave the country.)