First US troops have started leaving Afghanistan as Biden decides not to extend withdrawal deadline

“These troops represent a mix of headquarters personnel, maintenance and other enabling functions who were scheduled to depart and whose mission at the airport was completed. Their departure represents a prudent and efficient management of the forces. It will have no impact on the current mission, ”Kirby said in a statement, confirming previous CNN reports from two defense officials that the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan had started.

The fact that a small number of American troops have already left underlines how rapidly the situation is changing. The pace of evacuations has accelerated rapidly in recent days, but with a week before Biden’s deadline, the U.S. military will soon be forced to shift from transporting Americans and Afghans to focusing on moving safely. security of all troops and liquidation of the security operation at the airport.

“So far, the reduction does not affect the mission,” said one of the officials, adding that the field commander can decide which military personnel are in units that are no longer needed. This decision can be based on a few factors, including the number of doors open at the airport, the number of people passing by and more.

“If you can have a smaller mission set and continue to lead the mission, then you can reduce your footprint and lower your risk,” the official said.

The Pentagon has been keenly aware of the threat posed by ISIS-K and other terrorist groups around the airport, developing alternative routes to the ground for US citizens and Afghan evacuees. In addition, the Taliban have openly stated that they do not want a US military presence in Afghanistan beyond the end of August, warning that there will be “consequences” if the United States stays longer.

In remarks at an emergency G7 meeting on Tuesday, Biden said the threat against US troops in Kabul was one of the main reasons he was sticking to the end of the month as the end date. withdrawal.

“There was a strong agreement among the leaders, both on the current evacuation mission as well as the need to coordinate our approach to Afghanistan as we move forward,” Biden told the White House on Tuesday. afternoon.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Tuesday that “the president has indicated that our mission in Kabul will end depending on the achievement of our goals.”

“He confirmed that we are currently on track to complete by August 31 and provided an update on the progress made in the evacuation of Americans who want to return home, third country nationals and Afghans who were our allies during the war. “

Psaki said Biden noted that the risks are increasing every day in a country now controlled by the Taliban and in particular warned of the potential for terrorist attacks, which has become a serious concern within his administration.

“There has been no change in the timing of the mission, which is due to be completed by the end of the month,” Kirby said Tuesday morning.

“If the worst-case scenario happened, you wouldn’t want more people than you need,” the defense official said.

Biden “aware of growing risks”

But the president also said on Tuesday that he had called for contingency plans to adjust the August 31 schedule, “if it becomes necessary.” However, he stressed that every day that US troops are in the country brings “additional risk”.

“I am determined to make sure that we fulfill our mission, this mission. I am also aware of the increasing risks of which I have been informed and of the need to take these risks into account. These are real and important challenges that we must also take into consideration, ”he continued.

As the United States nears the final withdrawal date, the number of Afghan evacuees airlifted is expected to gradually decline, while the number of American troops sent by air is expected to increase.

Evacuation flights from Kabul resume.  This is how it is at the airport.

Biden said on Tuesday that 70,700 people had been evacuated from Afghanistan since August 14 and that the United States was close to completing its evacuation mission by August 31.

“The sooner we can finish the better,” he said, adding that in the past 12 hours 19 US military flights have evacuated about 6,400 people and 31 coalition flights carrying 5,600 people have left. Kabul.

The State Department contacted all Americans who were registered in Afghanistan and asked them to report to places designated for evacuation, according to a source close to a “SitRep” administration from Tuesday morning.

The source said the “SitRep” acknowledges that US citizens “suffered delays at checkpoints” but “eventually” reached Kabul airport, and noted that evacuations of US citizens are underway. Classes.

The State Department also sent a push message to all Americans in Afghanistan saying that if they do not choose to leave, they should be “prepared to organize their own departure,” according to the message reviewed by CNN. About half an hour later, however, the agency sent a message recalling this guidance.

It was not immediately clear why the State Department recalled the message. CNN has asked the department for comment.

Hopeless situation

But even as the United States transports tens of thousands of people out of the country, many Afghans who participated in the war effort are still waiting their turn to leave.

Many Afghan allies the United States has sought to help will be left behind, a senior administration official told CNN, adding: “This would be true any time we evacuate and the Taliban take over.”

Taliban say they won't allow Afghans to leave country, reject extension of evacuation

The official said the 70,000 people evacuated in the past 10 days did not closely match the universe of Afghan allies eligible to come to the United States, which Biden had previously estimated at 50,000 to 65,000. 70,000 evacuees included different groups of Afghan allies prioritized by US European partners.

Moreover, some of the evacuees have not even applied for special immigrant visa status yet, although they do so in Qatar or Kuwait.

The official declined to estimate the number of Americans still in Afghanistan, relying on Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who will speak on Wednesday, but said the number on August 14 was “probably lower than what most people think “because” there is a lot left in the final. a few weeks.”

This story was updated with additional information on Tuesday.

CNN’s John Harwood, Nicole Gaouette, Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler contributed to this reporting.

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About Joaquin Robertson

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