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24 August 2021

Biden rejects calls to extend evacuation deadline in Afghanistan and sticks with August 31

24 August 2021

President Joe Biden has decided not to extend his August 31 deadline for completing the US-led evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies from Afghanistan an administration official said.

Mr Biden made the decision after a consultation with his national security team.

Weighing the risks of keeping forces on the ground beyond the deadline, he opted to complete the mission by next Tuesday, which was the deadline he set well before the Taliban completed its takeover of Afghanistan on August 15.

Mr Biden asked his national security team to create contingency plans in case a situation arose for which the deadline needed to be extended slightly, the official said.

The US ramped up its round-the-clock airlift of evacuees from Afghanistan to its highest level yet on Tuesday.

Mr Biden had considered whether to extend his self-imposed deadline, taking into account the continued security threats by extremist groups in the Afghan capital, the Taliban’s resistance to an extension and the prospect that not all Americans and at-risk Afghan allies can be evacuated by next Tuesday.

America’s European allies, as well as US politicians, veterans’ groups and refugee organisations, had urged Mr Biden to continue the evacuations as long as needed to get out all foreigners, Afghan allies and others most at risk from the Taliban.

At a news conference in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Tuesday that his group will accept “no extensions” of the deadline.

CIA director William Burns (Saul Loeb/via AP) (AP)

Later Tuesday, the chief Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby, said the military will need “at least several days” to fully withdraw its several thousand troops and their equipment from Kabul.

He said commanders are still aiming to leave by August 31. He said there is enough time to get all Americans out but was less specific about completing the evacuation of all at-risk Afghans.

“We believe we have the ability to get that done by the end of the month,” he said, referring to the unspecified number of American citizens who are seeking to leave.

He said several hundred were evacuated on Monday and that “several thousand” have been evacuated since the airlift began. He would not be more specific.

US allies and other countries are also conducting evacuations, and would have to shut down their operations and leave before US troops do.

About 21,600 people were flown safely out of Taliban-held Afghanistan in the 24-hour period that ended early Tuesday, the White House said. That compares with about 16,000 the previous day.

Thirty-seven US military flights — 32 C-17s and 5 C-130s — carried about 12,700 evacuees. An additional 8,900 people flew out on board 57 flights by US allies.

Amid the tense operation to get people out of the country, CIA director William Burns secretly swooped into Kabul on Monday to meet with the Taliban’s top political leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar, a US official said.

A 2020 deal struck by president Donald Trump and the Taliban initially set a May deadline for US troops to fully withdraw from Afghanistan, after nearly 20 years of war there.

Mr Biden extended the deadline to August 31, but is adamant he, too, wants to end the US military role in Afghanistan, and is rejecting criticism over the Taliban’s sudden conquest of the country this month and the collapse of the US-backed government and military.

Satellite image showing vehicles trying to reach the civilian side of Kabul International Airport (FDuckett/AP) (AP)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who met Mr Biden virtually on Tuesday in a G7 leaders’ summit on the chaotic withdrawal, had been expected to press Mr Biden for an extension to get out the maximum number of foreigners and Afghan allies possible.

Since August 14, the US has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of more than 58,000 people.

Earlier today, the UN human rights chief warned that she has credible reports of “summary executions” and restrictions on women in areas under Taliban control in Afghanistan, fuelling fears of what their rule might hold.

Michelle Bachelet urged the Human Rights Council to take “bold and vigorous action” to monitor the rights situation in Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover, as she sought to ensure that international attention on the country does not wane.

Amid scattered reports, it has been difficult to determine how widespread abuses might be and whether they reflect that Taliban leaders are saying one thing and doing another, or if fighters on the ground are taking matters into their own hands.

Ms Bachelet called for strong action to investigate reports of rights abuses.

People evacuated from Afghanistan step off a bus as they arrive at a processing centre i (Andrew Harnik/AP) (AP)

“At this critical moment, the people of Afghanistan look to the Human Rights Council to defend and protect their rights,” she said.

“I urge this council to take bold and vigorous action, commensurate with the gravity of this crisis, by establishing a dedicated mechanism to closely monitor the evolving human rights situation in Afghanistan.”

By “mechanism”, Ms Bachelet was referring to the possibility that the council might appoint a commission of inquiry, special rapporteur or fact-finding mission on the situation in Afghanistan.

While advocacy groups such as Human Rights Watch echoed such calls, a draft resolution at the council stopped far short of intensified scrutiny – and appeared to push back any deeper look at the rights situation until next year.

Ms Bachelet cited reports of “summary executions” of civilians and former security forces who were no longer fighting, the recruitment of child soldiers, and restrictions on the rights of women to move around freely and of girls to go to school.

She cited repression of peaceful protests and expressions of dissent. Ms Bachelet did not specify what timeframe she was referring to or the source of her reports.

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