Washington, Aug 23 (EFE).- The US government on Monday insisted that it is committed to finalizing its withdrawal from Afghanistan by Aug. 31 after the Taliban threatened “consequences” if compliance with that deadline were to be delayed.
Both the White House and the Pentagon took pains to reinforce the message that everything possible is being done to adhere to the Aug. 31 date.
Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser to President Joe Biden, expressed confidence in the ability of the US to evacuate all Americans who are still in Kabul and who want to leave the country by the end of this month.
“In the days remaining, we believe we have the wherewithal to get out the Americans who want to leave Kabul,” Sullivan said at a press conference.
Even so, Sullivan did not rule out that Biden could postpone the troop withdrawal and evacuation finalization date past Aug. 31, saying only that Washington is maintaining “direct” and daily contact with the Taliban, who are firmly opposed to any extension of the deadline.
However, he said that the US is exceeding all expectations in terms of the speed with which the evacuations are being accomplished, and Washington hopes to be able to conclude the process before the end of August.
After the chaos that resulted last week with half-empty flights departing from the Kabul airport, US forces have accelerated the pace of the evacuation of US nationals and Afghan collaborators.
On Sunday and Monday, more than 16,000 people were evacuated from the Afghan capital on US military and international coalition aircraft, raising to 37,000 the number of people brought out of the Central Asian nation since Aug. 14.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday asked for the help of several US commercial airlines in the evacuation effort.
In addition, the US is sending some of the evacuees to “temporary secure refuges” in Europe and the Middle East, including to US bases in Spain, Italy, Germany, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, the assistant director for logistics on the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, said on Monday.
“We deeply appreciate the support from these countries. This is truly a testament to the importance of our alliances and our partnerships,” Taylor said at a press conference.
At the State Department, spokesman Ned Price specifically mentioned Spain, Italy and Germany as having made commitments to handle 15,000 Afghan collaborators temporarily while they await later resettling in the US.
In sum, with all these efforts, the US is “trying” to finish the evacuations and the withdrawal of its troop contingent by Aug. 31, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
“Our focus is on getting this done by the end of the month,” Kirby said.
The US government has not confirmed the exact number of Americans or Afghans who are still waiting to be evacuated from Afghanistan.
Sullivan said that, regarding the Afghans who collaborated with international troops and who are now in danger, the US is planning to continue removing them from the country, even if all US military forces have already departed, although he did not clarify how that might be accomplished.
Biden said on Sunday that he expects to complete the evacuation by Aug. 31, although he warned that he could extend the deadline given the dangerous situation around the Kabul airport and the risk of terrorist attacks.
According to figures provided by the Defense Department on Monday, currently 5,800 US soldiers are deployed at the Kabul airport to guarantee security after the Taliban takeover.
In an interview with Sky News, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen warned that the Aug. 31 deadline must be met, saying that the insurgents see it as a “red line” demarcating the deadline for the US withdrawal.
“So if they extended, that means they are extending occupation,” he said, adding, “While there is no need for that, I think it will deteriorate the relation, it will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation, so it will provoke a reaction.”