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Biden could leave thousands of Americans behind in Afghanistan

Families board U.S. Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 23, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Samuel Ruiz).
August 24, 2021

President Joe Biden could leave behind thousands of Americans in Afghanistan if he sticks to August 31 as his deadline to remove all U.S. troops in the country.

The Daily Caller reported on Tuesday, citing an official with direct knowledge of the evacuation efforts in Afghanistan, that about 3,800 Americans have been evacuated from Afghanistan since July 29, with an estimated 8,000 remaining in the country. The official told the Daily Caller that, based on the pace of the evacuation efforts, its “doubtful we are going to bring in 8,000 more Americans” between now and August 31.

On Tuesday, CNN reported Biden plans to stick to August 31 as his deadline for withdrawing all U.S. troops. Biden’s reported decision comes after the Taliban said it would accept “no extensions” for U.S. forces in Afghanistan beyond that date.

Reports that Biden is sticking with his August 31 deadline have prompted questions about how many Americans are still awaiting evacuation and if they can get out of Afghanistan in time.

The Pentagon has avoided providing exact numbers of the Americans that have been evacuated from Afghanistan in the past week.

Estimates of the number of Americans that remained in Afghanistan also varied widely, between 11,000 and 15,000 as of last week. The numbers given by the official who spoke with the Daily Caller suggest U.S. officials believe about 12,000 Americans have required evacuation from Afghanistan since the Taliban toppled the U.S.-backed Afghan government on August 15 and seized near-total control of the country.

The official’s numbers are in line with those shared by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX). After attending the classified briefing on Tuesday, Brady told reporters around 4,000 Americans have been evacuated from Afghanistan.

Efforts to evacuate U.S. citizens and Afghan allies have been complicated by massive crowds around the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, and fears of Taliban fighters stopping people at checkpoints on their way to the airport.

On Monday, Reuters also reported House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said he believes an evacuation of all Americans from Afghanistan by August 31 is unlikely.

“I think it’s possible but I think it’s very unlikely given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated,” Schiff said.

In at least two instances, U.S. troops have left the airport perimeter to retrieve trapped Americans by helicopter, but on Monday Pentagon spokesman John Kirby such evacuation efforts would only occur on a “case-by-case basis” and on Tuesday Kirby said “There are no additional operations to speak to that I’m aware outside the airport.”

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported U.S. military officials said the roughly 6,000 U.S. troops in Kabul will begin winding down as early as this week or this weekend. The officials said U.S. forces would continue to fly evacuation missions up until the last few days before the August 31 deadline, but then they will need to switch their priorities from evacuating civilians to removing the remaining troops and equipment.

The officials who spoke with the New York Times said, given the logistics of moving as much equipment as they have in Afghanistan, the military will need to start its final draw down within the next several days in order to meet the August 31 deadline. The officials said the military could slow the departure if Biden extends evacuation efforts beyond that date.

Fox News reporter Lucas Tomlinson separately is reporting U.S. troops are already starting the final drawdown in anticipation of the August 31 deadline.

Tomlinson tweeted, “BREAKING: The U.S. military has started withdrawing from Afghanistan reducing troop presence: U.S. officials.”

“There are fewer American troops at the airport in Kabul today than there were yesterday,” Fox News reported.

“Things have departed,” an official told Fox News. “We can still defend the airport.”

Another official told Fox News, “We are still able to get Americans out who want to evacuate.”