The Taliban is setting August 31 as a “red line” date for U.S. and U.K. troops to leave Afghanistan and threatening “consequences” if the date is violated. Taliban’s threat came a day after President Joe Biden said his administration would discuss extending the deadline beyond August 31 to complete evacuations.
Taliban spokesman Dr. Suhail Shaheen set August 31 as a cut-off date for evacuations in an interview with Sky News that aired Monday.
“It’s a red line. President Biden announced that on 31 August they would withdraw all their military forces. So if they extend it that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that,” Shaheen said. “If the U.S. or U.K. were to seek additional time to continue evacuations – the answer is no. Or there would be consequences. It will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation it will provoke a reaction.”
On Sunday, Biden said, “Our hope is we will not have to extend, but there are going to be discussions, I suspect, on how far along we are in the process.”
Thousands of Americans still remain in Afghanistan, and as of Monday morning, the Pentagon said only “a few thousand” had been evacuated.
The exact number of Americans remaining in the country is unclear. Last week, U.S. officials estimated between 11,000 and 15,000 Americans were still in Afghanistan. In an interview with CNN’s Brianna Keilar, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said, “We cannot give you a precise number” of Americans in Afghanistan.
The evacuation efforts have been complicated by Taliban checkpoints around Kabul city and large crowds of Afghan civilians around the Kabul airport.
U.S. troops are maintaining their security perimeter at the Kabul airport and not going out to retrieve U.S. citizens. The evacuation operations have instead relied on assurances from the Taliban that Americans with passports will be let through to the airport. Meanwhile, British troops have reportedly left the security perimeter at the Kabul airport to instead retrieve their citizens trapped outside the airport.
In a Friday address, Biden said, “We have no indication that [U.S. citizens] haven’t been able to get — in Kabul — through the airport.”
Politico reported, based on the accounts of several people who participated in a briefing call with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Friday, that Austin contradicted Biden and told lawmakers that Americans attempting to reach the Kabul airport have been beaten by Taliban fighters.
The Associated Press reported the Taliban is blaming the U.S. military for the chaotic evacuation process in Afghanistan. The militant group said there’s no need for any Afghans to flee the country. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the U.S. was undermining Taliban rule by sending offering evacuation flights to Afghans.
During his interview with Sky News, Shaheen dismissed concerns that the Taliban are targeting Afghan citizens and that those Afghans are risking their lives to escape the country.
“I assure you it is not about being worried or scared,” Shaheen said. “They want to reside in Western countries and that is a kind of economic migration because Afghanistan is a poor country and 70% of the people of Afghanistan live under the line of poverty so everyone wants to resettle in Western countries to have a prosperous life. It is not about [being] scared.”
When asked to address reports of Taliban fighters going door-to-door to find Afghans who helped U.S. and NATO forces, Shaheen said, “All fake news. I can assure you there are many reports by our opponents claiming what is not based on realities.”