Biden sticks to Aug. 31 withdrawal from Afghanistan

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President Joe Biden has agreed with a Pentagon recommendation to stick to an Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan, according to two people with knowledge of the recommendation.

The decision by the commander in chief is certain to spark criticism at home and abroad as the administration continues to face harsh scrutiny for its handling of the withdrawal and ongoing execution of an urgent evacuation effort at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

American allies including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were reportedly in favor of postponing the pullout date to accommodate further evacuations, while Democratic and Republican members of Congress have demanded Biden maintain the military presence past the end of the month, as well.

Nevertheless, the administration has projected confidence this week that it will be able to safely shuttle all Americans seeking to flee Afghanistan out of the country by Aug. 31. And although the administration has not guaranteed the same timeline for endangered Afghans who aided the two-decade U.S. war effort, Biden has similarly pledged to evacuate those Afghans who also want to leave.

“We believe that we have time between now and the 31st to get out any American who wants to get out,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters at a White House news briefing Tuesday.

One group likely to be pleased by Biden’s decision is the Taliban, which has made clear its desire for the United States to adhere to the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline as it cements control of Afghanistan.

Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen told Sky News in an interview Tuesday that “there would be consequences” if American forces did not leave by the end of the month, warning that an extended U.S. troop presence would “provoke a reaction.”

Although Sullivan asserted Tuesday that “it will be the president’s decision how this proceeds, no one else’s,” administration officials have acknowledged in recent days just how much the U.S. evacuation effort has depended on close communication between American and Taliban officials.

In the latest sign of that coordination, CIA Director William Burns secretly met with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul on Monday, The Washington Post and other news outlets reported Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning, shortly before news broke of Biden’s decision to maintain the Aug. 31 deadline, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters at a news briefing there had “been no change to the timeline of the mission” in Afghanistan.

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