U.S. Rebuffs G-7 Call for More Time to Finish Afghan Airlift

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U.S. Rebuffs G-7 Call for More Time to Finish Afghan Airlift
Credit: © Reuters.

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden has decided to adhere to the deadline he set for evacuations from the Kabul airport, according to a senior administration official, leaving less than a week to fly out thousands of people from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

The decision means that he rebuffed calls from the U.S.’s closest allies to extend the Aug. 31 deadline during a virtual meeting of the Group of Seven leaders Tuesday. 

The Pentagon advised Biden to adhere to the timeline given the security risk facing the U.S. military from potential terrorist attacks by ISIS-K or other Islamic militant groups, a person familiar with the matter said.

Biden has concurred with the Pentagon’s view for now, but asked for contingency plans and reiterated his commitment to getting every American out who wants to leave now. The evacuation timeline will be determined in part by Taliban cooperation in the coming days. 

The virtual summit convened by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was likely the last chance to persuade Biden to push back the date to complete the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. It effectively means that civilian evacuations at Kabul airport must end within the next few days to allow enough time to get remaining U.S. and other troops out.

The fate of foreigners and Afghans whose ties to outside powers leave them vulnerable to Taliban reprisals dominated the buildup to the meeting. Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron were among those expected to urge Biden to shift his position -- though the British government also warned that was unlikely due to the deteriorating security situation in Kabul.

As the G-7 talks began, the Taliban reiterated they would not accept an extension beyond Aug. 31. 

On Monday, CIA Director William Burns had met secretly with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul, the highest-level U.S. meeting with the group since they took control of the city.

There has been growing tension in the G-7 over the U.S. decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, which precipitated the rapid collapse of the government that took Western nations by surprise.

According to a British diplomatic memo, the U.S. president told the G-7 bloc in June he’d maintain enough of a security presence in Afghanistan to ensure they could continue to operate in Kabul following the main U.S. withdrawal.

The Taliban takeover left the U.S. and other governments facing a race against time to evacuate nationals and Afghans they had pledged to help, while facing stinging criticism over their failure to anticipate events in Afghanistan.

(Updates with details on Pentagon’s recommendation starting in third paragraph)

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