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President Biden told G-7 leaders on Tuesday that the United States is on pace to finish its withdrawal from Afghanistan by his Aug. 31 deadline, the White House said in a statement.
The president is set to deliver remarks at 4:30 p.m. ET from the White House — remarks that were originally slated to begin at noon, but were pushed back several hours.
The remarks come as Biden faces blowback from congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle over his handling of the withdrawal, as well as questions about whether U.S. troops have enough time to get Americans and allies out of the country.
Biden has asked the Pentagon and State Department for contingency plans if the deadline cannot be met, the White House said.
He told the allies that meeting that “completion of the mission by August 31 depends on continued coordination with the Taliban, including continued access for evacuees to the airport.”
Evacuation effort in Afghanistan totals nearly 59,000 since Aug. 14
So far, the United States has evacuated about 4,000 American passport holders and their families, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.
“We expect that number to continue to grow in the coming days,” Kirby said.
In total, about 58,700 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan since Aug. 14, according to the Pentagon. As of Tuesday, 21,600 were evacuated in the last 24 hours.
Despite the Taliban’s quick takeover of Afghanistan, the president has defended his decision to withdraw, telling White House reporters on Sunday that he believes in the long-term ramifications of his choice.
“I think that history is going to record this was the logical, rational and right decision to make,” Biden said.
Biden has maintained that his goal is to get all Americans who want to leave out of Afghanistan. He has also vowed to try to evacuate as many Afghan allies who aided the U.S throughout the 20-year war as possible.
On Capitol Hill, concern remains over whether the exit date will be met
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., expressed doubts Monday night.
“I think it’s possible, but I think it’s very unlikely,” Schiff, who also serves as the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said.
“Given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated, the number of SIV’s [special immigrant visas,] the number of others who are members of the Afghan press, civil-society leaders, women leaders, it’s hard for me to imagine all of that can be accomplished between now and the end of the month,” he added.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made a more direct call Tuesday morning, urging Biden to “forget about the Aug. 31 deadline,” and instead focus on getting more Americans and Afghan allies out of the country.
“The Taliban should not be allowed to tell us how long we are there to get our personnel out. That’s our decision, not theirs,” he said.
People evacuated from Kabul are being held in third-party countries, including an air base in Qatar where there are “very challenging conditions,” a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call. Officials are working to try to make sure people have enough food, water and medical services. “This is a challenge. We are adjusting and improving as we do,” the official said.