WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden decided on Tuesday to observe the Aug 31 deadline for withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan, the US media reported.
The decision followed a meeting in Kabul on Monday between CIA Director William Burns and a key Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
The US media reported that President Biden consulted his national security team before taking both decisions, sending his intelligence chief to Kabul and observing the Aug 31 deadline.
In one of these meetings, President Biden asked his security team for contingency plans in case he determines later that the US needs to remain in Afghanistan for longer, various US media outlets reported.
Aides asked to make contingency plan for stay beyond Aug 31 if need arises
The Taliban, however, have refused to extend the Aug 31 deadline for US and Nato forces to leave Afghanistan, complicating plans for a smooth evacuation of both US and Afghan nationals from the war-torn country.
“We will not extend the deadline for the presence of US troops in Afghanistan,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a Tuesday press conference as G7 leaders tried to persuade Mr Biden to keep US troops in Afghanistan to complete the evacuation.
In his video conference with the heads of the world’s leading democracies, Mr Biden also discussed the airlifts from Kabul and explained his decision to leave Afghanistan at the end of the month. Mr Biden spoke for seven minutes.
The US media reported that the Biden administration was reluctant to extend the deadline because it feared ISIS or Taliban reprisals should they stay longer.
Commenting on the CIA director’s meeting with Mullah Baradar, the US media claimed that US officials have “held daily discussions with the Taliban on security matters” since the insurgents captured Kabul on Aug 15.
The media noted that so far Mr. Burns “is the highest-ranking US official to meet in person” with Taliban leadership since the Kabul takeover. They described Mr. Burns as “a seasoned career diplomat, capable of holding complicated discussions” with both government and non-government actors.
The reports said that some on President Biden’s national security team have suggested speeding-up flights out of Kabul to complete the evacuation.
“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 on Monday.
The media, however, reported that Britain and France were pressing Mr. Biden to leave troops in the country for extra few days, arguing it would still allow him to meet his original 9/11 withdrawal date for US forces.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is hosting the meeting as the current G7 president, “is advocating for a unified approach to the Taliban,” CNN reported. “He wants the world’s leading democracies to come up with a plan on how to recognize the government or potentially apply economic sanctions or withhold aid.”
Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2021