US pledges to pressure Taliban to allow departures past August 31

‘There is no deadline on our work’ Secretary of State Antony Blinken says, vowing to help people leave Afghanistan after US withdrawal.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about Afghanistan during a media briefing at the State Department, August 25, 2021 [Alex Brandon/Pool/AP]

The United States military may be leaving Afghanistan by August 31, but Washington’s efforts to help its citizens and Afghan allies leave the country will continue well beyond that deadline, Biden administration officials said on Wednesday.

With a functioning airport and international pressure, those wishing to depart from Afghanistan will be able to leave, Secretary of State Antony Blinken argued.

“Let me be crystal clear about this: There is no deadline on our work,” Blinken said, stressing that efforts to assist any remaining US citizens or Afghan partners will go beyond the end of the month.

“The Taliban have made public and private commitments to provide and permit safe passage for Americans, for third-country nationals and Afghans at risk going forward past August 31.”

The top US diplomat said Washington and its global allies will do everything they can to pressure the Taliban to allow departures after the withdrawal.

Blinken did not provide specifics on how the US would hold the group to its commitments, given its brutal past. Despite his assurances, reports are emerging of rampant abuses by the Taliban as well as public calls for Afghans against heading to the airport.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki reiterated Blinken’s message later on Wednesday.

“We are looking at a range of options for how we can continue to provide consular support and facilitate departures for those who wish to leave after August 31,” Psaki said.

“And our expectation and the expectation of the international community is that people who want to leave Afghanistan after the US military departs should be able to do so.”

For his part, Blinken said both the international community and the Taliban have an interest in keeping the airport in Kabul open in the future.

Antony Blinken said there is an “active effort” by regional countries to play a role in keeping the airport in Kabul open after the departure of US troops, set for August 31.

“That’s happening very actively right now,” he told reporters, without identifying the countries involved in the effort.

Earlier this year, before the Taliban takeover, Turkey proposed sending troops to secure the airport after the US withdrawal, but Ankara began pulling its troops out of the country on Wednesday.

The Taliban gained control over Afghanistan in a lightning offensive earlier this month as the deadline for US troop withdrawal loomed. The group captured Kabul on August 15, and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, spelling the collapse of the Afghan government.

Evacuees wait to board a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, August 23, 2021 [Sgt Isaiah Campbell/US Marine Corps via AP]

The US military has maintained control of the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) to evacuate American citizens, third-country nationals and Afghan allies.

Scenes of chaos have marred the evacuation operation that is set to conclude on August 31. The US administration, however, has left room for extending the final withdrawal deadline if all Americans willing to leave are not airlifted out of the country past the end of the month.

“The sooner we can finish, the better. Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops,” Biden said.

“But the completion by August 31 depends upon the Taliban continuing to cooperate and allow access to the airport for those who we’re transporting out with no disruptions to our operation.”

The president also requested “contingency plans” from the Pentagon and State Department for staying beyond the deadline.

Administration officials, however, keep pressing that the mission is “on pace” to be completed on time.

On Wednesday, Blinken said 4,500 out of an estimated total of 6,000 US citizens in Afghanistan have been airlifted out of the country.

“We’ve been in direct contact with approximately 500 additional Americans and provided specific instructions on how to get to the airport safely,” Blinken told reporters.

As for the remaining 1,000, the top US diplomat said the State Department is “aggressively reaching out to them multiple times a day” to give them instructions to reach the airport.

According to Blinken, the US has evacuated more than 82,300 out of Afghanistan since August 14.

Source: Al Jazeera