President Biden is under mounting pressure to extend the deadline to leave Afghanistan as thousands of Americans, Afghans and foreign citizens remain stranded in the Taliban-controlled nation.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to bring up prolonging the operation with Biden during a virtual meeting of G-7 leaders on Tuesday.
France is also seeking an extension.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said he is aware of NATO allies clamoring for more time but said the US is racing to complete the flights by the deadline.
“The goal is to get as many people out as fast as possible,” Kirby said.
“The focus is on trying to do this as best we can by the end of the month. And as the secretary said, if he needs to have additional conversations with the commander-in-chief about that timeline, he’ll do that — but we’re just not at that point right now,” he said at a Defense Department briefing.
A senior State Department official told Fox News that “our commitment to at-risk Afghans doesn’t end on Aug. 31,” adding that there are expectations that people will still want to leave Afghanistan after the US exits.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Taliban on Monday rejected the possibility of an extension outright, warning that it would bring “consequences.”
“It’s a red line. President Biden announced that on Aug. 31 they would withdraw all their military forces,” Suhail Shaheen said.
“If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations — the answer is no. Or there would be consequences,” he said.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan seemed to suggest at the White House briefing Monday that the US is negotiating with the Taliban on an extension.
“We are in talks with the Taliban on a daily basis through both political and security channels. I’m not going to get into the details of those discussions here to protect those discussions, which are covering a wide range of issues,” he said.
“We have also consulted closely with our allies and partners on the issue of the evacuation and its progress … we are taking this day by day,” Sullivan said.
Keeping the deadline would likely mean thousands would be left behind, said Charlie Herbert, a retired British Army officer and former NATO adviser to the Afghan Interior Ministry.
“By setting this hard ending — initially Sept. 11, then brought forward to Aug. 31 — that precipitated the collapse of Afghanistan, this psychological collapse,” Herbert told the Daily Mail. “It’s a fundamental mistake.”
“If the Taliban are totally unwilling to negotiate a further extension, it’s further evidence of the folly of setting a timeline in the first place,” he said.
British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said he spoke to his American counterpart and pointed out that a withdrawal of US forces would “take away the framework” for the evacuation operation.
“I don’t think there is any likelihood of staying on after the United States,” Wallace said, according to the BBC.
“We are really down to hours now, not weeks. We have to make sure we exploit every minute to get people out,” he said.
James Heappey, the minister of the armed forces, said the British need the deadline extension because thousands of British citizens and Afghans are waiting to be evacuated and it is “not realistic” to replace departing US troops in time.
“The mission in Kabul this week is fundamentally underpinned by a US presence, not just in terms of the number of troops that they have at the airport assuring its security, but also the role that the US Air Force are playing in delivering air traffic control and all of the other airfield services,” Heappey told Sky News.
”There is a hard reality that there would be no international airlift without the way the US is underpinning it,” he said.
But he also noted that the Taliban would have a say in the decision.
“Even though they are the seven most powerful people on the planet, they don’t get to take that decision in isolation. The Taliban get a vote as well and that’s why we’re continuing to work towards the 31st,” Heappey said.
“Even if the political will in London, Washington, Paris, Berlin is for an extension, the Taliban may say no,” he added.
Biden acknowledged during a speech Sunday that he has been involved in discussions about allowing the US to remain past Aug. 31 to continue to provide security at Hamid Karzai International Airport outside Kabul as the evacuations continue.
“There’s discussions going on among us and the military about extending. Our hope is we will not have to extend, but there are going to be discussions, I suspect, on how far along we are in the process,” the president said.
Heappey told the BBC that the UK had evacuated 6,631 people in the last week.
But he said about 1,800 British passport holders and 2,275 Afghans who worked for the British government remain behind.
With Post wires