President Joe Biden on Sunday said the deployment of U.S. troops in Afghanistan could extend beyond the Aug. 31 deadline to aid in the evacuation of American personnel and Afghan allies.
“There are discussions going on among us and the military about extending,” Biden said during a White House press conference. “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.”
Biden maintained that he believes that all necessary evacuations would be completed by Aug. 31 and that the evacuation efforts would be ramping up.
Twenty-three U.S. military flights and 35 coalition aircraft have been used to evacuate approximately 7,800 personnel from Afghanistan from Aug. 21 to Aug. 22, according to the White House.
In total, approximately 30,000 personnel (on both military and coalition flights) [have been] evacuated since the end of July.
But as Jake Sullivan, Biden’s National Security advisor, admitted when pressed on the question as to how many Americans and allies still remain, Sullivan said, “we don’t exactly know.”
Also on Sunday, in an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd, Sullivan said, “we know that it’s roughly a few thousand, Chuck. But let me explain to the American people why we don’t exactly know. Because when people come to Afghanistan who are American citizens, we ask them to register with the U.S. embassy. Many leave and never de-register.
“Or others come and choose not to register in the first place. Of course, as Americans, that’s their right. So, we have been working for the past few days to get fidelity on as precise a count as possible. We have reached out to thousands of Americans by phone, email, text. And we are working on plans to, as we get in touch with people, give them direction for the best and most safe and most effective way for them to get into the airport.”
Biden added that regardless of when the U.S. made the decision to pull out of Afghanistan, such a crisis would have been unavoidable.
“Let me be clear,” Biden said Sunday, “the evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul is going to be hard and painful, no matter when it started or when we began. Would have been true if we had started a month ago or a month from now. There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss and the heartbreaking images you see on television. It’s just a fact. My heart aches for those people you see. We are proving that we can move, though, thousands of people a day out of Kabul.”