Biden: US 'on a pace' to leave Afghanistan by Aug. 31

President BidenJoe BidenBiden and Harris host 'family' Hanukkah celebration with more than 150 guests Symone Sanders to leave the White House at the end of the year Overnight Defense & National Security — Senate looks to break defense bill stalemate MORE on Tuesday said the U.S. is on track to get all of its forces out of Afghanistan by Aug. 31, as he'd previously laid out, but cautioned the timeline is dependent on cooperation from the Taliban.

Biden, in an address on Afghanistan hours after meeting with other world leaders on the evacuation efforts, said he's asked for contingency plans in the event more time is needed. But he stressed that the situation could deteriorate the longer the U.S. remains in Afghanistan.

"We are currently on a pace to finish by August the 31st. The sooner we can finish, the better," Biden said in prepared remarks.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops. But the completion by Aug. 31 depends on the Taliban continuing to cooperate and allow access to the airport for those we're transporting out and no disruptions to our operations," he added.

Biden said he's asked Pentagon and State Department officials to draft contingency plans should troops need to remain in Afghanistan into September. The president has previously said all Americans in the country who want to return home will be brought home, but White House officials have expressed optimism that the ramp-up of evacuation flights will allow them to wind down the U.S. military presence by the end of August.

Biden pointed to the risk of terrorist attacks near the Kabul airport, where thousands of Americans and Afghan civilians have gathered in recent days in an effort to leave the country.

He also said the Taliban have thus far taken steps to ensure access to the airport, though reports on the ground indicated some civilians have faced intimidation or been attacked by Taliban fighters.

"I’m determined to ensure that we complete our mission, this mission. I’m also mindful of the increasing risks that I’ve been briefed on and the need to factor those risks in," Biden said. "They’re real and significant challenges that we also have to take into consideration."

The Taliban, which swiftly took control of major Afghan cities before seizing the capital of Kabul just more than a week ago, have said any extension that would keep U.S. forces in the country beyond Aug. 31 would be viewed as crossing a red line.

ADVERTISEMENT

Lawmakers in both parties have suggested sticking with the Aug. 31 timeline was overly ambitious given how many Americans and Afghan allies still needed to be evacuated.

But the White House has touted the increasing number of individuals flown out of Afghanistan in recent days despite initial missteps that led to images of civilians clinging to a military plane as it taxied down the runway in Kabul.

The U.S. military flew out roughly 12,700 people on 37 flights on Monday, the largest single day of airlifts out of the country. 

In total, approximately 21,600 people were evacuated from Afghanistan during the 24-hour period between early Monday and early Tuesday, a White House official said, including 8,900 people who were transported on 57 coalition flights.

Since Aug. 14, the U.S. has evacuated or facilitated the evacuation of about 58,700 people, the White House said.