Pentagon briefs Biden on Afghanistan contingency plans as 400 troops head home
Top Pentagon officials on Wednesday morning briefed President Biden on contingency plans should he decide to keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan past his Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, the White House confirmed.
Biden earlier this week had asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley for alternate plans in the event he feels troops should remain in the country longer to help with evacuations. The two joined other members of Biden’s national security team to deliver those options on Wednesday.
“The president was briefed this morning on contingency plans and continues to have optionality should he decide to change plans, even as we are on track to complete our mission by Aug. 31,” press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at the White House.
Psaki said the plans are part of an “ongoing discussion” on the deadline, which Biden is still holding to as of now.
“These are incredibly serious issues and discussions happening internally,” she said.
Lawmakers have expressed doubts over the end-of-August deadline, telling The Hill that Biden’s top aides agree that the date is unrealistic to finish evacuations.
With less than a week to go before then, about 1,500 Americans remain in Afghanistan and are waiting to be evacuated, as are thousands of vulnerable Afghan citizens fearful of Taliban rule, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier on Wednesday.
Though the administration has dramatically increased evacuations, its efforts have been hampered by overwhelming crowds blocking entrances to the Kabul airport, firefights breaking out and fatal stampedes underscoring the dire situation.
In the midst of this, the Pentagon late Tuesday said about 400 troops had begun departing Kabul ahead of the end of August deadline.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby on Wednesday stressed that the departure “will have no impact on the mission at hand.”
The commander on the ground, “in trying to manage time and space at the airport, determined that it was the prudent thing to do to let several hundred troops leave,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon.
Kirby said some of those who left had been part of the original drawdown plan, while others had flown in to help with evacuation efforts and were no longer needed, including “headquarters staff personnel, some maintainers and some other enabling forces.”
About 5,400 troops still remain at the airport, Kirby added.
Psaki said that commanders on the ground “are empowered to make any adjustments as they see fit,” including changes to the number of U.S. troops in Kabul.
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