Latest on Afghanistan: As Biden weighs pushing Aug. 31 deadline, thousands more evacuated – USA TODAY

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  • As Biden considers pushing the Aug. 31 exit deadline, Taliban warns against that.
  • White House says over 16,000 people were evacuated between Sunday and Monday from Kabul.
  • China says Americans are running away from Afghanistan. It stands ready to help Taliban rebuild.

President Joe Biden said on Sunday that the U.S. may look to extend its Aug. 31 deadline for exiting Afghanistan, again vowing that any American who wants to leave the country will be evacuated.

“There’s discussions going on among us and the military about extending,” he said. “Our hope is we will not have to extend.”

But Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, in an interview with Sky News on Monday, said Aug. 31 is a “red line” and that extending the American presence would “provoke a reaction.”

“So if they extended, that means they are extending occupation,” he said. While there is no need for that, I think it will deteriorate the relation, it will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation, so it will provoke a reaction.” 

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Meanwhile, an Afghan guard died Monday in a firefight at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport. The guard had been exchanging gunfire with unidentified men.

To help speed evacuations, the Air Force is sending nearly three dozen C-17 transport planes to Kabul on Monday, CNN reports, adding that as many as 20,000 people are awaiting an airlift.

American evacuations from Afghanistan picked up speed over the weekend, with President Joe Biden telling the country on Sunday afternoon that 11,000 people had been airlifted out of Kabul in the previous 30 hours.

Analysis: US lacks leverage over Taliban amid chaotic Afghanistan exit: ‘They have us in a corner’

Another 10,900 people evacuated from Kabul

According to a White House pool report on Monday, from 3:00 a.m. EDT to 3:00 p.m. EDT, about 10,900 people were evacuated from Kabul. Of those, 6,660 people were evacuated on 15 U.S. military flights and about 4,300 on 34 coalition flights.

The pool report notes that: “Since August 14, the U.S. has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 48,000 people. Since the end of July, we have re-located approximately 53,000 people.”

— Luciana Lopez

Afghan refugees undergo screenings before arrival to U.S.

WASHINGTON — White House officials say every Afghan being newly granted admission to the United States is undergoing biometric and biographic security screening at stops overseas before arrival in the United States.

The officials spoke Monday on condition of anonymity to brief reporters on details of the processing. From the single arrival point of Dulles International Airport, new Afghan arrivals were going on to military bases around the United States for further processing. They do not include U.S. citizens, green card holders or their families.

Each person was undergoing a COVID-19 test on arrival in the U.S. and officials were working on arranging COVID vaccinations for those who want them. Each new Afghan arrival was being connected to a refugee organization that would help them resettle in homes around the United States.

— The Associated Press

Pentagon adds fourth base to house arriving Afghan evacuees 

The Pentagon said it has added a fourth U.S. military base, in New Jersey, to three others — in Virginia, Texas and Wisconsin — that are prepared to temporarily house arriving Afghans. Maj. Gen. Hank Williams, the Joint Staff deputy director for regional operations, told reporters there are now about 1,200 Afghans at those military bases. The four bases combined are capable of housing up to 25,000 evacuees, Kirby said.

Afghan evacuees continued to arrive at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington. A bus carried some of the latest arrivals from Dulles airport to another site for what would be one of many processing stops before they reach new homes in the United States.

Exhaustion clouded the faces of many of the adults. How does it feel to be here, a journalist asked one man. “We are safe,” he answered.

An older woman sank with relief into an offered wheelchair, and a little girl carried by an older boy shaded her eyes to look curiously around. It was an interim stop for what had been a grueling struggle over days for many to get flights out of what is now Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The scramble to evacuate left most arrivals carrying only a bookbag or purse, or a plastic shopping bag of belongings. Some arrived for their new lives entirely empty-handed.

— The Associated Press

16 US citizens retrieved outside Kabul airport

BOCA RATON, Florida — Senior U.S. military officials in Afghanistan say U.S. Special Operations retrieved 16 American citizens from outside the Kabul airport early Monday morning.

The military officials would not detail where in Afghanistan the Americans were rescued from but they said it was about two hours outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport. The Americans were brought back to Kabul for evacuation processing.

The officials, who commented only on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations, said the rescue missions that go beyond the walls of the Kabul airport require the approval of a four-star officer and are handled on a case-by-case basis.

On Monday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby confirmed that the U.S. military had launched at least one additional rescue by helicopter but declined to offer further details. It’s unclear if Kirby was referring to Monday’s special operations mission or a separate flight.

— The Associated Press

U.S. can’t say how many Americans remain in Afghanistan

The U.S. does not know how many Americans remain in Afghanistan, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday.

Americans who have come to Afghanistan have been asked to register with the U.S. Embassy, but some did not, Sullivan said during a White House briefing. Others registered but later left Afghanistan without alerting the embassy, he said.

That makes it difficult to know exactly how many Americans remain in the country, he said. But Sullivan said the U.S. has “the wherewithal” to evacuate any American who wants to leave the country by Aug. 31.

– Michael Collins

Afghan refugees arrive at Wisconsin’s Fort McCoy 

FORT McCOY, Wis. – Afghan refugees have begun arriving at Fort McCoy in western Wisconsin for temporary housing and support after their home country fell to the Taliban.

According to a statement from the Army base, Afghans with special immigrant visa applicants, their families and other individuals at risk began arriving at the base Sunday as part of the continuing U.S. airlift. This is in addition to Afghans currently undergoing processing at Fort Lee, Virginia. More arrivals are expected in the coming days.

More: Safe – but still scared: Afghans who worked with Americans fear for family left behind

Fort McCoy spokeswoman Cheryl Phillips said refugees are flying into Volk Field Air National Guard Base and being transported to Fort McCoy, which is located between Tomah and Sparta, about 100 miles northwest of Madison.

It was not immediately clear how many refugees Fort McCoy will be receiving. However, 1,000 soldiers from the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Reserve are assembling at Fort McCoy to provide support.

Fort McCoy is one three military installations in the U.S. approved by the Department of Defense for temporary housing. U.S. Northern Command is working to build additional capacity at the Wisconsin base, as well as at Fort Lee, Fort Bliss in Texas, and potentially other bases.

The last time Fort McCoy served as a refugee center  was in 1980, when it housed 14,000 Cubans who fled Fidel Castro’s government. 

– Associated Press

Pentagon offers evacuation update

The Pentagon update its evacuation numbers at a press briefing on Tuesday morning.

As of Monday morning, there have been 16,000 people evacuated on 25 U.S. military C-17s, three C-130s and a combination of 61 other military, charter and commercial flights, Gen. Hank Taylor said.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby also acknowledged that the U.S. military has made at least one more rescue of U.S. citizens in Kabul by helicopter. The Pentagon had previously acknowledged one such rescue last Thursday. 

– Tom Vanden Brook

Unknown assailant killed at Kabul airport

An attack outside Hamid Karzai International Airport left one Afghan soldier dead, according to the U.S. military. 

No U.S. troops or other allied forces were wounded in what Navy Capt. William Urban called a “brief exchange of gunfire” last night. The gunfight broke out near the airport’s north gate, where the U.S. military is mounting its evacuation operations. 

An unknown gunman fired upon Afghan security forces guarding the gate, Urban said in a statement. U.S., coalition and Afghan troops returned fire. Several Afghans were wounded and are being treated at an airfield hospital. They are in stable condition. 

Concerns about safety at the airport have increased in recent days as officials worry about terror attacks.

– Tom Vanden Brook

Harris keeps focus on evacuation

Vice President Kamala Harris, in Singapore in the first stop of a Southeast Asia tour, took questions on how events unfolded over the last week in Afghanistan. Noting that there “is going to be plenty of time to analyze” the fall of the government, she said Monday the U.S. is focused solely on getting Americans and allies out of the country.

“There is no question that our focus has to be on evacuating American citizens, Afghans who worked with us, and vulnerable Afghans, including women and children,” Harris said. “That has to be our primary focus and where we are placing our attention on the issue of Afghanistan.”

– Katie Wadington

China accuses U.S. of running away from Afghanistan

BEIJING — China is once again criticizing the United States over Afghanistan, saying America cannot simply abandon the war-torn country.

“The United States is the root cause and the biggest external factor in the Afghan issue,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Monday. “It cannot just run away like this.”

He called on the U.S. to help maintain stability, avoid chaos and rebuild Afghanistan.

“I hope the U.S. side can match its acts with words, take on its responsibilities in Afghanistan and put into practice its commitments to Afghanistan in terms of development and reconstruction, and humanitarian assistance,” he told a daily briefing.

China has expressed readiness to work with all parties in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, to rebuild the war-torn nation.

– Associated Press

How many people have been evacuated?

The White House released updated evacuation numbers on Monday morning. 

In the 24-hour period starting at 3 a.m. EDT Sunday, 28 U.S. military flights – including 25 C-17 and 3 C-130 transport planes – airlifted about 10,400 people. Another, 5,900 people were evacuated on 61 coalition aircraft.

That brings to 37,000 the total number of people who have been evacuated by the U.S. or had their evacuation “facilitated” by the U.S, the White House said.

– Katie Wadington

More: Chaos at Kabul airport raises questions about U.S. evacuation effort

Possible threat from ISIS-K

As the Tailban entered its second week of governing Afghanistan, a new threat gained attention: ISIS-K

The threat of ISIS terror attacks in Kabul on civilians surrounding the airport and on American forces posted there has forced changes in planning for the evacuation, according to two U.S. officials.

The fear is that ISIS-K might target the crowds of Afghans and others swarming the gates at Hamid Karzai International airport, one official said. The airfield is secured by more than 5,000 U.S. troops. But the security that exists beyond its perimeter has been provided by the Taliban, who have been beating Afghans and some U.S. citizens at checkpoints leading to the airport.

– Tom Vanden Brook, Josh Meyer

Learn more: Brutal ISIS-K affiliate in Afghanistan poses terror threat to U.S. evacuation

Britain to push US on Aug. 31 exit deadline

LONDON — Britain is urging the United States to extend its evacuation effort in Kabul beyond the current Aug. 31 deadline, saying without the Americans that other countries will have no choice but to stop their own operations to help people fleeing the Taliban takeover.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to press President Joe Biden at an emergency meeting of Group of Seven leaders on Tuesday convened by Britain.

Some U.K. military leaders have said Britain should keep troops at Kabul airport to continue the evacuation effort even if the Americans leave. But Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said Monday that “there is a hard reality that there would be no international airlift without the way that the U.S. are underpinning it.”

He said that “whether or not the U.S. can be persuaded to stay is a matter for the prime minister tomorrow in the G-7 meeting.” He said that an agreement from the Taliban would also be needed for an extension.

Biden has not ruled out extending the airlift beyond the Aug. 31 deadline he set before the Taliban’s swift takeover in Afghanistan, but he said he hoped it would not be necessary.

Britain says its forces have evacuated more than 5,700 people — chiefly U.K. citizens and Afghans — from Kabul in the last 10 days, 1,821 of them in the past 24 hours.

– Associated Press

What happened in Afghanistan: What we know about evacuations after Taliban takeover