President Joe Biden reiterated his commitment to adhering to an Aug. 31 deadline to complete the military evacuation of Americans and other at-risk Afghans from Afghanistan, and said that the airlift operation is currently "on pace" to meet that deadline.
In an address from the White House, the president said that the U.S. military had helped evacuate more than 70,000 people in the last 10 days.
Leaders in Great Britain and other G7 nations, who met virtually Tuesday morning, had made clear that they wanted Biden to extend the self-imposed deadline for ending the airlift beyond Aug. 31. Although the president did not agree to that, he said that he did instruct the Pentagon to develop contingency plans in case the need to remain longer does arise.
“I’m determined to ensure that we complete our mission," said the president. "I’m also mindful of the increasing risks that I’ve been briefed on and the need to factor those risks when there are real and significant challenges that we also have to take into consideration the longer we stay, starting with the acute and growing risk of being attacked by a terrorist group known as ISIS-K, an ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan, which is a sworn enemy of the Taliban, as well.”
On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Taliban warned that the airlift operation must not continue past the end of the month.
Members of Congress obtained a classified briefing from the secretary of defense, secretary of state and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff on the situation Tuesday morning. The officials were reportedly asked how many Americans remain in Afghanistan and were unable to answer the question.
"So my focus is we have to make sure that, if in fact we are going to be held to the August 31 deadline, every single American is evacuated from the country." said Rep. Stephanie Bice, (R) OK-5.
Although there is a wide range of opinion on the fundamental issue of withdrawing from Afghanistan after 20 years of fighting, Republicans generally agree that the withdrawal was handled very poorly by the president.
"And that’s the reason we’re dealing with this crisis right now in Afghanistan is because of incompetent leadership," said Rep. Kevin Hern, (R) OK-1.
Oklahoma members have faith in the military to get people out, they just wonder if they have enough time and worry about the support coming from the White House.
"I just hope that the will power exists at the White House, with what may come on August 31 or in the days before or after, to use the resources that are available to protect our people and our friends," said Rep. Frank Lucas, (R) OK-3,
The members said they’re not specifically aware of any Oklahomans who remain in Afghanistan but said veterans have told them about interpreters they know who are still there and thus potentially at risk.