Lawmakers from both parties pressed top Biden national security officials at a classified briefing Tuesday to extend the August 31 deadline for the US military to evacuate Americans and vulnerable Afghans from Afghanistan.
During a briefing with President Joe Biden’s top national security officials Tuesday — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines — lawmakers urged the officials to try to convince Biden that the evacuation efforts should extend beyond the end of the month.
“There was strong, bipartisan support to extend the August 31 deadline,” said Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Michigan Democrat. “That was a major theme, a major comment, a major point we all tried to make, urging them to do more to advocate with the president to extend the deadline.”
The briefing occurred at the same time Biden had decided to stick with the August 31 deadline to withdraw US forces and complete the US evacuation effort. That decision was driven in part by security risks in a country now controlled by the Taliban, according to administration officials, though Biden has directed his team to draft contingency planning in case the administration decides the deadline does need to be extended.
“I’m very confident we’ll get as many as it as possible to get out. All? That’s going to be very, very difficult,” said House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith of Washington. “I did ask about the 31st deadline. That is still the goal. And I was very specific that they need to have a plan to go past the 31st and they assured me that they do.”
The pushback from lawmakers at the briefing and afterward underscores the challenges Biden’s team faces on the ground in Afghanistan and back home in Washington as it scrambles to evacuate American citizens, Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program applicants and other vulnerable Afghans ahead of the deadline.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said at a news conference that he left the briefing “less confident” all Americans could be evacuated in the next week, calling on the House to focus on Afghanistan instead of infrastructure.
“At no time should America ever bend or allowed the Taliban to tell us, when we have to stop bringing Americans out,” McCarthy said.
Lawmakers said that Biden’s team recognized the challenge of getting everyone out by August 31, though the officials did not contradict the President on the deadline at the briefing. But made their case directly to the national security officials in charge of the US withdrawal to change course.
“We made it very clear to them they should let the president know, back off that number,” said Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. “Blinken kept trying to say we’re going to do our best, but they all acknowledged it can’t be done. You couldn’t get all the Americans out of there, much less the Afghans.
The pushback from lawmakers on the deadline began on Monday even before Biden had decided to stick to the August 31 deadline. After a briefing from the intelligence community, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff told reporters that he didn’t see how it was possible to complete the evacuation by the deadline.
“I think it’s very unlikely given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated, the number of SIVs, the number of others who are members of the Afghan press, civil society leaders women leaders. It’s hard for me to imagine all of that can be accomplished between now and the end of the month,” Schiff, a California Democrat, said.
Rep. Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat, argued that the conditions on the ground have changed and the deadline should change with it.
“We’re in a different world now than we were in when that date was originally set. We have to respond to that different world and that different reality. We have to get the mission done,” Crow said. “The deadline is when the mission is accomplished and we bring our people. Full stop.”
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