Until today, Joe Biden has held firmly to his commitment to be out of Afghanistan as of August 31, even though our allies–to my knowledge, unanimously–have urged him to extend that deadline. The problem, of course, is the Taliban, which controls Kabul and has insisted on sticking to August 31. But this afternoon, Biden opened the door to staying longer, saying that “he has asked defense officials to put together ‘contingency plans’ for keeping American forces on the ground in Afghanistan beyond the end of this month.”
Importantly, the August 31 deadline was to get not just civilians out of Afghanistan, but our troops and whatever equipment can be salvaged, as well. So realistically, civilian evacuations would have to cease some days prior to the end of the month. Meanwhile, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby confirmed today, following the leak of a State Department cable, that only around 4,000 “American passport holders” have been evacuated, out of 10,000 to 15,000 who are believed to have been in Afghanistan when the withdrawal began.
Further, in another concession to reality, Jen Psaki acknowledged today that “there could be some” Americans left behind when the administration’s retreat is complete.
So it is easy to understand why Biden, along with the leaders of all other countries whose nationals are trapped in Afghanistan, would like to continue the evacuation into September. What is not clear is whether Biden’s reference to “contingency plans” represents a real change in strategy, and if so, what prompted it. Maybe Biden and his handlers are simply appalled at the idea of thousands of Americans left to the mercies of the Taliban, which is the course we are on now. Or maybe–the most optimistic possibility–the administration has negotiated, but not yet announced, an extension of time with the Taliban. (For “negotiated,” read “bought.”)
At this point, pretty much all possibilities are on the table, as the tragedy of Biden’s botched withdrawal continues to unfold.