U.S. President Joe Biden has said that U.S. troops ‘are going to stay’ in Afghanistan until they get all American citizens out, despite reported British concerns that they could withdraw at any time.
British officials are said to be worried that the U.S. could withdraw from Kabul airport at any time, leaving other countries in the lurch as the world scrambles to get out of Afghanistan.
In a sign of deep distrust between the close allies, British commanders were left wondering whether the U.S. would leave without forewarning them.
Sources told The Guardian that they could not guarantee how long the U.S. would keep its contingent of 6,000 troops on the ground and cautioned that the UK could not continue the rescue without their presence.
But in a TV interview Biden finally acknowledged the effort to get Americans out could run over the August 31 deadline he has set for all US troops to pull out of Afghanistan.
George Stephanopoulos of ABC News asked Biden in an interview airing Wednesday and Thursday: ‘We’ve got like 10 to 15,000 Americans in the country right now. Right? And are you committed to making sure that the troops stay until every American who wants to be out is out?’ ‘Yes,’ Biden replied.
‘So Americans should understand that troops might have to be there beyond Aug. 31st?’ Stephanopoulos continued.
Initially Biden said that troops would not stay past the deadline for them to leave, telling Stephanopoulos: ‘Americans should understand that we’re going to try to get it done before Aug. 31st.’
‘But if we don’t,’ Stephanopoulos said, ‘the troops will stay? he asked.
‘If we don’t, we’ll determine at the time who’s left,’ Biden responded.
‘And?’ Stephanopoulos pressed on.
‘And if you’re American force – if there’s American citizens left, we’re going to stay to get them all out,’ Biden responded.
The U.K. currently has 900 troops in Afghanistan, supervising the evacuation of the 4,000 or so U.K. citizens still in the country, and the thousands of Afghans who have helped the U.K. over the past 20 years.
An American soldier points his gun at an Afghan man on Monday, amid chaotic scenes at Kabul airport
The Taliban turned on the crowd at Kabul airport on Tuesday, driving the hundreds back from the airport perimeter as they pushed to flee the country
An Afghan woman is seen lying on the ground after the Taliban used whips and sharp objects to drive people from the airport
A child covered in blood is carried away with his father after the Taliban used whips on the crowd trying to get in to Kabul airport on Tuesday
A man cries as he watches fellow Afghans get wounded after Taliban fighters use gunfire, whips, sticks and sharp objects to maintain crowd control over thousands of Afghans who continue to wait outside Kabul airport for a way out
Hundreds of people are seen gathering outside the airport in Kabul on Tuesday, in the hope of fleeing the country
British nationals and Afghan evacuees disembark a flight from Afghanistan at RAF Brize Norton in England on Tuesday
Members of the British Army, from 16 Air Assault Brigade, disembark from an RAF Voyager aircraft after landing in Kabul on Tuesday. Britain now has 900 troops in Afghanistan
On Wednesday Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, said they were working with the Taliban in Kabul on a ‘tactical, practical level’ to evacuate citizens and eligible Afghans.
He said that the evacuation program would last days, not weeks.
The Pentagon on Wednesday said they too were working with the Taliban to facilitate the evacuations.
President Biden added that the Taliban is ‘cooperating, letting American citizens get out, American personnel get out, embassies get out’ – but he said that it has been more difficult than expected to evacuate Afghans who assisted the U.S.
Joe Biden on Wednesday night denied that the U.S. was planning to bolt from the airport
Boris Johnson, seen heading to parliament on Wednesday, was roundly criticized for going along with Biden’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said 5,000 people have been evacuated to date and the U.S. intends to increase that flow using various U.S. military aircraft.
‘We’re going to get everyone that we can possibly evacuate, evacuated. And I’ll do that as long as we possibly can until the clock runs out or we run out of capability,’ Austin said on Wednesday.
British special forces, working with the U.S., have been inside Kabul to protect citizens sheltering in place, according to The Mirror.
Yet the tension between the two countries who have committed the highest number of troops to the conflict was undeniable.
Members of the British army arrive in Kabul on Sunday. There are now 900 British troops in Afghanistan assisting with evacuations
Commanding General US Central Command Kenneth F. McKenzie tours an evacuation control center at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Tuesday
Pandemonium unfolded at Kabul airport on Monday as thousands of people ran on to the runway in a desperate attempt to escape Taliban rule, fearing bloody reprisals by the Islamists
Thousands of Afghanis had raced on to the tarmac at Kabul airport before some jumped on the side of a US C-17 jet which was flying hundreds of diplomatic staff and visa holders out of the country
Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, was excoriated in parliament on Wednesday for the chaotic scenes in Afghanistan, at the end of a conflict that cost 457 British lives. The Americans lost five times as many servicemen and women, but deployed 10 times as many troops.
Johnson’s critics accused him of blindly following Biden, and not doing enough to prevent the total collapse of the country.
‘He hasn’t just humiliated America’s Afghan allies,’ said Rory Stewart, a former British cabinet minister with lengthy experience in Afghanistan.
‘He’s humiliated his Western allies by demonstrating their impotence.’