Afghanistan: ‘The Sooner We Finish, The Better,’ Says Joe Biden

media captionBiden: ‘Taliban helping us get people out of Afghanistan’

US President Joe Biden says the US is “on pace” to meet a 31 August deadline for evacuations, despite previous calls from allies for an extension.

“The sooner we finish the better,” he said. Some American troops have already been withdrawn, US media report – although evacuations are not affected.

At least 70,700 people have been airlifted from Kabul, which fell to the Taliban nine days ago.

The militants have opposed any extension to the evacuation deadline.

President Biden said: “The Taliban have been taking steps to help get our people out,” adding that the international community would judge the Taliban by their actions.

“None of us are going to take the Taliban’s word for it,” he added.

Mr Biden said the airlift had to come to end soon because of an increasing threat from the Islamic State group in Afghanistan.

The longer the US stayed in the country, he said, there was an “acute and growing risk of an attack” by the group.

A bitter disappointment for many in Kabul

The staffers were punctual: they moved velvety ropes from a briefing room to the Roosevelt Room, and got ready for the president’s speech at 12:00 (16:00 GMT).

They set up a sound system, and prepared the stage for an important moment: the president would speak about Afghanistan. But the president was late. He met aides in the Oval Office, worked on his speech.

“What’s going on?” my colleagues asked, sending me texts, wondering what was happening, and why his speech had been delayed, again and again.

They were not the only ones who were wondering: many people in Kabul were desperate to find out.

Finally, the president spoke at around 17:00, hours late: things were on track to end the US mission by 31 August, he said.

His remarks were a bitter disappointment for many in Kabul, who say the mission is far from over, since it leaves them stranded.

Backstage at the White House, the president’s day, and the lead-up to his speech, were disorganised, unpredictable and chaotic.

For many, it captured the essence of his Afghanistan policy, one that they describe as disastrous.

Mr Biden was speaking after leaders of the G7 – which consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, plus the EU – discussed the Afghan crisis during a virtual meeting. The UK and other allies had urged the US to stay beyond 31 August to allow more relief fights.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who chaired the talks, said Britain would continue to evacuate people “until the last moment”. He also urged the Taliban to allow Afghans to leave beyond the deadline.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the G7 leaders had “agreed that it is our moral duty to help the Afghan people and to provide as much possible support as conditions will allow”.

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