S President Joe Biden has confirmed America’s remaining troops in Afghanistan are on track to leave in a week, ending their 20-year presence in the country.
Mr Biden had kept options open to extend his military deadline beyond August 31, since the chaos and humanitarian crisis caused by the fall of Kabul to Taliban control.
After discussions with his military advisers and fellow leaders of G7 nations, Mr Biden said he had decided his original withdrawal order would stand, “based on the achievement of our objectives”.
Mr Biden said in an address he was pushing US forces to leave “the sooner the better” due to increasing threats from Islamic State and other terror groups in Kabul.
The threats were “real and significant challenges that we also have to take into consideration”, he said.
Mr Biden said more than 70,000 people had been evacuated from Afghanistan since August 14.
The White House said the completion of the US mission at the end of the month depended on “continued cooperation with the Taliban, including continued access for evacuees” to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
Mr Biden’s decision means more than 7,000 US forces in and around the airport, as well as weapons and equipment, will be put aboard military planes and removed from Afghanistan by next Tuesday.
Because the US Army and Marines are providing most of the security at Kabul airport, military forces of other Western nations are expected to leave before them.
In the meantime, the pace of evacuations continues to rise, with 21,600 people flown out of Afghanistan’s capital in the last day.
US negotiators are keeping communication open with senior Taliban leadership to negotiate a safe withdrawal, including through a secret visit to Kabul earlier this week by CIA Director William Burns.
Mr Biden has asked the Pentagon and US State Department for “contingency plans to adjust the timeline” in case his withdrawal deadline needs to be altered.
Taliban tells Afghans not to leave
The Taliban earlier insisted that all foreign troops must be out of Afghanistan by the August 31 deadline.
spokesman for the Taliban also told skilled Afghans not to flee the country, as thousands continued to flock to Kabul’s airport to seek refuge.
Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Afghans had nothing to fear and that they should go home.
“We guarantee their security,” Mr Mujahid told a news conference in the capital, which Taliban fighters seized on August 15.
He said the Taliban had not agreed to an extension of the August 31 deadline and called on the US not to encourage “Afghan experts” to leave their homeland.
“This country needs their expertise,” Mr Mujahid said.
“They should not be taken to other countries.
He also urged foreign embassies not to close or stop work. Australia closed its embassy in Kabul in May.
As he spoke, Western troops were working frantically to get more foreigners and Afghans onto planes and out of the country.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she had received credible reports of “summary executions” of civilians and of Afghan security forces who had surrendered.
The Taliban has said it will investigate such reports.
Mr Mujahid said there was no list of people targeted for reprisals and that the
group was trying to come up with a procedure so women could return to work.