WASHINGTON (AP) – The attacks that killed at least 12 US soldiers outside Kabul airport on Thursday left President Joe Biden with increasingly difficult choices: continue the evacuation and risk more deaths or end it earlier than planned and risk You, leaving Americans still alive trying to leave the country.
When details of the attacks became known, the White House postponed Biden’s first face-to-face meeting with Israel’s new prime minister and canceled a video conference with governors about Afghan refugees arriving in the US.
Biden had promised to remove any American who wanted to leave Afghanistan. On Wednesday, the State Department announced that around 4,500 American citizens had flown out, of whom around 1,500 were still outstanding.
Biden was due to receive Israeli leader Naftali Bennett on Thursday, who is on his first visit to the US since taking office. The meeting was postponed to Friday. Biden had also planned to meet virtually with a bipartisan group of governors who have said they want to help relocate Afghan refugees fleeing their now Taliban-ruled land. A regular briefing from government health and medical experts has also been postponed.
The deadly developments in the Afghan capital Kabul forced the White House to tear up Biden’s schedule. He observed the airport situation caused by the deadline set next Tuesday for the deportation of American citizens and troops from Afghanistan.
A number of U.S. allies said they are ending their evacuation efforts in Kabul, at least in part, to give the U.S. time to complete its evacuation operations before more than 5,000 U.S. soldiers are withdrawn by Tuesday.
Suicide bombers and gunmen aimed at crowds gathered near Kabul airport in the last few days of the massive airlift that drew thousands of people trying to flee from the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
At least 12 US soldiers were killed in the bombings, including 11 Marines and a Navy medic, two US officials said. According to official reports, several US military soldiers were wounded. However, they warn that the numbers could rise. The officers spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing operations.
A US official said the attack was “definitely” carried out by the Islamic State group, an Afghan branch of disaffected Taliban members who have an even more extreme view of Islam.
In Washington, California Chairman of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy called on Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to bring the Chamber back into session to discuss laws that would prohibit US withdrawal until all Americans pulled out of Afghanistan are. Such a return is highly unlikely, given that Democrats allied with Biden control the majority.
Despite intense pressure to extend Tuesday’s deadline, Biden has repeatedly cited threats of terrorist attacks against civilians and US soldiers as a reason to stick to his plan.
The explosions detonated as the US worked to get the remaining Americans out of the country. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that up to 1,500 Americans may be waiting to be evacuated.
In an interview with ABC News, asked about reports that the evacuation could end on Friday, Ross Wilson, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, declined to comment.
Wilson said that “there are safe routes to the airport” for Americans who are about to leave. He added that “there will undoubtedly be some Afghans at risk” who will not get out before Biden’s deadline.
The airlift continued on Thursday despite warnings of bomb threats from vehicles near the airport. The White House said 13,400 people had been evacuated in the 24 hours that ended early Thursday morning, Washington time. These included 5,100 people on board US military aircraft and 8,300 in coalition and partner aircraft. That was a significant decrease from the 19,000 that were definitely flown the day before.
Contributors to this report were Associated Press authors Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and James LaPorta in Boca Raton, Florida.
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