Scenes of chaos at Kabul airport leave Biden under internal and external pressure to delay withdrawal

More than a week after the Taliban take over Kabul, and scenes of despair as thousands of people head to the airport to try to flee the country, Joe Biden’s government finds itself under pressure from within and from allied countries to rethink the withdrawal deadline. of all the American military in Afghanistan.

After all, the security situation is extremely fragile, as evidenced in a shooting this Monday morning, involving Americans, and the crisis is already affecting the image of the president even among his supporters, but a final decision on permanence ( or not) could come out later this week.

On Sunday, while detailing measures to expand the removal capacity of Americans and Afghans who have worked for the US over the past 20 years, Biden said that, in principle, the operation would be completed by Aug. 31 — that’s the deadline. given by the White House to withdraw all Afghan ground combat forces, following an agreement made with the Taliban last year, still under Donald Trump.

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He, however, left between the lines an open possibility for a change of schedule by saying that the topic will be discussed by the military leadership, without discarding the extension of the troops’ stay. According to Reuters, citing a government official, a final decision could be taken in the next 24 hours, but there is still disagreement at the top of the government. The head of the House Intelligence Committee, Democrat Adam Schiff, told reporters that an exit on the 31st is “very unlikely”.

This Monday, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan repeated Biden’s speech:

— As I said to the president, we believe we will have time, from now until the 31st [de agosto], to remove all Americans who want to leave [do Afeganistão] Sullivan told reporters.

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According to him, daily contacts are made between US and Taliban representatives, but Biden has not considered, so far, the possibility of dialoguing with militia leaders. One of the topics of conversation is precisely the future status of the airport in Kabul, and according to the spokesman for the State Department, Ned Price, “it is in everyone’s interest” that the site continue to function normally. This dialogue does not represent, as White House members stress, any sign that the Taliban government may be recognized by Washington in the future.

The US had already closed its last air base and withdrawn almost all combat forces from Afghanistan when the Taliban took power on the 15th. With that, more troops were sent to the evacuation operation, currently totaling 5,800 men.

Taliban factor

One of the main voices in defense of a new deadline is that of the British Premier, Boris Johnson. Over the weekend, he said he would use a virtual meeting of the G-7, which brings together seven of the world’s most influential economies, on Tuesday to discuss actions to “ensure safe removals, avert a humanitarian crisis and support the Afghan people. ”. In practice, this would include the presence of foreign military personnel in Afghanistan beyond Aug. 31. This position is openly supported by France and Germany.

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However, there is one factor that does not just depend on the will of the G-7. The Taliban has publicly signaled that it will not accept a new extension of the deadline — according to the agreement reached in 2020, the foreign military should leave by May, but with Biden’s arrival in power, the date has changed to September 11th and then to 31st. August.

— Despite being the seven most powerful nations on the planet, they [G-7] don’t decide it [a retirada] in an isolated way. The Taliban also decides that, and that’s why we continue to work with the deadline of the 31st – said, on Sunday, James Heappey, British Minister of the Armed Forces. “Even if there is the political will in London, Washington, Paris and Berlin to an extent, the Taliban can say no.

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Since the militia’s return to power, the Taliban have somewhat cooperated with the withdrawal operation, but that could change at any moment.

“It’s a red line. President Biden announced that on August 31 they would withdraw their military forces. If there is an extension, it means they are expanding the occupation even for no reason,” Suhail Shahin, a militia spokeswoman, told Sky News on Sunday. — If the US or UK want additional time to continue with the withdrawal, the answer will be no. Or there will be consequences.

Falling popularity

Without Taliban support, scenes of violence such as those seen in recent days, and even direct clashes with foreign military personnel, such as this Monday, could become the new normal, and help to further erode support for Biden within the U.S.

With an average approval rating consistently above 50 percent since taking office in January, Biden has seen his numbers plummet after the quick Taliban offensive, a process that was accentuated when the extremist militia entered Kabul without any resistance. He quickly came under attack not only from his usual critics, such as Republicans and former President Donald Trump’s allies, but also by analysts seen as progressives and media outlets more aligned with his views.

The phenomenon was also translated into numbers: according to the average of opinion polls compiled by the analysis site FiveThirtyEight, on August 16, the day after the fall of Kabul, its approval was at 49.9%, and since then, never went back to above 50%.

Over the weekend, a poll by NBC News pointed out, in addition to the drop in popularity to below 50%, something unprecedented in the station’s polls, a great dissatisfaction with the direction of policy towards Afghanistan: 60% of respondents disapprove of the way in which the White House is running its policies for the country, and only 25% approve.

It remains to be seen whether the numbers will influence Biden’s views: after all, the electoral process for next year’s legislative elections is already underway, and one of the White House’s priorities is to maintain a majority in both Houses of Congress. Now, in addition to a strengthened Trump in the Republican Party, the Democrat must deal with a crisis in what should be the final moments of the longest war ever fought by the United States.