WASHINGTON - The Pentagon says it’s already reducing the number of American troops still stationed at the Kabul Airport in Afghanistan. About 5,500 troops remain, after 300 deemed "non-essential" were flown out of the volatile location.
President Joe Biden said he’s committed to ending the evacuation operation by next Tuesday. After a chaotic start, it’s become one of the largest mass airlifts in history.
"As of this afternoon," Biden said, "we've helped evacuate 70,700 people just since August the 14th…. We are currently on a pace to finish by Aug. 31st. The sooner we can finish the better. Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops."
A Pentagon spokesman said the nearly 71,000 evacuated so far include about 4,000 American citizens, plus their families.
Critics from Donald Trump to the Republican National Committee complain the president's not doing enough and that some Americans report being stranded, with no clear way out of Afghanistan.
RNC spokeswoman Emma Vaughn wrote: "What we are continuing to witness in Afghanistan is the direct, horrific result of Biden’s disastrous foreign policies. Biden has said the buck stops with him, yet he’s refusing to take responsibility as Americans are left stranded in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Biden’s failure is leaving America less safe, our allies less secure, and is diminishing the United States’ standing abroad."
A spokesman for the new, Taliban-controlled government said Americans will be allowed to depart, but no more afghans. He accused the U.S. of luring away afghan engineers, doctors and other professionals needed to rebuild the country. As several hundred afghan refugees were reportedly flown from Germany to the United States on Tuesday, Biden said each is vetted.
"Anyone arriving in the United States will have undergone a background check," Biden said. "And we must all work together to resettle thousands of afghans who ultimately qualify for refugee status."
Experts warn that the last few Americans departing could face the greatest danger of all. The final flights from Kabul’s airport could be vulnerable to attack. President Biden has said repeatedly that intelligence indicates a group called "ISIS-K" hopes to launch an attack.