'No decision to change' Aug 31 deadline to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan, says Pentagon

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Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby at Thursday briefing. (ANI)
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby at Thursday briefing. (ANI)

Washington [US], August 19 (ANI): Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said that there has been "no decision to change" the August 31 deadline to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan at this point.

During an on-camera briefing on Thursday (local time) at the Pentagon, Kirby said, "We are focused on doing everything we can inside that deadline to move as many people out as possible".

Kirby said "if and when there is a decision to change that" deadline, then "obviously that would require additional conversations with the Taliban as well," but added he did not believe those conversations "have happened at this point."

He also said that the US military is in communication with the Taliban to ensure both Americans and at-risk Afghans are able to get to the airport safely.

Kirby said that the US military is in communication with the local Taliban commanders on the ground in Kabul, and they are discussing "making sure that those at-risk Afghans, Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants and additional Afghan citizens that we want to move through are able to move through."

Kirby said the Pentagon is hearing reports that "the process is working," this morning.

He also confirmed that there has been "no hostile interactions between the Taliban" during the evacuation process post terrorist outfit takeover of Afghanistan.

During the briefing, Kirby said Pentagon has seen "reports of the Taliban harassing some Afghans who were trying to move to the airport," and said the US military is in "constant communication" with the Taliban regarding the evacuation.

Kirby said the Defense Department is "hopeful" that there will be an increase in people able to transit through the Kabul airport given the opening of additional gates and increased personnel, but there has yet to be "some dramatic rise."

"We have seen by opening up another gate, by adding consular officers now, we believe that we will soon begin to see an opening up of the aperture and we're hopeful that that means a more consistent increase in the flow," he said at a briefing.

"We've got additional consular officers at these additional gates with additional troops helping the consular officers so I think we're poised to see an increase but I want to be careful before I make predictions," Kirby said. "What we're trying to do, what we want to drive, is an increase. That's very much on everybody's mind."

When asked about communication with the Taliban, Kirby said it's a "fundamental fact of the reality of where we are that communication and a certain measure of agreement with the Taliban on what we're trying to accomplish have to continue to occur."

Meanwhile, the Pentagon said it was focused on securing Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) when asked about why US troops are not being used to retrieve Americans who are unable to get to the airport.

"At this time our main mission continues to be to secure HKIA to allow those American citizens and other SIVs to come in and be processed at the airport," Major General Hank Taylor, Vice Director for logistics of the Joint Staff, said during an on-camera briefing at the Pentagon.

The US Embassy in Kabul on Wednesday advised that it "cannot ensure safe passage" to the airport, despite the Pentagon underscoring alleged Taliban assurances that it will ensure safe transit, CNN reported.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley told reporters on Wednesday that if directed, the US military in Kabul has the ability to extract Americans and take them to Hamid Karzai International Airport.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin clarified that "we don't have the capability to go out and collect the large numbers of people," adding that he would "draw a distinction between extracting someone in an extreme condition or circumstance versus going out and collecting up large numbers of American citizens."

Pressed on the issue, Austin said, "We're going to do everything we can to continue to try to de-conflict and create passageways for them to get to the airfield." But again, he said the US military does not have the capability to "extend operations currently into Kabul." (ANI)

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