Lawmakers from both parties pressed top Biden national security officials at a classified briefing Tuesday to extend the Aug. 31 deadline for the US military to evacuate Americans and vulnerable Afghans from Afghanistan.
House members were briefed by President Biden’s top national security officials Tuesday – Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines – at the same time that Biden decided to stick with the Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan.
“There was strong, bipartisan support to extend the August 31 deadline,” said Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Michigan Democrat. “That was a major theme, a major comment a major point we all tried to make, urging them to do more to advocate with the president to extend the deadline.”
The pushback from lawmakers at the briefing and afterward underscores the challenges Biden’s team faces on the ground in Afghanistan and back home in Washington as it scrambles to evacuate American citizens, Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program applicants and other vulnerable Afghans ahead of the deadline.
Lawmakers said that Biden’s team recognized the challenge of getting everyone out by Aug. 31, saying there was an acknowledgement of contingency plans to go beyond the end of the months.
“I’m very confident we’ll get as many as it as possible to get out. All? That — that’s going to be very, very difficult,” said House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith of Washington. “I did ask about the 31st deadline. That is still the goal. And I was very specific that they need to have a plan to go past the 31st and they assured me that they do.”
The pushback from lawmakers on the deadline began on Monday, when House Intelligence Chairman Adam Smith told reporters following a briefing from the intelligence community that he didn’t see how it was possible to complete the evacuation by the deadline.
Then on Tuesday, lawmakers made their case directly to the national security officials in charge of the US withdrawal.
“We made it very clear to them they should let the president know, back off that number,” said Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. “Blinken kept trying to say we’re going to do our best, but they all acknowledged it can’t be done. You couldn’t get all the Americans out of there, much less the Afghans.
Rep. Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat, argued that the conditions on the ground have changed and the deadline should change with it.
“This was the date that United States set, and we set that date under different conditions, during a different time,” Crow said. “Those conditions have changed, we’re in a different world now than we were in when that date was originally set. We have to respond to that different world and that different reality. We have to get the mission done.”