President Joe Biden has decided not to extend the Aug. 31 deadline for U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan even as an unknown number of American citizens and foreign nationals remain stranded inside the country.
The Associated Press first reported the news on Tuesday after communicating with an administration official. The outlet noted the commander-in-chief's decision reflected concerns about "heightened security threats" associated with extending the deadline against the Taliban's wishes.
Just hours prior to Biden's decision, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid declared that Afghan nationals would no longer be allowed to flee the country and that the U.S. would not be permitted an evacuation extension past the end of the month.
Another spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, warned that there would be "consequences" should the U.S. choose to continue evacuation operations after that date.
"It's a red line," Shaheen said. "President Biden announced that on Aug. 31 they would withdraw all their military forces. So if they extend it, that means they are extending occupation."
Pressure had mounted for Biden to extend the deadline amid the bungled withdrawal as reports surfaced indicating the administration was encountering difficulty in its evacuation efforts. It remains unclear whether the administration will be able to complete the airlift from Kabul before the end of the month.
Speaking with the AP, the unidentified administration official said the president made his decision after consulting with his national security team. Biden allegedly weighed the risks of keeping troops on the ground past the deadline and ultimately decided to attempt to complete the mission by early next week.
The president did, however, reportedly ask his national security team to create contingency plans to extend the deadline slightly in case such an action was needed.
Administration officials have been troublingly vague about the number of American citizens still stranded in Afghanistan. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday that "several thousand" Americans have been evacuated since Aug. 14, but declined to offer any more detail. Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan has relayed the same message.
Modest estimates for the number of Americans present in Afghanistan when the evacuation started stand at 10,000 to 15,000, though the number could be much higher.
Biden was hit with backlash minutes after reports surfaced about his decision.
One detractor, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.), issued a blistering statement warning against kowtowing to Taliban militants.
"Damn the deadline. The American people are not going to surrender our fellow citizens to the Taliban. Americans want us to stay until we get our people out, and so do our allies," Sasse said. "If President Biden accepts the Taliban's terms he'll be the one holding the shovel in Afghanistan's 'graveyard of empires.'"