Afghanistan Kabul
There were scenes of desperation and panic, with apparent fatalities after people were seen clinging to moving US aircraft at Kabul Airport. Image Credit: Videograb/AP

Kabul: US President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the United States intended to withdraw completely from Afghanistan at the end of the month as planned, rebuffing pleas from Britain, France and other Nato allies to keep troops in Kabul and hastening the end of a frantic evacuation that has become a grim coda to two decades of war.

Even as Biden spoke from the White House, officials said the United States had already begun to reduce its military presence at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, sending about 300 of the 5,800 Marines and soldiers home in anticipation of the conclusion of their rescue mission within a week.

“The sooner we can finish, the better,” the president said, hours after informing world leaders of his intentions during an emergency virtual meeting. Citing the threat from a Daesh operating in Afghanistan, he said that “every day we’re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport, attack both US and allied forces and innocent civilians.”

But Biden did not close the door to extending what has become an immense evacuation effort. He said that he had asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans in case it became necessary to stay longer.

“I’m determined to ensure that we complete our mission,” he said.

The president said that more than 70,000 people had been ferried out of harm’s way since August 14, the day before the Taliban swept into power in Kabul; on Tuesday, the Pentagon reported its biggest number of daily evacuations from the Kabul airport so far, saying it had airlifted 21,600 people out of the country over 24 hours.

The rapidly unfolding developments came as the world leaders pledged unity in the face of the changing landscape in Afghanistan and the CIA director met secretly with the Taliban’s leader. But the flurry of diplomacy failed to alter a harrowing dynamic: The Taliban are tightening their grip, the Americans are leaving and the options for countries scrambling to extract their citizens and Afghan allies are dwindling.