U.S. evacuation flights from Kabul are slowing, officials told Fox News Monday, just a day before President Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and complete the mission to evacuate American citizens and vulnerable Afghans from the country.
The flights, according to officials, are continuing, but at a reduced pace, ahead of Biden’s deadline. Those officials, though, add that it is not accurate to say the U.S. evacuation flights “have ended.”
The deadline for all U.S. troops and diplomats to be out of Afghanistan is 3:29 p.m. EST Tuesday – 11:59 p.m. local time in Kabul, U.S. defense officials told Fox News. It will mark the first time in nearly 20 years that no U.S. troops will be on the ground in Afghanistan.
According to the White House, on Sunday, a total of approximately 1,200 people were evacuated from Kabul. The White House said that evacuation was the result of 26 U.S. military flights, 26 C-17s, which carried approximately 1,200 evacuees, and two coalition flights, which carried 50 people.
The White House said Monday that since Aug. 14, when the mission began, the U.S. has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 116,700 people. And since the end of July, the White House said the U.S. has relocated nearly 122,300 people from Afghanistan.
The president had authorized 6,000 U.S. troops to deploy to Afghanistan to assist in the evacuation mission, as the Taliban is pushing to restore the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan – the formal name of the country under Taliban rule before militants were ousted by U.S.-led forces in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, were orchestrated by al Qaeda while it was being sheltered by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
But early Monday, five rockets were fired at the Kabul airport, and intercepted by a U.S. C-RAM missile defense system, a defense official told Fox News.
And last week, 11 U.S. Marines, one U.S. Army soldier and a U.S. Navy corpsman died in a suicide bombing outside Hamid Karzai International Airport. The ISIS-K group claimed responsibility for the attack, seeking to disrupt the massive evacuation effort of Americans, Afghan allies and third-party nationals outside the U.S.-held airport.
President Biden has decided not to extend the Aug. 31 deadline, when U.S. troops are set to be withdrawn and the U.S. is set to complete its two-week-long airlift and evacuation effort, sticking to his initial description of the mission, which he said would be “short in time, limited in scope and focused on our objectives: get our people and our allies as quickly and as safely as possible.”
The Biden administration has faced widespread criticism over its execution of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan and its actions during and after the collapse of Kabul, which completed the Taliban’s retaking of the country 20 years after their ouster by U.S.-led forces.
The president has repeatedly defended his plan, even as hundreds of U.S. citizens and thousands of Afghan allies and Afghans vulnerable to Taliban reprisal remain stuck in the country.
The State Department, in a statement signed by nearly 100 countries, as well as NATO and the European Union, said last week they had received “assurances” from the Taliban that people with travel documents will still be able to leave the country. The Taliban has said they will allow normal travel after the U.S. withdrawal is completed on Tuesday when they assume control of the airport.
Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin, Ronn Blitzer and the Associated Press contributed to this report.