President Biden said Tuesday that he told the Group of Seven leaders that the United States is on pace to finish its withdrawal from Afghanistan by his Aug. 31 deadline.
"The sooner we can finish the better," Biden said in remarks from the White House. He noted that "each day brings added risk to our troops" and warned of the growing threat of an attack from ISIS-K — ISIS in Afghanistan — on the Kabul airport.
The remarks come as Biden faces blowback from congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle over his handling of the withdrawal as well as questions about whether U.S. troops have enough time to get Americans and allies out of the country.
Biden also said he has asked the Pentagon and State Department for contingency plans if the deadline cannot be met.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the U.S. military will be out of Afghanistan by Aug. 31 "based on the achievement of our objective."
Biden also told allies that meeting that "completion of the mission by Aug. 31 depends on continued coordination with the Taliban, including continued access for evacuees to the airport."
Evacuation effort totals nearly 71,000 since Aug. 14
So far, the U.S. has evacuated about 4,000 American passport holders and their families, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.
"We expect that number to continue to grow in the coming days," Kirby said.
Biden said 12,000 more people were evacuated from Kabul on Tuesday, bringing the total to 70,700 since Aug. 14.
Despite the Taliban's quick takeover of Afghanistan, the president has defended his decision to withdraw, telling White House reporters on Sunday that he believes in the long-term ramifications of his choice.
"I think that history is going to record this was the logical, rational and right decision to make," Biden said.
In his remarks Tuesday, Biden noted that the G-7 allies agreed on a need to "coordinate our approach" to Afghanistan going forward, including holding the Taliban to a standard of not allowing the country to be used as a base for terrorism.
The president also said any refugees arriving in U.S. will have undergone a background check. He said the world needed to work together to take care of those refugees, of which there could be potentially tens of thousands.
Biden has maintained his goal is to get all Americans out who want to leave Afghanistan. He has also vowed to try to evacuate as many Afghan allies who aided the U.S throughout the 20-year war as possible.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will give a "detailed report" on how many U.S. citizens remain in Afghanistan and how many have been evacuated, Biden said.
The White House expects that Afghan interpreters and others whom the U.S. government is hoping to evacuate from the Afghan capital should be able to get to the Kabul airport — despite assertions from the Taliban that Afghans would be blocked from the airport earlier Tuesday.
"That is not how you should read it," Psaki told reporters who asked about the Taliban comments.
Psaki said the U.S. government was in direct contact with Afghans who qualify for evacuation.
"The individuals we have prioritized ... our expectation is that they will be able to reach the airport," Psaki said.
On Capitol Hill, concern remains over whether the exit date will be met
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., expressed doubts Monday night.
"I think it's possible, but I think it's very unlikely," said Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
"Given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated, the number of SIVs [special immigrant visas,] the number of others who are members of the Afghan press, civil society leaders, women leaders, it's hard for me to imagine all of that can be accomplished between now and the end of the month," he added.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made a more direct call Tuesday morning, urging Biden to "forget about the Aug. 31 deadline" and instead focus on getting more Americans and Afghan allies out of the country.
"The Taliban should not be allowed to tell us how long we are there to get our personnel out," McConnell said. "That's our decision, not theirs."
People evacuated from Kabul are being held in third-party countries, including an air base in Qatar, where there are "very challenging conditions," a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call. Officials are working to try to make sure people have enough food, water and medical services. "This is a challenge," the official said. "We are adjusting and improving as we do."
The Washington Post and others have reported on the crowded and unsanitary conditions at the base.