A Taliban spokesman in Doha, Qatar, said the new rulers of Afghanistan would not accept an extension to President Joe Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
“You can say it’s a red line,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Sky News in an interview Monday.
“If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations — the answer is no,” Shaheen told Sky News. “Or there would be consequences.”
If the U.S. extends the deadline, “that means they are extending the occupation,” Shaneen told Sky News. “That will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation, it will provoke a reaction.”
In the interview, Shaheen does not specify what kind of reaction or consequences would result should Biden order the military to extend his mandated Aug. 31 deadline to evacuate U.S. and NATO personnel, as well as thousands of Afghans fearing life under the Taliban after helping the U.S. and allies.
About 33,000 American citizens and Afghan allies have been evacuated from the country since late July, 11,000 in the last few days alone. The moves come as tens of thousands more are seeking to escape the country amid the fall of the democratic government there and the return to Taliban rule.
During a Monday morning press briefing, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby did not address the Taliban’s statement, saying only that the deadline for U.S. withdrawal remains Aug. 31.
About 6,000 U.S. military personnel are deployed to the Kabul airport to help with securing the area and processing of refugees out of the country. Earlier Sunday, during an appearance on Meet the Press, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan left open the possibility of increasing that total in coming days.
Advocates have said that thousands of would-be evacuees are trapped in the region just outside the Kabul airport, blocked from the safety of American protection by Taliban checkpoints or paperwork problems preventing their entry to the airfield.
Taking questions from reporters after his speech Sunday evening, Biden hinted that such an extension might be possible.
“Our hope is we will not have to extend, but there have been discussions” with the Pentagon about a possible extension, Biden said.
Meanwhile, tension in Kabul is mounting. A firefight at one of the gates of Kabul’s international airport killed at least one Afghan soldier early Monday, German officials said, the latest chaos to engulf Western efforts to evacuate those fleeing the Taliban takeover of the country.
The shooting at the airport came as the Taliban sent fighters north of the capital to eliminate pockets of armed resistance to their lightning takeover earlier this month, according to the Associated Press. The Taliban said they retook three districts seized by opponents the day before and had surrounded Panjshir, the last province that remains out of their control.
Over the past week, scores of former Afghan interpreters reached out to Military Times and other media organizations, desperate for help and fearing they and their families will be killed for working with the U.S. and its allies. Networks of troops, veterans and others are working independently to bring as many Afghans as possible into the U.S.
In his Sky News interview, Shaheen dismissed those concerns, as well as worries by Afghans fearing they will suffer under the Taliban’s repressive form of Islamic governance.
“I assure you it is not about being worried or scared,” he said. “They want to reside in Western countries and that is a kind of economic migration because Afghanistan is a poor country and 70 percent of the people of Afghanistan live under the line of poverty so everyone wants to resettle in Western countries to have a prosperous life. It is not about [being] scared.”
Shaheen called stories about Taliban reprisals, beatings of civilians and other vivid images emanating from Kabul, “fake news.”
“All fake news,” Shaheen said in response to those reports. “I can assure you there are many reports by our opponents claiming what is not based on realities.”
Military Times Pentagon bureau chief Meghann Myers contributed to this report.
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.