The quartet of senior national security advisers huddled with lawmakers for nearly two hours Tuesday, as the United States faces a deadline to leave Afghanistan in just a week. Members emerging expressed a variety of opinions about the evacuation effort, pointing fingers of blame in different directions — including sometimes at the briefers themselves.
But both Republicans and Democrats agreed that if there are still American citizens left in Afghanistan trying to escape, the United States should not stick to the deadline — regardless of the risk involved in staying.
“A major theme, a major comment, a major point that we all tried to make: urging them to do more to advocate with the president to extend the deadline,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) said upon exiting the briefing.
The briefers — Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines — refused to go beyond what Biden has said, according to people in the room.
A senior Biden administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private planning told The Washington Post on Tuesday that the White House was planning to stay with the original deadline.
Tuesday’s all-members briefing was the first classified update that many House lawmakers have received on the situation. Dozens lined up to query the briefers, with many asking about the situation at the Kabul airport, plans for the extraction of American citizens and Afghan nationals who are eligible for evacuation, and the threat of terrorist attacks — especially from the Islamic State.
The pace of evacuations has been steadily accelerating in the past several days, going from an average of about 2,000 people per day last week to over 21,000 on Tuesday, Kabul time. But members are still doubtful that it is possible to evacuate all remaining Americans and Afghans — many of whom are stranded in Kabul and beyond — and dismantle the U.S. military presence at Hamid Karzai International Airport in just a week’s time.
Following a separate classified House intelligence committee briefing Monday night, Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said it was “very unlikely” that all U.S. citizens, Special Immigrant Visa holders and other approved categories of Afghans would be able to depart that swiftly.
“It’s hard for me to see that being fully complete by the end of the month,” Schiff told reporters.