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Facing sharp criticism on Afghanistan, Biden to speak on evacuations

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By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden, facing strong criticism of his handling of the chaotic U.S. pullout from Afghanistan, is to speak on Friday on efforts to evacuate Americans and U.S.-aligned Afghan citizens.

Biden is to meet his national security team in the White House Situation Room at midday to hear the latest on Afghanistan and then will deliver remarks from the East Room at 1 p.m. EDT.

The United States is desperately trying to evacuate thousands of people from Afghanistan by an Aug. 31 deadline, although Biden said this week that U.S. troops at Kabul airport providing security for the evacuation could stay longer if necessary.

Biden is counting on cooperation from the Taliban, the Islamist militant group that the United States fought for 20 years in Afghanistan. The Taliban ousted the Kabul government a week ago as U.S. forces withdrew, plunging Biden into his biggest foreign policy crisis.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan called https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-conflict-usa-sullivan/u-s-focused-on-potential-for-terrorist-attack-by-taliban-foes-says-security-adviser-idUSKBN2FK2E5 the evacuation a “risky operation” in an interview on Thursday with NBC News. The White House said 3,000 people were evacuated on Thursday, including 325 Americans.

“One of the contingencies we are very focused on, laser focused on, is the potential for a terrorist attack by a group like ISIS-K, which of course is a sworn enemy of the Taliban,” Sullivan said.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers say Biden did not act swiftly enough to withdraw vulnerable people from Afghanistan in the face of the rapid Taliban advances.

Bolstering the critics’ case was disclosure of an internal “dissent” memo dated July 13 from some diplomats at the U.S. embassy in Kabul. They warned of swift gains by the Taliban coupled with a collapse of Afghan security forces, according to a source familiar with the situation who confirmed an account of the document published by the Wall Street Journal.

The memo came less than a week after Biden said https://www.reuters.com/world/biden-says-afghans-must-decide-own-future-us-leave-aug-31-2021-07-08 a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was “not inevitable.”

The source said the dissent cable was acted upon, saying it called for an airlift operation, which was announced a day after the cable was received.

White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told MSNBC on Friday that Biden’s focus “is on getting every single American out of Afghanistan who wants to get out of Afghanistan and getting our Afghan allies as well.”

The White House has promised a review of the administration’s performance in the crisis, but a source said this has been set aside for now while attention is paid to the evacuations.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Heather Timmons and Daniel Wallis)

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