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White House says pulling troops ‘best way’ to help Americans still in Afghanistan

The White House is arguing that removing troops from Afghanistan will help them bring home the remaining Americans stranded in the country, according to talking points it’s encouraging its Democratic allies to echo.

“Ending the military mission was the best way to protect the lives of our troops — and secure the prospects of civilian departures for those who want to leave Afghanistan in the weeks and months ahead,” the talking points, circulated Monday night and obtained by POLITICO, read (emphasis theirs).

President Joe Biden made the same point in a statement released Monday night marking the end of the 20-year war. And he plans to give remarks at the White House later today to further explain his decision not to extend the troop withdrawal deadline beyond Aug. 31, despite previously promising to keep troops on the ground as long as American civilians in the country were still trying to get out. On Monday evening, Secretary of State Tony Blinken confirmed that between 100 and 200 Americans still have not been able to evacuate from Afghanistan.

But Blinken also made a commitment to extract all Americans, no matter the timeline.

“The protection and welfare of Americans abroad remains the State Department’s most vital and enduring mission,” Blinken said. “If an American in Afghanistan tells us that they want to stay for now, and then in a week or a month or a year they reach out and say, ‘I’ve changed my mind,’ we will help them leave.

The talking points the White House doled out to supporters echo that point. “Our commitment to American citizens and those who worked with us doesn’t end on 8/31. We have been very clear on that point,” they say.

The White House has been less clear, however, on how exactly it plans to help those who want to leave, now that the U.S. military has ended its presence in Afghanistan.

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos earlier this month, Biden was asked if he would commit that military personnel would remain in the country and “that the troops stay until every American that wants to be out is out?”

“Yes,” Biden replied.

The messaging pushed out by the White House is a harbinger of the task that lies ahead for an administration attempting to shift out of a negative news cycle and back to its domestic agenda. Criticisms — including from Democrats — continue to dog Biden on a chaotic military withdrawal that involved the U.S. sending thousands of additional troops into Afghanistan in the waning days of its occupation. Last week, 13 U.S. service members were killed in a suicide bombing. The administration’s decision to complete the troop withdrawal Monday night — early Tuesday morning in Afghanistan — drew particularly intense blowback from conservatives, who highlighted the president’s previous pledge to evacuate Americans.

The White House has repeatedly highlighted its ability to shift quickly on the ground and evacuate more than 120,000 people in 17 days, a mission completed with “unmatched courage, professionalism, and resolve,” the talking points say. However, they continue, it was “the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs and of all of our commanders on the ground was to end our airlift mission as planned.”

They go on to advance the notion that the U.S. will continue to hold “substantial leverage” over the Taliban to ensure the extremist group that has taken over Afghanistan will keep its commitments to allow safe passage for American citizens and others.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan made similar comments, emphasizing the U.S.’s “considerable leverage” in an interview with Stephanopoulos Tuesday morning.

“We will use that leverage to the maximum extent and work with the international community to make sure the Taliban does not falter on these commitments,” the messaging continued, adding that it was the secretary of State who would now take lead.

“The Secretary’s work will also include ongoing diplomacy in Afghanistan and coordination with partners in the region to reopen the airport for departures and humanitarian assistance.”

The White House also issued a warning that intelligence is signaling a real threat of ISIS-K terrorist activity, even after the U.S. left.

“This was an exceedingly dangerous moment in an exceedingly dangerous mission,” the talking points stated. “We can mitigate risk but cannot eliminate it. We are in a period of serious danger, given what we are seeing in the intelligence.”

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