Why is there a 31 August deadline to evacuate everyone from Afghanistan?

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·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3-min read
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TOPSHOT - Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) and US President Joe Biden, wearing face coverings due to Covid-19, view documents relating to the Atlantic Charter prior to a bi-lateral meeting at Carbis Bay, Cornwall on June 10, 2021, ahead of the three-day G7 summit being held from 11-13 June. - G7 leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the United States meet this weekend for the first time in nearly two years, for the three-day talks in Carbis Bay, Cornwall. (Photo by TOBY MELVILLE / POOL / AFP) (Photo by TOBY MELVILLE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson was expected to press Joe Biden to keep his troops in the Afghan capital for longer. (AFP via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson has failed in his attempts to lobby Joe Biden to extend the 31 August deadline for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

It follows emergency talks at a virtual G7 summit hosted by Johnson on Tuesday afternoon.

The prime minister had hoped to convince the president to keep the remaining troops in Kabul to allow for more evacuations following the Taliban's seizure of Afghanistan earlier this month.

Biden, however, is pressing ahead with his withdrawal plans.

But why did it all come down to a 31 August deadline in the first place?

Trump agreement

Much of the attention and pressure in recent weeks has been on Biden, but his withdrawal of troops was a continuation of the February 2020 "peace" agreement between his predecessor Donald Trump and the Taliban.

At the time, Trump hailed the agreement: "It's time after all these years to bring our people back home."

Watch: Extension to 31 August withdrawal deadline unlikely – defence secretary

Amid the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, Trump has piled in on Biden, saying last week: “It’s a great thing that we’re getting out, but nobody has ever handled a withdrawal worse than Joe Biden. This is the greatest embarrassment, I believe, in the history of our country.”

Biden commitment

Nonetheless, it was Biden who followed through on Trump's agreement.

On 14 April, Biden pledged: "US troops, as well as forces deployed by our NATO Allies and operational partners, will be out of Afghanistan before we mark the 20th anniversary of that heinous attack on 11 September, 2001."

TOPSHOT - US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Covid-19 response and the vaccination program at the White House on August 23, 2021 in Washington,DC. - The US Food and Drug Administration on Monday fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine, a move that triggered a new wave of vaccine mandates as the Delta variant batters the country.Around 52 percent of the American population is fully vaccinated, but health authorities have hit a wall of vaccine hesitant people, impeding the national campaign. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
Joe Biden at the White House on Monday. (AFP via Getty Images)

"It’s time to end the forever war," the president said.

On 8 July, with troops already beginning to depart, Biden then announced: "Our military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on 31 August."

Condemnation of Biden

Biden's commitment, of course, was complicated by the Taliban's stunning seizure of Afghanistan this month.

The president is seen by many to have acted unilaterally with his decision to withdraw troops, in turn leaving allies such as the UK exposed.

On the same day as Biden's announcement last month, Johnson confirmed that "most of our personnel have already left".

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The subsequent debacle in Afghanistan has hugely damaged Biden's international standing, with Tony Blair, who sent UK troops to Afghanistan 20 years ago following the 9/11 attacks, saying the withdrawal was "in obedience to an imbecilic political slogan about ending ‘the forever wars’".

He added Britain has a “moral obligation” to stay until “all those who need to be are evacuated”.

Taliban warning over deadline

On Monday, the situation was further complicated as a Taliban spokesman warned there will be "consequences" if foreign soldiers do not leave Afghanistan by Biden's agreed deadline of 31 August.

Suhail Shaheen said extending evacuations beyond that date would be considered a "red line" and would “provoke a reaction”.

He told Sky News: "If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations – the answer is no."

Watch: We need to extend Afghanistan withdrawal deadline – Lisa Nandy

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