Talking Points

The Afghanistan evacuation timeline is a negotiation, not a decision

This is what it means to lose a war: You don't get to dictate terms to the victors.

You'd hardly know that from the rhetoric heard from some American and European officials suggesting that the U.S. should extend its evacuation of citizens and allies from Afghanistan beyond the current Aug. 31 deadline."The president needs to forget about the August 31 deadline," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Fox News on Tuesday. "Extend the deadline, get outside the perimeter, make sure that every single American who wants to leave is able to get out with our assistance and our Afghan allies."

McConnell added: "The Taliban should not be allowed to tell us how long we are there to get our personnel out. That's our decision, not theirs."

But the Taliban have a say in the matter. So far, at least, they say "no." A Taliban spokesman on Tuesday said there would be "consequences" if the U.S. stayed beyond the deadline. "So if they extended, that means they are extending occupation," another spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, said on Monday. "If they are intent on continuing the occupation, so it will provoke a reaction."

This is a good time to mention that despite all the "worse than Saigon" headlines you may have read, the American evacuation from Kabul is going relatively smoothly. U.S. forces could be fighting bloody gun battles with Taliban forces while trying to evacuate civilians, but that's mostly not been the case due to Taliban forbearance. The situation could be much worse, and might go that direction if the United States doesn't honor its commitment. 

President Biden could make a decision on the issue as soon as today. And there may be a way to get the Taliban's permission to extend the deadline. Presumably, that's why CIA director William Burns met Monday in Kabul with the group's de facto leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar. Despite McConnell's assertions, however, the United States can't and shouldn't unilaterally decide to change its exit timeline. We may have substantial forces at the Kabul airport, but the Taliban more or less own the country. We lost the war. In Afghanistan, America is necessarily a supplicant now.