There's less than a week until the US's Afghanistan withdrawal deadline

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Mike Hayes, Fernando Alfonso III and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 8:00 p.m. ET, August 25, 2021
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8:34 a.m. ET, August 25, 2021

First US troops have started leaving Afghanistan as withdrawal deadline looms

From CNN's Oren Liebermann and Paul LeBlanc

US soldiers stand guard behind barbed wire as Afghans sit on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on August 20.
US soldiers stand guard behind barbed wire as Afghans sit on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on August 20. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)

Several hundred US troops left Afghanistan on Tuesday – the same day President Biden decided not to extend the Aug. 31 evacuation deadline – Pentagon press secretary John Kirby confirmed Tuesday evening.

"These troops represent a mix of headquarters staff, maintenance and other enabling functions that were scheduled to leave and whose mission at the airport was complete. Their departure represents prudent and efficient force management. It will have no impact on the mission at hand," Kirby said in a statement, confirming CNN's earlier reporting from two defense officials that the US' troop withdrawal from Afghanistan had kicked off.

The fact that a small number of American troops have already left underlines how quickly the situation is moving. The pace of evacuations has rapidly ramped up in recent days but with a week until Biden's deadline, the US military will soon be forced to switch from transporting Americans and Afghans out to concentrating on safely moving all the troops out and winding down the security operation at the airport.

"So far, the reduction does not affect the mission," one of the officials said, adding that the commander on the ground can decide what military personnel are in units that are no longer required. That decision can be based on a few factors, including the number of gates open at the airport, the number of people coming through and more.

"If you can have a smaller mission set and still conduct the mission, then you can reduce your footprint and reduce your risk," the official said.

The Pentagon has been acutely aware of the threat posed by ISIS-K and other terror groups around the airport, developing alternate routes to the field for US citizens and Afghan evacuees. In addition, the Taliban have stated openly that they do not want a US military presence in Afghanistan beyond the end of August, warning that there will be "consequences" were the US to stay longer.

In remarks to an emergency meeting of the G7 on Tuesday, Biden said the threat to US troops in Kabul was one of the key reasons he was sticking to the end of the month as the final withdrawal date.

8:25 a.m. ET, August 25, 2021

Secretary of state will speak today about US efforts to evacuate Americans from Afghanistan

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Secretary State Antony Blinken departs from a briefing with the House of Representatives on the situation in Afghanistan at the U.S. Capitol on August 24 in Washington. 
Secretary State Antony Blinken departs from a briefing with the House of Representatives on the situation in Afghanistan at the U.S. Capitol on August 24 in Washington.  (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

President Biden said in remarks Tuesday evening that he had asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken to give the public “an update and a detailed report on exactly how many Americans are still in Afghanistan, how many we got out and what our projection is.”

Blinken tweeted that he will speak at 12:15 p.m. ET Wednesday “about our efforts to bring Americans home and how we’re supporting the broader evacuation from Afghanistan."

White House officials have repeatedly said they do not know exactly how many Americans are in Afghanistan.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday that the US doesn’t know the exact figure because some Americans entered the country without registering with the US Embassy in Kabul and others left the country without deregistering.

Despite that, Sullivan said it is the responsibility of the American government to find those Americans, something he insisted the US is doing.

According to a source familiar with an administration “SitRep” report from Tuesday morning, the State Department has contacted all Americans who were registered in Afghanistan and instructed them to report to designated locations for evacuation.

CNN's Jason Hoffman, Nicole Gaouette and Jennifer Hansler contributed reporting to this post.

8:23 a.m. ET, August 25, 2021

Biden says he'll stick to the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline. Here's where evacuations stand now.

President Joe Biden arrives to speak about the situation in Afghanistan from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on Tuesday, August 24.
President Joe Biden arrives to speak about the situation in Afghanistan from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on Tuesday, August 24. (Susan Walsh/AP)

President Biden has decided not to extend the deadline for American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, despite pressure from G7 and US leaders alike. Biden said his decision to stick to the Aug. 31 deadline is in large part driven by persistent security risks.

In late afternoon remarks at the White House Tuesday, Biden recognized the success of the mission will depend largely on cooperation from the Taliban. He said he's asked military leaders to be ready with contingency options to "adjust that timetable" if it becomes necessary.

"We are currently on a pace to finish by August 31. I am determined to complete our mission," Biden said in a speech.

"The sooner we finish the better," Biden added. "Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops."

The Pentagon says it can evacuate all remaining Americans by next week, and the first US troops to leave Afghanistan since the current crisis arose are on their way out. 

About 19,000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan on Tuesday, including 11,200 evacuees on US military flights and 7,800 on coalition flights, according to a White House official.

That’s down slightly from the day prior, when the US reported 21,000 people were evacuated from the Kabul airport: 12,700 evacuees on military flights, plus 8,900 people on coalition flights.