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U.S. involvement in Afghanistan "doesn't end" on August 31, acting ambassador says

Top U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan on evacuation efforts
Top U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan on evacuatio... 03:21

The U.S. plans on withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan by August 31 but that deadline does not signal an end to America's "involvement" in the country, according to Ross Wilson, the acting U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. 

"We would like for all those who wish to get out of this country to do so and to be able to do so by August 31, especially American citizens," Wilson told "CBS Evening News" anchor Norah O'Donnell in an exclusive interview Wednesday. 

"Our commitment in this country and our involvement in this country doesn't end on that date. We believe that there will be possibilities for Americans to be able to get out of this country," he continued. "America's commitment to American citizens, in particular to our staff, to those who served our country, that isn't going to end." 

Wilson said the U.S. has been in talks with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, about "potential ways forward." He added, "We'll have to see how that works out."

At least 4,500 U.S. citizens and their immediate families have been evacuated over the last 10 days, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Wednesday. There were as many as 6,000 Americans who wanted to leave as of August 14, he said.

The U.S. has been working to determine how many Americans remain in Afghanistan by making phone calls to people who have registered with the State Department to ask whether they are still there and need help leaving, Wilson said. "That work has produced a significant additional set of people," he said. 

Wilson declined to say whether any U.S. diplomats will stay behind after the military pulls out. However, Blinken said there was "no deadline" in helping any U.S. citizen or Afghan ally who is unable to leave before the end of the month. 

President Joe Biden gave his administration the August 31 deadline, and the Taliban has warned there will be consequences if the U.S. stays longer. The U.S. is racing to evacuate tens of thousands of Americans and vulnerable Afghans in the remaining days. Mr. Biden acknowledged the efforts are dependent upon the Taliban letting people through to the Kabul airport. 

Members of both parties have expressed doubt that the U.S. can evacuate everyone before the deadline and have urged the Biden administration to stay longer. 

In response to criticism about why evacuation efforts didn't begin sooner, Wilson said Americans and Afghan allies have been given serious and repeated warnings to leave since March or April. 

"Never in my 40 years of working, since I began working at the State Department, have I seen such strong language used. People chose not to leave. That's their business. That's their right," Wilson said. "We regret now that many may find themselves in a position that they would rather not be in. And we are determined to try to help them." 

Mr. Biden said Tuesday he had asked the Pentagon and State Department for "contingency plans" in case the evacuations are not completed by the end of the month.

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