PM vows to rescue Afghans: Airlifts will go down to ‘last moment’
Afghanistan: ‘Taliban have all the cards’ says expert
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It comes after the final hopes of extending the evacuation deadline of August 31 were extinguished. President Joe Biden yesterday rejected calls for US troops to stay any later to allow the multinational evacuation effort to continue. The President refused to alter his deadline following menacing warnings from the Taliban that further evacuations “will not be allowed” after Tuesday. And, according to reports last night, US troops have already started leaving. Militants yesterday demanded an immediate end to Afghans being evacuated. But Mr Johnson and other world leaders urged the Taliban to allow “safe passage” for anyone wanting to leave Afghanistan after the deadline.
A virtual summit of the G7 group of nations, chaired by the Prime Minister, agreed a “road map” for dealing with the Taliban.
Following the meeting, the PM insisted the UK’s airlift had been “extraordinary” with around 9,226 people rescued in 57 flights amid “harrowing scenes” at Kabul Airport. Evacuated Afghan passengers were arriving at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, yesterday and unaccompanied children were escorted by officials there.
Mr Johnson said: “We will go on right up until the last moment that we can. But you have heard what the President of the United States has had to say, you have heard what the Taliban have said.
“You have got to understand the context in which we’re doing this. We’re confident we can get thousands more out. But the situation at the airport is not getting any better. There are public order issues, it’s harrowing scenes for those who are trying to get out, and it’s tough for our military as well.”
Along with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the PM had used the summit as a final attempt to try to persuade Mr Biden to allow the evacuation to be extended into September.
But their call was rejected by the US President.
Despite the rebuff, Mr Johnson last night said the summit had agreed a “joint approach” by the West for engaging with the expected new Taliban government in Kabul.
The PM added: “What we have done today at the G7 is we have got together the leading Western powers and agreed not just a joint approach to dealing with the evacuation, but also a road map for the way in which we’re going to engage with the Taliban, as it probably will be a Taliban government in Kabul.
“The number one condition we’re setting as G7 is that they have got to guarantee, right the way through, through August 31 and beyond, safe passage for those who want to come out.
“Some will say that they don’t accept that and some, I hope, will see the sense of that, because the G7 has very considerable leverage – economic, diplomatic and political.
“I am totally realistic about the Taliban and I don’t think that anybody is going to pretend that this is anything other than a very difficult situation.
“But that doesn’t mean that we should ignore the leverage that we have. But when it comes to engaging with the Taliban, and engaging with the government in Afghanistan, whatever its exact composition, the G7 has huge leverage.”
The US President’s press secretary Jen Psaki said: “The President conveyed that our mission in Kabul will end based on the achievement of our objectives. He confirmed we are currently on pace to finish by August 31.
“He also made clear that with each day of operations on the ground, we have added risk to our troops with increasing threats from Isis-K, and that completion of the mission by August 31 depends on continued co-ordination with the Taliban, including continued access for evacuees to the airport. The President has asked the Pentagon and State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timeline should that become necessary.”
Earlier, the Taliban had said it would not accept foreign troops remaining in Afghanistan past the end of the month. Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said: “August 31 is the time given and after that it’s something that is against the agreement. All people should be removed prior to that date. After that we do not allow them…We’ll take a different stance.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told an MPs briefing that the UK would like to see a functioning airport in Kabul after the troops’ departure. This could allow Afghans to leave the country on commercial flights if they wanted.
He said: “If we want to do this in a more managed way, what we really could do with is the Taliban being able to run a functional airport in Kabul. I’m sure there will be various neighbouring countries that will want to see if they can help them keep that airport open.”
US news network CNN reported last night that American military personnel no longer required for the evacuation are being sent back. An official said: “So far, the reduction does not affect the mission.”
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