Boris Johnson will pressure Joe Biden at the G7 leaders’ summit, No 10 said, begging him to keep US troops at Kabul airport beyond the end of August, after a weekend of tensions between the UK and its closest ally.
As the Taliban tighten their grip at the airport, Downing Street confirmed on Sunday evening that the prime minister will pressure the US president to maintain a presence after August 31, when the leaders will hold a virtual meeting on Tuesday. .
The news came as the Taliban forces sought to assert their authority, accusing the United States of “anarchy” at the airport and insisting that it was the only one capable of restoring order. Throughout the day, Taliban fighters fired into the air and used batons to force people to queue in an attempt to put an end to the desperate scenes in which at least 20 people died.
A Taliban official told Reuters on Monday that foreign forces in Afghanistan had not yet extended the August 31 deadline for leaving the country.
There are fears that thousands of people with ties to the British may miss the opportunity to be evacuated as the Taliban begins to administer part of the evacuations. At a press conference on Sunday night, Biden suggested the end date for evacuations could be pushed back, saying discussions were ongoing, but added: “Our hope is that we won’t have to extend.”
A British minister said the flow of people outside the airport had improved following the Taliban’s intervention, allowing the pace of the UK’s evacuation to increase. The Times reported on Sunday evening that the RAF had already extended its own evacuation deadline. It was slated to end on Tuesday but would now be Friday or Saturday, the newspaper said, with more people, including Afghan politicians and aid workers, eligible for the evacuation.
James Heappey, the Minister of the Armed Forces, said that the Taliban “were putting people in separate queues for the evacuation of the United States and the evacuation of the United Kingdom, which made a big difference in the size of the crowd outside the UK gate and allows us to deal with people much faster ”.
The Taliban accused the United States, which owns the airport with 5,200 troops, of not maintaining proper control – although it was the group’s fighters who beat and shot those trying to gain access. to the site. At least 20 people have died in the chaotic scenes both on the tarmac and outside the airport since last Sunday, a NATO official told Reuters. Many more Afghans have been held up at roadblocks or are too afraid to travel despite receiving an evacuation offer.
Amir Khan Muttaqi, the head of the Taliban policy council, said: “All of Afghanistan is safe, but the airport which is run by the Americans is in the grip of anarchy. The United States shouldn’t defame itself, shouldn’t embarrass itself in front of the world, and shouldn’t give our people that mindset that [the Taliban] are kind of an enemy. During his press conference, Biden said the United States had widened its perimeter around the airport in order to speed up their evacuations. He said the Taliban had cooperated in these efforts.
It is not yet known how long the United States will stay at the airport to continue the airlift, although it has emerged that Britain has already desperately pressured the Biden administration to consider a stay beyond the announced deadline of August 31 – to no avail.
Heappey said Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is criticized for his own handling of the crisis, had “made representations” to his counterpart, Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, on the issue. But the British had not received any assurances, prompting Heappey to say in a TV interview that “we’re not assuming anything” regarding a final release date.
Just over 1,900 people were evacuated as part of the RAF operation in the 24 hours leading up to Sunday evening, the highest for a day, bringing the overall figure to 5,725 since August 12.
Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer wrote to the Prime Minister asking him a series of questions given the “lack of forethought and planning” regarding Afghanistan, including whether there was a joint evacuation plan drawn up by British and American commanders in Kabul.
Other developments on Sunday include:
Up to 300 former Afghan employees of the British security company G4S say they are stranded in Kabul for fear of their lives and feel abandoned by the company and the British government.
Tony Blair, the Prime Minister who authorized the UK’s contribution to the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, warned the chaotic pullout would provide opportunities for terrorist groups and countries hostile to the West .
One of the last rebel leaders opposed to the Taliban, Ahmad Massoud, warned that a new civil war was “inevitable” unless there was a power-sharing agreement.
Britain has said it will establish offshore asylum centers for Afghan refugees in countries like Pakistan and Turkey, as ministers have admitted the UK cannot save all eligible people in time to resettlement. But on Sunday evening, Turkey said it would reject any request for a UK center to be established.
Officials confirmed Johnson will use the G7 meeting to push Biden in the United States to expand his presence in Kabul, but stressed that the event is mostly about long-term solutions. On Sunday evening, Reuters reported that Britain believed the G7 should consider economic sanctions and withhold aid if the Taliban committed human rights violations and allowed its territory to be used as a safe haven for militants. Asked about the sanctions at his press conference, Biden said he could support them “depending on the context.”
In his letter, Starmer asked Johnson if he had spoken to Biden personally to request an extension of the US presence. Johnson and Biden last spoke on Tuesday, a call that took more than 24 hours to organize, according to the Sunday Times. Biden did not name the UK on Sunday night when listing the countries he had spoken with.
Other questions raised in Starmer’s letter included whether there had been discussions over NATO allies temporarily holding Kabul airport without US troops; whether NATO forces could guarantee secure areas to provide access to the airport; and whether a United Nations operation could help.
Lord Ricketts, a former national security adviser, said Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and his approach to handling the retreat was “a wake-up call to allies who had cherished hopes of a return to American internationalism “.
“From what I’ve heard, the United States is totally focused on preventing a disaster during the evacuation and they don’t have time for other allies at the moment,” a- he declared. “But the lack of communication is something the British feel the most: we most need to want to be seen as Washington’s closest counterparts.”
Issue 10 deflected questions over disagreements with the United States, with officials pointing to the “excellent working relationship” between the leaders.
At the same time, attention has been renewed on Raab’s absence on vacation as Kabul fell into Taliban hands, after a report that the foreign secretary pressured Johnson to extend his absence. Raab was ordered to return on August 13, when the Afghan government was at risk of collapse, but he allegedly “nobbled” the prime minister to allow him to stay on vacation in Crete for two more days.