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Britain will this week turn to China and Russia to try to prevent Afghanistan from sliding further into chaos, after the exchange of accusations between London and Washington over US President Joe Biden’s withdrawal of US forces.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is also working closely with France – with which relations have been strained after Brexit – to try to engineer a UN response to the crisis in Afghanistan.
While UK ministers have been particularly critical of the US withdrawal style, Tony Blair, the former British prime minister who moved British troops into Afghanistan 20 years ago, said Washington’s strategy is based on a “political moron about ending ‘eternal wars'”.
His comments were a reference to Biden’s pledge to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan by the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Downing Street has denied any rift between Johnson and Biden, but the British prime minister’s foreign policy – which is heavily dependent on the US – has been shaken by the crisis and has forced London to court other capitals.
Johnson, who was keen to show the UK remains relevant as a “pool power” when he chairs a virtual G7 summit on Tuesday, tweeted that the wealthy group of nations would coordinate efforts to “ensure safe evacuations, and prevent humanitarian actions from happening”. Crisis and support for the Afghan people.
The US and UK governments have come under fire since the Taliban seized power a week ago following the withdrawal of US forces.
Efforts to evacuate Afghans who worked for Western armies and other organizations were marred by chaos, as thousands of desperate families crowded into Kabul airport. And the British Ministry of Defense said, on Sunday, that seven Afghans were killed amid crowds in the capital.
Dominic Raab, the foreign minister who was criticized for staying on holiday in Greece as Kabul fell to the Taliban last week, confirmed that he would contact Beijing and Moscow about Afghanistan.
“We will have to bring in countries with moderate influence like Russia and China, however inconvenient that may be,” Raab told Britain’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper.
Both Russia and China have become involved with the Taliban.
A meeting of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – this week will discuss how to deal with the emerging Taliban regime, including aid and counter-terrorism policy.
“This is an important moment for the United Nations,” a British official said.
British officials were moderately encouraged by a call between Raab and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, last week, but no call has yet taken place with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Britain is also working with France to draft a UN Security Council resolution on Afghanistan, leading some to argue that Johnson needs to reset his foreign policy toward European allies after the bitterness of Brexit.
“One of the lessons we have to take is that if Britain and the EU countries in NATO want to play an important role militarily, we will need to work closely together to develop a capability which means we don’t have to rely on the American presence,” said Damien Green, a former minister at Conservative government. “The earlier we start down this path, the better.”
A high-ranking British officer agreed. “This government has put all its eggs – and the whisk and bowl – in the US basket,” he said. Britain’s only “eternal war” is with the European Union. It’s silly.”
Johnson’s allies argue that the United States has long been on a path to extricating itself from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as Washington’s focus is shifting to Asia.
British Defense Secretary James Hebe said efforts to evacuate eligible Britons and Afghans from Kabul had improved in the past 24 hours, with more than 1,700 people moved out of the country.
Lloyd Austin, the US defense secretary, reiterated on Sunday that Biden’s August 31 deadline for the complete withdrawal of US forces may have to be extended. Britain made it clear to Washington that it would welcome the extension.
A British official said the evacuation schedule was “tight” with the UK continuing to try to get people said to be “in the low thousands”.