Extending Kabul evacuation deadline in doubt

Afghanistan Updates

The possibility of the United States extending the emergency evacuation from Afghanistan fell beyond August 31 as the Taliban warned that any delay in the full withdrawal of foreign forces would be a “violation”.

Sohail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, told the Financial Times that the remaining US and foreign forces at Kabul airport should withdraw in line with the timetable set by the Biden administration.

“Otherwise, it would be a violation,” Shaheen said. Our leadership will make a decision [on how] to respond to the violation.

John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said the US military leadership has seen the Taliban’s comments and “understands that view”.

“Our focus is to get that done by the end of the month,” Kirby said. He added that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin would advise the president to secure the extension if he believed it was needed, but said, “We’re not there right now.”

Earlier, British Defense Secretary James Hebby said there was no possibility that Britain and other NATO allies would send a new military force to take control of Kabul airport after the departure of US forces. “When the United States goes, the job must be done,” he said.

He added that an attempt to use military force to extend the evacuation period could turn Kabul into a “war zone” and make it difficult to evacuate thousands of Afghans, Western civilians and military personnel.

Biden committed to withdrawing troops after choosing to press ahead with the deal the Trump administration struck with the Taliban last year to end US military operations ahead of the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. The hardline Islamist movement seized power shortly after launching a blitzkrieg across the country as US soldiers withdrew. Biden said Sunday that he “hopes” the deadline will be met.

The US, UK and other forces are already grappling with chaotic scenes around Kabul airport, which is surrounded by Taliban checkpoints. The United States said, on Monday, that a “enemy actor” killed a member of the Afghan security forces and wounded several others during an exchange of fire involving American soldiers, outside the northern gate of the airport on Sunday night.

Western politicians are trying to see if more civilians can be evacuated by “squeezing” the timetable for withdrawal, if the August 31 deadline remains in place.

Under the original plans, London was operating on the assumption that the military at Kabul airport would need a week to finish their departure.

This means that the final evacuation of civilians, which British officials said numbered in “a few thousand”, may have been required to take place as early as Tuesday.

Planners now expect flights to continue rest of the weekBut Hebei stressed that it would not be possible to evacuate all British and Afghan nationals who supported the NATO mission.

The second phase of the evacuation, in which Britain agreed to resettle 20,000 Afghans over five years, will include refugees seeking to reach the UK via third countries, such as Pakistan.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will urge leaders on Tuesday to push for more time to evacuate when he presides over a virtual G7 summit on the Afghan crisis. Johnson wants the G7 talks to also focus on a long-term approach to the Afghan crisis, but agrees, following the US withdrawal, that Chinese and Russian cooperation will be necessary to stop the slide into chaos.

Britain is working with France on a UN Security Council resolution that could win the support of Moscow and Beijing. “It’s really important that we have a united front,” said a British official. The Security Council is expected to meet later this week.

The resolution is expected to cover issues including counter-terrorism work, humanitarian aid and the world’s dealings with the Taliban. “We will judge them by their actions,” the British official said.

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