France sees need for Afghan evacuations beyond US deadline
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French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Monday that Paris believed it necessary to continue Afghan evacuations beyond Washington's August 31 deadline following the Taliban takeover.
France is seeking to evacuate more than 1,000 Afghans who are fleeing the country following the Taliban's lightning takeover a week ago, one of a number of nations scrambling to pull out vulnerable individuals.
"We are concerned about the deadline set by the United States on August 31. Additional time is needed to complete ongoing operations," Le Drian told reporters at the UAE's Al-Dhafra air base, where France has set up an air bridge for people evacuated from Kabul.
France had "sheltered" nearly 1,200 people leaving Afghanistan between August 17 and 22, including approximately 100 French nationals and 1,000 vulnerable Afghans, as well as dozens of other nationalities, the French delegation said.
Le Drian said that access to Kabul airport was the main issue facing evacuation operations.
"We still need to increase our coordination locally, with the United States and with our partners present on site," he said.
Defence Minister Florence Parly said Paris had a pre-approved plan to protect its citizens and Afghans who had worked alongside France.
"We started planning airlift operations before the fall of Kabul," she said.
Le Drian and Parly were due to meet diplomats, military personnel, police officers, and "all the staff working under extremely difficult conditions to enable evacuation operations from Kabul" an official French statement said.
They were also due to meet Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, de facto leader of the UAE, to "thank the Emirati authorities for their support", the statement added.
US President Joe Biden has set an August 31 deadline for the chaotic airlift organised by thousands of temporarily deployed US troops -- but has left the door open to an extension if needed.
Since August 14, roughly 25,100 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan aboard aircraft flown by the US and its allies, according to a White House estimate.
Britain said Monday it would urge the United States at a virtual G7 summit to extend an end-of-the-month deadline to complete evacuations of Western citizens and Afghan colleagues from Kabul.
But a spokesman for the Taliban, Suhail Shaheen, told Sky News that the hardline Islamist group would not agree to any extension of the deadline, calling this a "red line", with any delay viewed as "extending occupation".