UK to urge extension of Kabul evacuations at G7 talks
August 24, 2021 06:50 AM
Britain said Monday it would urge the United States to extend an end-of-the-month deadline for evacuations from Afghanistan, while the Taliban warned any delay would lead to "consequences".
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.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson would "try to raise the prospect of seeing if the United States will extend" the deadline at an online leaders meeting of the G7 group of wealthy nations on Tuesday.
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".
"If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations -- the answer is no. Or there would be consequences," Shaheen said.
"If they are intent on continuing the occupation, it will create a reaction," he added.
The UK defence minister stressed that the evacuations from Afghanistan's capital could only be maintained beyond August 31 if led by the US.
"It's really important for people to understand the United States have over 6,000 people in Kabul airport and when they withdraw that will take away the framework... and we will have to go as well," Wallace told reporters in Scotland.
"If their timetable extends even by a day or two, that will give us a day or two more to evacuate people," he said.
"Because we are really down to hours now, not weeks, and we have to make sure we exploit every minute to get people out."
Britain currently chairs the G7, which also comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.
Taliban faces choice
Britain's armed forces minister James Heappey told Sky News that the "hard reality" was that the Taliban had a crucial say, now that they control Afghanistan.
"I think everybody has to be clear that this is not just a discussion that happens between G7 leaders tomorrow, it is a discussion which happens with the Taliban," he said.
"The Taliban will have a choice, they can either seek to engage with the international community and show that they want to be a part of the international system.
"Or they can turn around and say there is no opportunity for an extension."
Britain, which has deployed 1,000 soldiers to aid its airlift efforts, is pushing for longer to get out everybody who qualifies, with the trans-Atlantic allies' defence ministers speaking by phone Sunday.
London has so far evacuated 5,725 people from Kabul since August 13, including more than 3,100 Afghan individuals and their families, according to the defence ministry.
Heappey said early Monday the UK expects a further nine flights to depart over the next 24 hours.
He told Times radio that Afghans who are eligible for asylum in the West were also fleeing the country overland and showing up at embassies in neighbouring countries such as Pakistan.