Extension for Kabul evacuation ‘unlikely’, Defence Secretary warns

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Military planes line up at Kabul airport  (PA)
Military planes line up at Kabul airport (PA)

An extension to the deadline for pulling out remaining troops from Afghanistan to allow evacuations to continue is “unlikely”, the Defence Secretary has conceded ahead of emergency talks with Joe Biden.

Ben Wallace expressed pessimism on whether the August 31 withdrawal date will be put back as he cited the US President’s reluctance and warnings of repercussions from the Taliban.

Boris Johnson was hosting a virtual G7 summit on Tuesday afternoon during which he was expected to press Mr Biden to keep his troops in the Afghan capital for longer.

But the Taliban, which swept to power last week in the wake of America’s major withdrawal of troops, has suggested that foreign forces remaining past the deadline would cross a “red line” that will “provoke a reaction”.

A spokesman for the group warned on Tuesday that evacuations “will not be allowed” after August 31.

Acknowledging that “we’re not going to get everybody out of the country”, Mr Wallace expressed pessimism about the prospect of the evacuation operation from Kabul airport continuing after August 31.

“I think it is unlikely. Not only because of what the Taliban has said but if you look at the public statements of President Biden I think it is unlikely,” he told Sky News.

“It is definitely worth us all trying and we will.”

People fleeing Afghanistan (PA)
People fleeing Afghanistan (PA)

Britain has evacuated 8,600 people from Afghanistan in the past 10 days, including more than 2,000 in the previous 24 hours, according to the Defence Secretary.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said no evacuations from Afghanistan would be permitted after the current deadline.

During a press conference in Kabul, he said: “August 31 is the time given and after that it’s something that is against the agreement.

“All people should be removed prior to that date.

“After that we do not allow them, it will not be allowed in our country, we will take a different stance.”

Mr Wallace has insisted it would not be appropriate to try to secure Kabul airport with British troops after the US pulls out.

Troops in Kabul (PA)
Troops in Kabul (PA)

“It’s not about effectively whether I could fly in thousands of troops and secure the airport.

“Yes I could do that, I could probably secure the airport for a few months, or maybe a year or two,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“But for what purpose? For them to be shot at, attacked, people not to get to the airport and to trigger just a permanent fight? I don’t think that is a solution.”

Mr Wallace envisaged the “consequences” threatened by the Taliban of missing the deadline to leave could range from preventing people going to Kabul airport to “military activity that could potentially close the airport”.

The Prime Minister spoke to Mr Biden on Monday evening ahead of the G7 leaders’ call, which will also include the general secretaries of Nato and the United Nations.

“The Taliban will be judged by their deeds and not their words,” the Prime Minister added.

Boris Johnson (PA)
Boris Johnson (PA)

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet warned she had already received credible reports of “summary executions” and restrictions being imposed on women on Taliban-controlled areas.

Mr Johnson has promised “to use every humanitarian and diplomatic lever” to protect human rights in Afghanistan.

Leaders of the G7, which also includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, are further expected to discuss aid and the burgeoning refugee and humanitarian crises.

Ahead of the summit, six chairs of foreign affairs committees in G7 parliaments issued a joint statement urging against “arbitrary dates” for ending military support for the evacuation.

Signed by Bob Menendez, a US senator in Mr Biden’s Democratic Party, and the senior Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, they also urged against “artificial caps on the number of evacuees”.

Sir Mark Lyall Grant, a former national security adviser, said it was “totally unrealistic” to think there could be an extension to the deadline without the Taliban’s consent.

“The Taliban could stop this evacuation process in one hour’s time if they started firing missiles at departing planes, if they lobbed a mortar into the airport, so this evacuation is happening with the cooperation of the Taliban,” he told BBC Radio 4’s World at One.

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