PM expected to press for Afghan rescue extension in G7 meeting with Biden

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Boris Johnson is expected to use a meeting with world leaders to follow-up on the UK Government’s push for US President Joe Biden to extend the Kabul evacuation deadline.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace held talks with their Washington counterparts over the weekend to press home the desire for US troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond August 31 in order to continue to secure the capital city’s airport for repatriation flights.

The Prime Minister is due, according to multiple reports, to use an emergency G7 summit on Tuesday to personally lobby Mr Biden on the issue.

In a tweet, he said it was “vital that the international community works together to ensure safe evacuations”.

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour programme that the Government would continue to try to convince the White House incumbent to extend the exit deadline.

“Obviously the more time that we’ve got, the more people we can evacuate and that’s what we’re pushing for,” said Mr Cleverly.

But the President signalled on Sunday that he did not want US armed forces to stay in the central Asian country beyond August.

Asked about delaying the withdrawal of American troops during a press conference, Mr Biden said: “Our hope is that we don’t have to extend but there are discussions going on about how far we are.”

President Joe Biden gave an update on the Afghanistan situation on Sunday
President Joe Biden gave an update on the Afghanistan situation on Sunday (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has written to the Prime Minister calling for more information on how the UK is planning for the next stages of the rescue mission.

Sir Keir asked whether Mr Johnson had “spoken personally” to President Biden to “ask him to extend the evacuation period beyond the end of August”, and whether the UK was working on a contingency plan with Nato allies to “hold Kabul airport without US troops”.

Government officials said there is “no fixed date” on when the UK will withdraw but it is feared that without US boots on the ground, the remaining allied forces would be unable to secure Hamid Karzai International Airport from the crowds looking to flee the Taliban takeover, or other potential security threats.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that 5,725 people have been repatriated since rescue efforts began on August 13, with 3,100 of them Afghan individuals and their families.

On Sunday, 1,721 people were airlifted from Kabul by the Royal Air Force across eight flights.

Brigadier Dan Blanchford, the most senior UK military officer on the ground in Kabul, said British troops had “witnessed some harrowing scenes”, with at least seven Afghan civilians confirmed to have died outside the airfield gates amid chaotic crowds.

It has been reported that as many as 20 people have been killed in the past week while trying to get into the departure point.

Brigadier Blanchford, Commander Joint Forces Operations, said: “The horrific difficulties which families and individuals have in getting to the airport are clear and my men and women on the frontline have seen and witnessed some harrowing scenes.”

Brigadier Blanchford added he was “proud” of the work of the armed forces in Kabul “who have shown professionalism and compassion in challenging circumstances”.

He said UK armed forces were “redoubling” efforts to “speed up the process” of helping people make their exit, with the Times reporting that the RAF hopes to fly out as many as 2,000 people per day.

The newspaper also said the military will be extending the deadline for the last RAF evacuation, pushing it back from Tuesday to Friday or Saturday, with the evacuation programme expanded from 6,000 people eligible to come to Britain to more than 12,000.

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