Prime Minister to chair G7 Afghanistan meeting as race to evacuate continues

The Prime Minister will chair an emergency meeting of G7 nations to coordinate a response to the crisis in Afghanistan as the race to evacuate people continues.

Ahead of the virtual meeting, Boris Johnson promised “to use every humanitarian and diplomatic lever” to protect human rights in the country, following the Taliban takeover.

He is expected to push the US to extend its presence in the country past August 31 to allow the evacuation effort more time.

Downing Street said Mr Johnson and President Biden spoke on Monday ahead of the G7 leaders meeting.

In a readout of the call, Downing Street said: “The leaders agreed to continue working together to ensure those who are eligible to leave are able to, including after the initial phase of the evacuation has ended.”

It added the two leaders: “Committed to driving international action, including through the G7 and UN Security Council, to stabilise the situation, support the Afghan people and work towards an inclusive and representative Afghan government.”

In a statement released ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, Mr Johnson said: “Our first priority is to complete the evacuation of our citizens and those Afghans who have assisted our efforts over the last 20 years – but as we look ahead to the next phase, it’s vital we come together as an international community and agree a joint approach for the longer term.

“That’s why I’ve called an emergency meeting of the G7 – to coordinate our response to the immediate crisis, to reaffirm our commitment to the Afghan people, and to ask our international partners to match the UK’s commitments to support those in need.

“Together with our partners and allies, we will continue to use every humanitarian and diplomatic lever to safeguard human rights and protect the gains made over the last two decades. The Taliban will be judged by their deeds and not their words.”

On Monday Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the Kabul evacuation effort is “down to hours now, not weeks”, as he acknowledged that America’s exit will mean “we will have to go as well”.

He said that at the G7 meeting the Prime Minister is “going to try and raise the prospect of seeing if the United States will extend” its withdrawal.

A Taliban spokesperson said on Monday that any attempt to continue the military evacuation operation past August 31 would “provoke a reaction”.

President Biden signalled on Sunday that he did not want US armed forces to stay in the central Asian country beyond August, saying: “Our hope is that we don’t have to extend but there are discussions going on about how far we are.”

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.

Former Commons deputy speaker Lord Naseby urged Parliament to be recalled for a Saturday sitting on August 28 so MPs and peers can assess the final days of the evacuation effort.

He told the PA news agency: “It’s behove of any government in a situation as dire as this is to recall Parliament for a second time on Saturday of this week, which is very near August 31, so we can have a complete update.”

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said Operation Pitting, the military evacuation that began on Friday August 13, has so far extracted 7,109 people out of Kabul.

Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan
The MoD said 7,109 people have been evacuated so far (LPhot Ben Shread/MoD/Crown Copyright/PA)

The figure includes embassy staff, British nationals, those eligible under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) programme and a number of nationals from partner nations, the MoD said.

On Monday, armed forces minister James Heappey said UK nationals and more than 2,200 Afghans who helped British forces – the remaining people under the Arap (Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy) – are the “focus” of the Government’s evacuation efforts from Afghanistan.

Mr Heappey said: “We will get out as many as we possibly can but we have been clear throughout that there is a hard reality that we won’t be able to get out everybody that we want to.”

He added: “The airlift is not the only route out of Afghanistan, not the only route to the UK.”

The Guardian reported that Sir Laurie Bristow, British ambassador to Afghanistan, told MPs on Monday there was “pretty uncompromising” signalling from the Taliban that they want the operation finished by the end of the month.

Speaking from Kabul, Sir Laurie reportedly said it follows that there is “at least a risk” that pushing beyond the August 31 deadline could lead to a “much more difficult and less compliant environment”.

British nationals and Afghan evacuees arrive at RAF Brize Norton earlier in the week
British nationals and Afghan evacuees arrive at RAF Brize Norton earlier in the week (Paul Crouch/MoD/PA)

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Sky News on Monday: “President Biden announced this agreement that on August 31 they would withdraw all their military forces. So, if they extend it that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that.

“It will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation, it will provoke a reaction.”

Asked on BBC’s Newsnight programme if Boris Johnson holds any bargaining chips for a delay, former UK ambassador to the US, Lord Darroch of Kew said: “I think there is a chance. I think it’s a small chance. I think he has to show empathy.

“Because I think it would be a very difficult decision for President Biden now to extend. And then of course you have the question of whether the Taliban would agree to it.”

Meanwhile, it was reported a person in Afghanistan on the UK’s no-fly watchlist arrived into the UK as part of the evacuation.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “An individual was flagged to the Home Office as part of the rigorous checks process, involving the police, security services and others.

“However, upon further investigation, they are not a person of interest to the security agencies or law enforcement.”