UK and France to push for extension at G7 * New regime in Kabul likely to refuse
Joe Biden will come under pressure
today from western allies who want the
US-led evacuation from Afghanistan
extended beyond August 31, while facing
the humiliating prospect that the
Taliban may veto the idea.
At an emergency G7 meeting the US
president will hear calls from allies
including Boris Johnson, UK prime minister,
and Emmanuel Macron, French
president, to negotiate with the Taliban
for an extension.
But the move exposes the fragility of
the west’s position in Afghanistan, as the
leading democracies in effect plead with
the Taliban to allow them to carry on
their evacuation for a few more days.
Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman,
told the Financial Times that US and
other foreign troops at Kabul airport
must withdraw in line with the timeline
set by the Biden administration.
“Otherwise, it will be a violation,” he
said. “Our leadership will take a decision
[on how] to react to the violation.”
James Heappey, UK defence minister,
admitted the Taliban had “a vote” on
whether to allow the evacuation to carry
on from Kabul airport into September.
He said forcing a confrontation with
the new regime in Kabul could be hugely
counter-productive and that carrying
out an evacuation from “a war zone”
would make the west’s task even harder.
“Even if the political will in London,
Washington, Paris, Berlin is for an
extension, the Taliban may say no,” he
told the UK’s LBC Radio. Biden is currently
sticking to the original August 31
deadline — thus avoiding the potential
humiliation of a Taliban “veto” on an
extension — but has left open the door
for requesting more time.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said
that Lloyd Austin, defence secretary,
was working to that deadline and had
not asked the president for it to be
extended, but he did not rule it out.
Johnson, current G7 chair, will argue
at a virtual meeting that the more time
the west has to evacuate civilians —
including Afghans who backed the Nato
mission — the more it can get out.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s foreign
minister, said: “We are concerned about
the August 31 deadline set by the United
States. More time is needed . . . ” But the west is still rushing against the deadline.
The US military reported its biggest day
of airlifts by far yesterday, with 28 US
flights taking out more than 10,000 people
out in 24 hours.
Johnson will urge G7 leaders to
increase their offer of aid to ease the refugee
crisis, with Britain committing up
to £286m of humanitarian assistance.
The money will be spent in the region
— including third countries that will be
asked to process Afghan refugees seeking
to travel to the west under resettlement
programmes. The UK has promised
to take 20,000 over five years,
accepting many people will have to
leave via countries like Pakistan.