Taliban saying August 31 is the withdrawal deadline and warn US and Britain to get out
Article RadarTHIS ARTICLE CONNECT:
The Taliban has threatened a ‘reaction’ and warned of ‘consequences’ if the US or UK do not leave Afghanistan by August 31 and extend the deadline for the withdrawal of troops.
President Joe Biden wants all Americans to have left the country by the end of the month although he admitted on Sunday night that an extension was under discussion, while this morning UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the evacuation effort is ‘down to hours now, not weeks’.
Taliban spokesman Dr Suhail Shaheen said the group will not accept an extension to the deadline and warned of retaliation if Western forces extend their ‘occupation’ since the group dramatically swept to power.
He told Sky News: ‘It’s a red line. President Biden announced that on 31 August 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.
‘If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations – the answer is no. Or there would be consequences.
‘It will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation it will provoke a reaction.’
Biden appeared to push back on extending the August 31 deadline last night, saying the evacuation process is going to be ‘hard and painful’ and there will be ‘discussions’ about how long it will take.
With a huge backlog at the airport, US officials have ordered troops to only allow American citizens, Green Card holders and other foreign nationals through the gates of Kabul airport to board evacuation flights.
Boris Johnson is expected to press Biden and other G7 leaders to delay the final withdrawal in a virtual call tomorrow, with the UK hoping to double the number of Britons, Afghan allies and families it can airlift to 12,000, while France also called for more time and Germany is holding talks with NATO and the Taliban on keeping the airport open next month.
There are also growing fears that ISIS will mount a suicide bombing at Kabul airport amid the chaos of the evacuation as extremists try to ‘take advantage’ of the desperate airlift to attack UK and US forces.
British ministers have revealed that individuals on the UK’s terror ‘no fly list’ have already tried to get on board RAF planes in the Afghan capital.
Meanwhile the Taliban said they will not announce the makeup of the new government until all troops have been withdrawn, saying: ‘It has been decided that the formation of the government and cabinet will not be announced as long as a single US soldier is present in Afghanistan.’
Joe Biden said last night: ‘Let me be clear – the evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul is going to be hard and painful.
‘No matter when it started, when we began. It would have been true if we had started a month ago, or a month from now.
‘There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss and heartbreaking images you see on television. It’s just a fact.’
He said about 11,000 people were lifted out of Kabul in less than 36 hours, bringing the total to 33,000, and said defence officials ‘hope’ they will not have to extend the evacuation operation.
However in a glimmer of hope that an extension was still possible, he added: ‘There are going to be discussions I suspect on how far along we are in the process.
‘Our first priority in Kabul is getting American citizens out of the situation as quickly and safely as possible,’ Biden said.
‘Any American that wants to get home will get home.’
He also said the US government is ‘looking to move our Afghan allies’ out of the country as well, noting that citizens of NATO allies and Afghan allies were amongst the 11,000 individuals evacuated this past weekend.
He added that US forces had expanded the perimeter around the airport amid fears terrorists may seek to exploit the operation by attacking Americans or Afghan civilians.
Delta and United Airlines have offered planes to help fly those who have already been evacuated to their final destinations.
But the US is now only evacuating their own citizens, Green Card holders and other foreign nationals from Kabul airport, leaving thousands of Afghans potentially stranded.
Troops have been processing both Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans like translators or others who helped in the war, and most of the US evacuation flights have been full of Afghan nationals so far.
Thirty-three C-17 jets are on the way to the airport that could carry 600 passengers each – 19,800 total – out of the dangerous city, but CNN cites an unnamed official who said the policy was changing to only allow US citizens, foreign citizens from other NATO countries, or Green Card holders through the gates.
No one from the White House, State Department or Pentagon has been able to give a number for how many American citizens remain in Afghanistan.
It’s unclear if or when the US will start flying Afghans out again.
The UK wants to double its Kabul airlift numbers to 12,000 this week, but Johnson accepts that the success of the mission is reliant on US troops maintaining control of Kabul airport, where an estimated 20,000 people are waiting to board flights.
British military commanders are understood to have pencilled in August 25 as the last day they can process refugees, including former British interpreters, before the focus shifts to getting about 1,000 British troops and government officials home safely.
It could mean the last British evacuation flight may have to leave as soon as tomorrow or Wednesday to allow soldiers enough time to withdraw.
Five more workers have been deployed to Kabul airport by the UK to help evacuation efforts, with a total of 19 British personnel now working on the ground including Ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow, who has been praised for remaining at Kabul airport and aiding his team in processing visa applications.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace conceded the UK’s involvement will end when the US leaves, saying: ‘The Prime Minister is, obviously at the G7, going to try and raise the prospect of seeing if the United States will extend.
‘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.
‘I don’t think there is any likelihood of staying on after the United States. If their timetable extends even by a day or two, that will give us a day or two more to evacuate people.
‘Because we are really down to hours now, not weeks, and we have to make sure we exploit every minute to get people out.’
Downing Street later said the evacuation would continue as long as it was safe to do so.
In his sit-down interview, Dr Shaheen also claimed people are not fleeing Afghanistan because they are scared, saying it was purely ‘economic migration’, despite the desperate scenes at Kabul airport.
He added it was ‘fake news’ that girls’ schools are being closed amid reports of the Taliban going door to door and threatening people while seeking former government workers.
Many women are fearful that the new regime will erode rights which they have fought for.
But Dr Shaheen insisted: ‘They will lose nothing. Only if they have no hijab, they will have a hijab… women are required to have the same rights as you have in your country but with a hijab.’
He added that women teachers and journalists are continuing to work despite the recent upheaval, despite stories of women being scared to leave their homes and return to work.
Biden said he had directed the State Department to contact Americans stranded in the country, where Taliban checkpoints are in place.
‘We’re executing a plan to move groups of these Americans to safety and to safely and effectively move them to the airport compound. For security reasons, I’m not going to go into detail … but I will say again today what I’ve said before: Any American who wants to get home will get home.’
Afghan allies of the West and vulnerable Afghans such as women activists and journalists would be helped too, he said.
Meanwhile, 500 tonnes of medical supplies including surgical equipment and childhood pneumonia treatments due to be delivered to Afghanistan this week are stuck because of Kabul airport restrictions.
‘They were ready and planned to be delivered to Afghanistan to arrive this week. But now that the airport is closed to commercial flights, we can no longer get them in,’ said World Health Organisation spokesperson Inas Hamam.
She said the WHO was calling for empty planes to divert to its storage hub in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to collect the supplies on their way to pick up evacuees from the country.
A temporary accommodation centre set up for Afghan refugees in the Netherlands is already full and a second location is having to be opened to cope with the sudden intake.
The camp in the remote village of Zoutcamp reached its capacity on Sunday night, with the arrival of 178 Afghan evacuees.
A new accommodation center is being opened to house more Afghans at another military barracks in the central town of Zeist.
The Dutch defense ministry says it has completed nine flights out of Kabul to airports in the region since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan.
Six flights carrying evacuees from Afghanistan have arrived in the Netherlands carrying a total of more than 800 people. That number includes Dutch nationals, Afghans and citizens of other countries.
One of those who managed to flee amid the pandemonium at Kabul airport was an Uber driver who had spent three days desperately trying to escape from the Taliban.
Helmand Khan was flown to safety on an RAF flight with his children after he visited relatives in Afghanistan.
The taxi driver from West London was earlier seen thrusting his British passport at TV crews as he tried to enter a compound where the British Embassy is housing evacuees.
Source: Daily Mail