Ministers dismiss hopes of extending Kabul airlift beyond August 31

The Taliban flatly dismissed any extension of the August 31 deadline for troops leaving Afghanistan today despite secret talks between the group’s chief and the head of the CIA.

As Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel used a G7 meeting to urge Joe Biden to keep the evacuation of Kabul going longer, the director the CIA was reported to have held discussions with the country’s new de facto leader.

However, there is little sign of movement, with the Pentagon saying there is ‘no change to the timeline of the mission’ and the Taliban repeating blood-curdling warnings of consequences if there is an attempt to cling on. ‘All people should be removed prior to that date,’ a spokesman told a press conference in the capital. ‘After that we do not allow them. We will take a different stance.’

The thinly-veiled threat means that unless Mr Biden opts to use US military might to enforce control of the area, troops will have to abandon the humanitarian operation and start focusing on their own exit plan as soon as tomorrow. 

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has warned of the danger of a ‘shooting war’ at the airport as the deadline approaches, after the RAF extracted another 2,000 people in the past 24 hours. Berlin and Paris have also been ramping up their evacuation, but there are still thousands of desperate people waiting to be taken to safety.  

Efforts are continuing on both sides of the Atlantic to get Mr Biden to change his approach, after he faced a furious backlash for his hamfisted handling of the crisis. The US chair of the House Intelligence Committee has said the current timetable for evacuating America citizens and their allies is almost certain to fail.

Tory MP Tom Tugendhat – who served as an Army officer in Afghanistan – said all the UK could do was ‘ask the Americans if they’re willing to stand with us’.

He added: ‘If they’re not then we can’t secure the perimeter and we can’t manage air traffic control, so if the Americans decide to go now I’m afraid that is it. But we can ask.’

Mr Tugendhat said he understands Mr Biden has to make ‘a very difficult decision’, but said many families are struggling to get through the gate and ‘a day, maybe two days longer, would help just a few more’. 

In other developments in the Afghanistan crisis today:

  • The Ministry of Defence says 8,458 people have been evacuated by the RAF since August 13, including 5,171 Afghan locals who supported Western forces; 
  • CIA Director William J Burns is reported to have held a secret meeting in Kabul on Monday with the Taliban’s de facto leader Abdul Ghani Baradar – the highest level contact between the US and extremist regime so far; 
  • Mr Wallace today rebuked a former Royal Marine for complaining that UK forces are blocking a charter flight from taking his staff and rescue dogs out of Kabul;
  • Councils are set to get grants from the government to rent or buy large homes for thousands of Afghan refugees coming to the UK;
  • Afghanistan faces an ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ this winter, the UN World Food Programme has said as it called for £145million in donations.  







Joe Biden addresses a virtual meeting of G7 leaders this afternoon. He is said to have spoken for seven minutes

Joe Biden addresses a virtual meeting of G7 leaders this afternoon. He is said to have spoken for seven minutes

Joe Biden addresses a virtual meeting of G7 leaders this afternoon. He is said to have spoken for seven minutes 

A picture released by the German government of Angela Merkel taking part in the G7 discussion this afternoon

A picture released by the German government of Angela Merkel taking part in the G7 discussion this afternoon

A picture released by the German government of Angela Merkel taking part in the G7 discussion this afternoon

CIA Director William Burns testifies during his Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Feb. 24, 2021

CIA Director William Burns testifies during his Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Feb. 24, 2021

Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar speaks at a signing ceremony of the US-Taliban agreement in Qatar's capital of Doha on Feb. 29, 2020

Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar speaks at a signing ceremony of the US-Taliban agreement in Qatar's capital of Doha on Feb. 29, 2020

CIA Director William Burns (left) went to Kabul on Monday for a secret meeting with the Taliban’s de facto leader Abdul Ghani Baradar (right)

An aerial view shows the roads heading towards the airport near a Taliban airport filled with cars amid the chaotic rush to flee the country

An aerial view shows the roads heading towards the airport near a Taliban airport filled with cars amid the chaotic rush to flee the country

An aerial view shows the roads heading towards the airport near a Taliban airport filled with cars amid the chaotic rush to flee the country

Diplomats insist that the situation on the ground has improved since the weekend with more people being allowed into the airport, but satellite images showed huge crowds continuing to mass  

The US said some 16,000 people were flown out of Kabul between Sunday morning and Monday afternoon, with thousands more due to leave the country today (pictured, a satellite image shows people boarding a military plane)

A satellite image reveals thousands of people standing in huge queues trying to get into Kabul airport with just a week left until evacuation flights out of Afghanistan are due to stop

Joe Biden

Joe Biden

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson

Hopes that Joe Biden (left) will extend America’s August 31 deadline to leave Afghanistan are fading, with Boris Johnson (right) making a last-ditch plea today

There are still huge crowds around the airport at Kabul with people desperately trying to get out of the country

There are still huge crowds around the airport at Kabul with people desperately trying to get out of the country

There are still huge crowds around the airport at Kabul with people desperately trying to get out of the country

Taliban fighters stand guard on cargo crates near the airport in these stills from footage taken by ITN News

Taliban fighters stand guard on cargo crates near the airport in these stills from footage taken by ITN News

Taliban fighters stand guard on cargo crates near the airport in these stills from footage taken by ITN News

Biden ‘unlikely’ to meet target of getting US citizens out by Aug 31 

Joe Biden is ‘unlikely’ to meet his August 31 deadline to evacuate US citizens and their allies from Afghanistan, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee said Monday.

Adam Schiff made the grim prediction after an intelligence briefing Monday evening, as the Taliban rejected a mooted extension to the withdrawal date.

Schiff said a full evacuation was ‘possible’ but ‘very unlikely given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated, the number of SIV’s, the number of others who are members of the Afghan press, civil society leaders, women leaders.’

Speaking outside the US Capitol, Schiff continued: ‘I am encouraged to see the numbers of people evacuated, increasing readily to the point where we evacuated 11,000 people in a single day,’ Schiff continued.

‘Nonetheless, given the logistical difficulties of moving people to the airport and the limited number of workarounds, it’s hard for me to see that being fully complete by the end of the month. And I’m certainly of the view that we maintain a military presence as long as it’s necessary to get all U.S. persons out and to meet our moral and ethical obligation to our Afghan partners.’

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Pentagon chiefs have poured cold water on an extension by insisting they are ‘focused on getting this done by the end of the month’.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the President was ‘taking this day by day’ and will make his decision on an extension ‘as we go’. 

But he said the President still believes ‘we have time between now and August 31 to get out any American who wants to get out’.

The Taliban has warned that any Western military operation in Afghanistan that continued into September would breach a ‘red line’ and would ‘provoke a reaction’.

At a press conference this afternoon the group’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid urged the West not to ‘encourage’ highly skilled people to leave Afghanistan.

He warned that the US should not be removing ‘our doctors, engineers, our educated elite’ from the country.

According to translation on Sky News, he said: ‘We need those people in the country, we do not want them out of the country to work in their institutions.’

He urged Afghans to ‘return to their homes and resume their calm everyday lives’ by the Taliban.

Mr Mujahid said crowding at the airport was dangerous and ‘people could lose their lives’.

In an apparent sign of the US administration’s desperation to find a way out of the mess, CIA Director William J Burns is reported to have held a secret meeting in Kabul yesterday with the Taliban’s de facto leader Abdul Ghani Baradar – the highest level contact between the US and extremist regime so far. 

The Washington Post said the discussions were thought to be over the US withdrawal deadline.

Mr Wallace said the danger at Kabul airport will rise the closer the evacuation effort gets to the departure deadline.

‘As we get closer to the deadline I think it’s correct to say the security risk goes up,’ he said.

‘It just gets more and more dangerous as add-on groups and other terrorist groups such as IS (so-called Islamic State) would like to be seen to take greater credit, or like to be seen to chase the West out of the airport, that is inevitably going to feed their narrative and their ambitions.

‘We are very mindful that we are very, very vulnerable should these terrorists choose to do something.’

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said this morning it is 'unlikely' the deadline will be extended, after the RAF extracted another 2,000 people in the past 24 hours

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said this morning it is 'unlikely' the deadline will be extended, after the RAF extracted another 2,000 people in the past 24 hours

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said this morning it is ‘unlikely’ the deadline will be extended, after the RAF extracted another 2,000 people in the past 24 hours

US marines man a checkpoint during evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, on Monday

US marines man a checkpoint during evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, on Monday

US marines man a checkpoint during evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, on Monday 

Taliban guards marshal crowds outside the airport where it is thought 6,500 people are now waiting to board flights

Taliban guards marshal crowds outside the airport where it is thought 6,500 people are now waiting to board flights

Taliban guards marshal crowds outside the airport where it is thought 6,500 people are now waiting to board flights

A line of people are led through a military checkpoint at Kabul airport which has witnessed frantic scenes over the last 10 days as people try to flee Afghanistan and Taliban rule

A line of people are led through a military checkpoint at Kabul airport which has witnessed frantic scenes over the last 10 days as people try to flee Afghanistan and Taliban rule

A line of people are led through a military checkpoint at Kabul airport which has witnessed frantic scenes over the last 10 days as people try to flee Afghanistan and Taliban rule

Where do each of the G7 countries stand on extending the Afghanistan withdrawal deadline?

US:  President Joe Biden has set a deadline of August 31 for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. 

But there are concerns that will not provide enough time to evacuate all US citizens from the country. 

Mr Biden has been reluctant to extend the deadline and while discussions are ongoing in Washington over the feasibility of pushing the date back, the US’s European allies fear the President will not budge. 

Mr Biden is under domestic pressure to stick to the date amid fears the security situation in Afghanistan could deteriorate still further should US forces stay on. 

UK: Boris Johnson has asked Mr Biden to push back the withdrawal deadline because of concerns the current timeline will not be sufficient to complete the evacuation effort. 

Mr Johnson was expected to use today’s G7 meeting to push Mr Biden on the issue. 

However, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said he believes it is ‘unlikely’ that the US will agree to keep its troops in the country past August 31. 

Mr Johnson and Mr Biden spoke about Afghanistan on the phone last night but a Downing Street summary of the call made no mention of a possible delay. 

France: Emmanuel Macron’s administration has adopted a similar stance to the UK, arguing that more time is needed beyond August 31 so that the evacuation can continue. 

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said yesterday that he believed ‘more time is needed to complete the current operations’.   

Germany: Angela Merkel is also pushing for the US to delay its withdrawal beyond the current deadline, citing similar concerns that there is not enough time to complete the evacuation process. 

Germany has also said it is looking at how it could continue to extract people from Afghanistan beyond the deadline, should the situation on the ground allow flights to continue. 

Italy: Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi is also in favour of delaying the withdrawal of US forces to allow more time for evacuation flights to take place. 

He is also reportedly pushing for an imminent summit of the G20 – which includes China and Russia – to agree a global plan for responding to the Taliban taking power in the country. 

Canada: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has so far kept his powder dry on whether he is in favour or against extending the US withdrawal deadline. He has refused to be drawn on the matter, instead insisting that his government’s focus is on ‘getting people out to safety as quickly as possible’. Canada has been the most vocal of the G7 nations on the subject of sanctions, with Mr Trudeau keen for the group to impose new penalties on the Taliban.

Japan: Japan has said it intends to complete its evacuation efforts before Mr Biden’s withdrawal deadline. Tokyo has therefore not joined the calls for an extension. It closed its Kabul embassy back on August 15, setting up a temporary replacement hub in Turkey. 

However, some Japanese nationals and Afghans who worked for the embassy and other agencies are still on the ground in the country. Three military planes are due to extract those people from the country before the deadline. 

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Mr Wallace warned that there was a risk it would turn into a ‘shooting war’ as tensions rise in the coming days. 

‘Obviously, all military personnel have the right of self-defence to protect themselves and protect civilians immediately near them,’ he told LBC.

‘I suspect that it will be a mixture of- well I can’t speculate what we would do but we certainly have plans, if we’re attacked, to defend ourselves.

‘I don’t think anyone wants this to turn into a shooting war in the last few days.’

Ben Wallace warns on risk of ‘shooting war’ at Kabul airport 

The Defence Secretary today warned of the risk of a ‘shooting war’ at Kabul airport as tensions rise in the coming days. 

Ben Wallace voiced concerns about the danger of escalation as he said the atmosphere could turn nasty very quickly with troops having to pull out. 

‘Obviously, all military personnel have the right of self-defence to protect themselves and protect civilians immediately near them,’ he told LBC.

‘I suspect that it will be a mixture of- well I can’t speculate what we would do but we certainly have plans, if we’re attacked, to defend ourselves.

‘I don’t think anyone wants this to turn into a shooting war in the last few days.’

He added: ‘I don’t think they want a shooting war either. They want us out as quickly as possible and we want to get out with as many people as possible.’

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He added: ‘I don’t think they want a shooting war either. They want us out as quickly as possible and we want to get out with as many people as possible.’

The Ministry of Defence said nearly 8,500 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan by the UK since August 13. 

In a update on Operation Pitting, the MoD said on Twitter: ‘8,458 people have been evacuated by the UK since 13 August. 5,171 of those people are Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy claimants. Nine UK military flights have left Kabul in the last 24 hours.’ 

The US has ramped up airlifts to evacuate more than 17,000 people in a day and Joe Biden has finally ordered troops to rescue Americans outside the airport in a race against time before the August 31 deadline.

Washington pulled off its biggest haul of evacuations since the crisis started over the last 24 hours to early Monday morning, with 28 military jets rescuing around 10,400 people. Another 15 C-17 flights over the next 12 hours brought out another 6,660.

Meanwhile, US Special Operations rescued 16 Americans from an unspecified location around two hours outside Kabul. The Pentagon revealed it was carried out by helicopter without disclosing further details.

It has emerged that Mr Biden told military officials he was reluctant to deploy US forces outside the Kabul airport perimeter over fears of a Black Hawk Down-style tragedy.

In a video conference last week, the president also negatively commented on how quickly the Afghan government fell apart and told commanders he wanted them to be focused on beefing up security at the airport.

During the call, the president alluded to the ‘Black Hawk Down’ tragedy of the Somali Civil War, which saw 18 US personnel killed.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, co-founder and head of the political office of the Taliban – Held for eight years in Pakistani prison before being released on orders from the U.S. government 

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the co-founders of the Taliban and its deputy-leader, pictured on August 16 after the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the co-founders of the Taliban and its deputy-leader, pictured on August 16 after the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan

Pictured: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, co-founder and deputy leader of the Taliban, makes a video statement on August 16 following the fall of Kabul

 Age: 53 years old

Taliban Rank: Co-founder, head of political office

Joined: 1994

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the co-founders of the Taliban, was freed from jail in Pakistan three years ago at the request of the U.S. government.  

Just nine months ago, he posed for pictures with Donald Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to sign a peace deal in Doha which today lies in tatters.

On Sunday, his forces seized Kabul and he is now tipped to become Afghanistan’s next leader in a reversal of fortune which humiliates Washington.

While Haibatullah Akhundzada is the Taliban’s overall leader, Baradar is head of its political office and one of the most recognisable faces of the chiefs who have been involved in peace talks in Qatar.

His name Baradar means ‘brother’, a title which was conferred by Taliban founder Mullah Omar himself as a mark of affection.

The 53-year-old was deputy leader under ex-chief Mullah Mohammed Omar, whose support for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden led to the US-led invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11. 

Baradar arrived in Kandahar Province on Tuesday, landing in the insurgent group’s former capital just days after they took control of the country.

A Taliban spokesman said on Twitter that Baradar and a high level delegation ‘reached their beloved country in the afternoon’ from Qatar. 

Born in Uruzgan province in 1968, Baradar was raised in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban movement. He fought with the mujahideen against the Soviets in the 1980s until they were driven out in 1989.

Afterwards, Afghanistan was gripped by a blood civil war between rival warlords and Baradar set up an Islamic school in Kandahar with his former commander Mohammed Omar.

The two mullahs helped to found the Taliban movement, an ideology which embraced hardline orthodoxy and strived for the creation of an Islamic Emirate. 

Fuelled by zealotry, hatred of greedy warlords and with financial backing from Pakistan’s secret services, the Taliban seized power in 1996 after conquering provincial capitals before marching on Kabul, just as they have in recent months.

Baradar had a number of different roles during the Taliban’s five-year reign and was the deputy defence minister when the US invaded in 2001.  

He went into hiding but remained active in the Taliban’s leadership in exile.

In September 2020, Baradar was pictured with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who 'urged the Taliban to seize this opportunity to forge a political settlement and reach a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire,' the US said in a statement

In September 2020, Baradar was pictured with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who 'urged the Taliban to seize this opportunity to forge a political settlement and reach a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire,' the US said in a statement

In September 2020, Baradar was pictured with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who ‘urged the Taliban to seize this opportunity to forge a political settlement and reach a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire,’ the US said in a statement








In 2010, the CIA tracked him down to the Pakistani city of Karachi and in February of that year the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI) arrested him.

But in 2018, he was released at the request of the Trump administration as part of their ongoing negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar, on the understanding that he could help broker peace. 

In February 2020, Baradar signed the Doha Agreement in which the U.S. pledged to leave Afghanistan on the basis that the Taliban would enter into a power-sharing arrangement with President Ashraf Ghani’s government in Kabul.

He was pictured in September with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who ‘urged the Taliban to seize this opportunity to forge a political settlement and reach a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire,’ the US said in a statement.

Pompeo ‘welcomed Afghan leadership and ownership of the effort to end 40 years of war and ensure that Afghanistan is not a threat to the United States or its allies.’

The Doha deal was heralded as a momentous peace declaration but has been proved to be nothing but a ploy by the Taliban.

The jihadists waited until thousands of American troops had left before launching a major offensive to recapture the country, undoing two decades of work by the US-led coalition.

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Thousands of Afghans are due to fly out of Kabul airport today as huge crowds continued to swarm military checkpoints (left and right) with the August 31 deadline for mercy flights now looming large

Zakia Khudadadi, 23, would have been the first female to represent Afghanistan at the Paralympics

Zakia Khudadadi, 23, would have been the first female to represent Afghanistan at the Paralympics

Zakia Khudadadi, 23, would have been the first female to represent Afghanistan at the Paralympics

Mr Tugendhat told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘We’re all asking for the same thing. I support the Prime Minister completely on this, but let’s recognise what we’re asking – we’re not just asking the Americans, although clearly they’ll have a major role, we’re actually asking the Taliban, and that’s a really difficult thing, because bluntly, they’re not exactly trustworthy.’

It emerged last night that Western powers are negotiating with the Taliban on the possibility of civilian flights being used in the evacuation, even if the military flights stopped.

German foreign minister Heiko Maas said: ‘We are holding talks with the US, Turkey and other partners with the goal of allowing the airport to continue to operate a civilian operation to fly these people out.’ 

Germany will ‘also continue to talk to the Taliban about this and will do this after the withdrawal of US troops’, he added.

Mr Wallace said: ‘I don’t think there is any likelihood of staying on after the United States.’ 

Armed Forces minister James Heappey conceded that the Taliban ‘gets a vote’ on the evacuation deadline. 

‘We have the military power to just stay there by force, but I don’t know that the humanitarian mission we’re embarked on… is helped by Kabul becoming a war zone,’ he said. 








National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan refused to say whether US troops would stay in Afghanistan after the Taliban's August 31 deadline, instead passing the issue off to President Biden who is refusing to take questions on the subject or address it

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan refused to say whether US troops would stay in Afghanistan after the Taliban's August 31 deadline, instead passing the issue off to President Biden who is refusing to take questions on the subject or address it

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the President was ‘taking this day by day’ and will make his decision on an extension ‘as we go’ 















Asked about the Taliban spokesman’s remarks, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘I don’t think we’ve had any direct communication to that end.’ 

He added that ‘discussions on the ground’ have been held with the Taliban over extending the deadline.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said: ‘We’re focused on getting this done before the end of the month.’ 

But he said the US would ‘absolutely consider the views’ of allies.

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