As chaos continues to grip Afghanistan, the United Kingdom will be calling on the United States to keep American troops in the war-torn country beyond Washington’s August 31 deadline, so evacuation flights out of Kabul airport can continue.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to ask US President Joe Biden to extend Washington’s self-imposed deadline on Tuesday, at an emergency G7 meeting of leaders on Afghanistan.
The virtual talks come as Afghans and foreigners continue to fill Hamid Karzai International airport in desperate bids to flee the Taliban’s takeover.
At least 20 people have reportedly been killed in the airport chaos over the past week, most in shootings and stampedes.
US and international forces, who are in control of the site, are attempting to facilitate evacuation efforts, while the Taliban has deployed fighters outside the airport.
Armed forces minister James Heappey and other UK officials told British media that they would push for an extension while acknowledging that the Taliban would have a crucial say now that they control Afghanistan.
Heappey said it is a “hard reality” that the evacuations could only be maintained beyond August 31 if led by the US.
“Whether or not the US can be persuaded to stay is a matter for the prime minister (Boris Johnson) tomorrow in the G7 meeting,” Heappey told Sky News.
Britain currently chairs the G7, which also comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US.
“Even though they are the seven most powerful people on the planet, they don’t get to take that decision in isolation. The Taliban get a vote as well and that’s why we’re continuing to work towards the 31st,” Heappey said in a separate interview.
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly told BBC Radio: “Obviously the more time that we’ve got, the more people we can evacuate and that’s what we’re pushing for.”
Heappey said the UK has identified thousands of people – including Afghan citizens – it wants to help evacuate.
Other European countries such as Germany have announced similar numbers.
Biden has not ruled out extending the August 31 deadline, but has also said the “hope is we will not have to”.
Two Taliban sources told Reuters the group will not extend the deadline, adding no Western government or official had approached them to do so.
The Taliban’s resurgence coincided with the US winding down its 20-year intervention launched after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
The US’s allies, including the UK, are also pulling back personnel.
UK officials have not set a fixed date for the pullback of British troops and some military leaders have said it should keep forces at Kabul airport to continue with evacuation efforts, even if the US contingent leaves.
But Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said on Monday: “If their timetable extends, even by a day or two, then that would 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.”
The UK has more than 1,000 military personnel deployed in Kabul to aid its airlift efforts.
Officials say British forces have evacuated more than 5,700 people – chiefly UK citizens and Afghans – from the capital in the last 10 days, including 1,821 in the past 24 hours.