UK, France and others calling on US to extend August 31 troop withdrawal deadline as chaos continues in Kabul.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the G7 has agreed to a plan to deal with the Taliban, with their number one condition being that the group must allow safe passage to Afghans wanting to leave the country even after an August 31 deadline.
“What we’ve done today, the G7, is we’ve … agreed not just a joint approach to dealing with the evacuation, but also a road map for the way in which we’re going to engage with the Taliban,” Johnson said on Tuesday after an emergency virtual meeting of the leaders of the Group of Seven rich nations.
“The number one condition we’re setting as G7 is that they’ve got to guarantee right the way through, through August 31 and beyond, safe passage for those who want to come out.
“Some of them will say that they don’t accept that, some of them I hope will see the sense of that, because the G7 has very considerable leverage, economic, diplomatic and political.”
Johnson said the “huge leverage” which the G7 could wield over the Taliban after it seized control of the country about a week ago included withholding substantial funds.
“What we’re saying is Afghanistan can’t lurch back into becoming a breeding ground of terror, Afghanistan can’t become a narco state, girls have got to be educated up to the age of 18,” he said.
Johnson sidestepped a question about whether other G7 leaders had expressed frustration at US President Joe Biden over his handling of the crisis and refusal to extend the deadline for US troops remaining in Afghanistan.
“Let’s be clear the immediate phase of the evacuation is actually … a very considerable success by the military,” he said.
“We’re confident we can get thousands more out. But the situation at the airport is not getting any better. It’s harrowing scenes for those who are trying to get out.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after the virtual meeting of leaders that there were intensive discussions on whether a civilian-operated airport could be used after that deadline and that Germany was ready to work with countries neighbouring Afghanistan, such as Pakistan and Iran, to help refugees.
“The conference has not resulted in new dates [on the end of the evacuation mission],” Merkel said.
US sticking to deadline
The UK, which chaired the emergency talks, said it would urge Biden to extend his August 31 deadline to pull American forces out of Afghanistan.
France also called on Washington to push back the timeline.
However, Biden decided after the G7 talks that he would stick to the deadline, US media reported.
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said earlier on Tuesday it was “unlikely” evacuations from Afghanistan would be extended beyond August 31.
A spokesman for the Taliban on Monday warned that the hardline group would not agree to any extension, calling the issue a “red line”, with any delay viewed as “extending occupation”.
“If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations – the answer is no. Or there would be consequences,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said.
Countries that have evacuated nearly 60,000 people over the past 10 days are rushing to complete the job, a NATO diplomat told Reuters news agency.
“Every foreign force member is working at a war-footing pace to meet the deadline,” said the official, who declined to be identified.
The UK has continued to evacuate Western citizens and some Afghans from the capital, with Wallace warning the security situation was getting “more and more dangerous” as August 31 approaches.
The defence ministry said 8,458 people have been evacuated by the UK since August 13, with nine military flights leaving Kabul in the last 24 hours.
More than half – 5,171 – are Afghans eligible to relocate to the UK under its programme to protect those who aided its military and civilian officials during their two-decade involvement in Afghanistan.
An individual on the UK’s no-fly anti-terrorism watchlist arrived as part of the evacuation, the interior ministry confirmed.
A spokesman said the individual was identified “as part of the rigorous checks process” and that after further investigation was deemed “not a person of interest to the security agencies or law enforcement”.
The G7 leaders also agreed that the Taliban will be “held accountable for their actions on preventing terrorism, on human rights in particular those of women, girls and minorities and on pursuing an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan”, according to a statement issued by Johnson’s Downing Street office.
The UK currently chairs the G7, which also comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US.