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British military set to end its Kabul evacuation

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-08-26 09:05
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Britain's prime minister, Boris Johnson, attends a virtual summit of G7 leaders on Tuesday, to discuss how nations might complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan. [SIMON DAWSON/NO 10 DOWNING STREET/XINHUA]

'Two or three days' are needed to close down US operation in war-torn nation

British defense sources in Kabul said on Wednesday that the United Kingdom's military operation in Afghanistan could end on Thursday, because its troops need to leave before United States' forces pull out and with Taliban militants tightening their grip around Kabul airport.

US President Joe Biden has defied international calls to extend the Aug 31 deadline for the US evacuation mission, saying "each day brings added risk" to US troops. He said a threat from Isis-K, a terrorist group, was one of the main factors behind his decision to reject an extension.

In a delayed news briefing late on Tuesday, Biden said he expected the evacuation to end within a week.

Biden expressed confidence that the evacuation would go to plan, and noted that since Aug 14, more than 70,000 people have been flown out. He said he believes that the US has the ability to get everyone out that wants to get out by Aug 31.

He added that "completion by August 31 depends upon the Taliban continuing to cooperate to allow access to the airport" as he confirmed that he had called for contingency plans to extend the timetable "should that become necessary".

The Times newspaper reported that during an emergency meeting of G7 leaders on Tuesday, there had been "robust calls" from other nations, understood to be Britain, France and Germany, for Biden to change the US deadline.

But in the news conference, Biden said: "There was strong agreement among the leaders both about the evacuation mission underway as well as the need to coordinate our approach to Afghanistan as we move forward."

The Guardian newspaper reported British defense sources as saying that the US military is understood to require "two to three days" to close down its operations at Kabul airport, and that British troops want to be "at least 24 hours ahead of that".

It said all Western forces are now expected to leave within days. France has said that it is "very probable" that operations to evacuate its citizens and partners from Afghanistan will end on Thursday, European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune told French broadcaster C News TV.

In a statement given after the G7 meeting, Britain's prime minister, Boris Johnson, said the group of nations would focus on what he called a "road map for future engagement with the Taliban".

The Daily Mail reported that the British military's final evacuation flight could take off later on Thursday, raising concerns that, potentially, thousands of Afghan civilians eligible to seek sanctuary in the UK may be left behind.

The newspaper said desperate crowds could try to storm the airport and spark a stampede, or that terrorists may launch an attack. It said those not already at the airport now have little chance of escape, as Taliban militants have now stopped all Afghan citizens reaching it.

On Tuesday, the Taliban said there was enough time to get foreign nationals out before the deadline, but it was "not in favor" of allowing Afghans to leave.

Aid agencies have warned of a looming humanitarian crisis for the population left behind, Reuters news agency added.

The fear for many Afghans is that the Taliban will persecute those who worked for Western military forces, the Financial Times noted.

Britain's foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, told Times Radio on Wednesday that Britain wants to "exercise the maximum moderating influence that it can" to prevent the Taliban from turning Afghanistan into a breeding ground for terror.

Illusions punctured

Malcolm Chalmers, deputy director-general of the Royal United Services Institute think tank, told Newsweek that, as part of the "special relationship" with Washington, British leaders had expected to be consulted on the Afghanistan withdrawal.

"The withdrawal has punctured common illusions on the extent of Britain's military dependence on the United States," Chalmers told the magazine. "British leaders had convinced themselves that they had real influence in successive wars in the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Now the reality of dependence without influence has been exposed."

Chalmers said that one result of the US move "could be that the UK government will take European defense cooperation more seriously" than it has for many years. "This could be one of the few positive side-effects from this sorry debacle," he said.

Putin warns of threats

In Moscow, Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday criticized the US and its allies for leaving Afghanistan in chaos that raises potential security threats for Russia and its allies in Central Asia.

Addressing a ruling party meeting in the Kremlin, Putin said: "There is a danger that terrorists and different groups that found a refuge in Afghanistan will use the chaos left by our Western colleagues and try to launch an expansion into neighboring countries. That will pose a direct threat to our country and its allies.

"We're not going to meddle in Afghanistan's domestic affairs or involve our military in a conflict where everyone is against each other. The Soviet Union had its own experience in this country. We have learned the lessons we needed."

Agencies, Xinhua, and Heng Weili in New York contributed to this story.

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