Last UK evacuation from Afghanistan within '24 to 36 hours'
UK efforts to evacuate at-risk British and Afghan citizens from Kabul are expected to end within “24 to 36 hours", according to defence sources in an article published Tuesday evening.
US President Joe Biden reaffirmed his commitment to withdrawing US troops by 31 August at Tuesday’s G7 meeting, a deadline agreed with the Taliban but one that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other NATO leaders urged be pushed back given the thousands of people still awaiting safe passage.
The US will need two to three days to close down their operations at Kabul airport, and British troops want to go 24 hours before, said defence sources to Guardian reporters - leaving a very small window of time for the UK to evacuate citizens and Afghan allies from the Taliban-controlled capital.
Johnson said on Tuesday that evacuation fights out of Kabul would go "right up until the last moment that we can" following the virtual summit of G7 leaders, which he chaired.
"You have heard what the President of the United States has had to say, you have heard what the Taliban have said. I think you have got to understand the context in which we’re doing this, we’re confident we can get thousands more out," said the UK PM.
Britain is working with American troops to secure Kabul airport and oversee flights out of the country. UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has confirmed that Britain's evacuation operation will stop when the US military troops exit Kabul. Wallace said last week that it was unlikely everyone with ties to Britain would be evacuated in time.
While Biden remained stuck to the 31 August deadline, he has also said that contingency plans are being drawn up to extend the withdrawal "should that become necessary".
Johnson called on the Taliban after the G7’s meeting to continue to guarantee safe passage for people who want to evacuate the country in September and beyond.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab gave no indication of what day or when the final deadline for UK evacuations would be when speaking to the BBC’s Today programme on Wednesday.
Instead, he said there was a "limited time" and that "military planners" would "firm up those details".
"We'll use every hour and day we've got," he added.
A Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, said at a press conference on Tuesday that the group would not agree to evacuation flights after 31 August and told Afghan nationals to stop going to the airport.
The UK has evacuated 9,000 people on 57 flights out of Kabul, according to government sources.
Tens of thousands of Afghans have been displaced as a result of escalating violence and fears of prosecution following the Taliban’s offensive.