Afghanistan: UK evacuation flights from Kabul to end in 'next 24 to 36 hours'

25 August 2021, 07:20 | Updated: 25 August 2021, 07:34

UK evacuation flights from Kabul airport could end as soon as Thursday
UK evacuation flights from Kabul airport could end as soon as Thursday. Picture: Alamy
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

UK evacuation flights from Kabul are expected to end in the next "24 to 36 hours", according to reports.

The final Royal Air Force (RAF) flights out of Afghanistan could take place as soon as Thursday despite the deadline for Western forces pulling out of the country being 31 August, the Guardian has reported.

Citing defence sources, the newspaper said the decision would potentially lead to the abandonment of thousands of Afghans.

It comes after US President Joe Biden rejected the demands of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other world leaders, who want to extend the cut-off date past the end of the month.

Speaking during a virtual meeting of G7 leaders on Tuesday, Mr Biden said he is "determined" to evacuate American soldiers by next Tuesday but that it will depend on "cooperation" from the Taliban.

Read more: US faces 'acute and growing risk' of Taliban attack, Joe Biden says

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He explained that he is preparing "contingency plans to adjust the timetable" if the need arose but "the sooner we can finish the better".

After the meeting, the Guardian reported that British defence sources had told the paper US troops allegedly need between two and three days to wrap up operations at Kabul airport, whereas UK forces want to be at least 24 hours ahead of that.

The US President told G7 leaders on Tuesday: "We are currently on a pace to finish [the US evacuation] before 31 August.

"The sooner we can finish the better. Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops but the completion by 31 August depends upon the Taliban continuing to cooperate and allow access to the airport for those who we are transporting out, and no disruption to our operations.

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"In addition, I have asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timetable should that become necessary."

Mr Johnson and other G7 leaders were expected to press the US leader to keep his forces on the ground past next Tuesday but their efforts failed.

However, the prime minister did say the group has agreed on a "roadmap" and have plans for how they will engage with the Taliban.

They are insisting the militant group guarantee safe passage beyond 31 August for those who want to leave the country.

In a joint statement released by Downing Street, the G7 said they "expressed grave concern" about the situation in Afghanistan.

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They called for "calm and restraint" to ensure the safety and security of vulnerable Afghan and international citizens, and the prevention of a humanitarian crisis.

"Afghanistan must never again become a safe haven for terrorism, nor a source of terrorist attacks on others," they added.

The Taliban, which swept to power last week in the wake of America's major withdrawal of troops, has suggested that foreign forces remaining past the deadline would cross a "red line" that will "provoke a reaction".

They warned on Tuesday that evacuations "will not be allowed" after 31 August.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said the Afghans should "return to their homes and resume their calm everyday lives".

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

He also urged the US not to "encourage" highly skilled people to leave Afghanistan.