Afghanistan withdrawal extension would 'cross red line', Taliban warn

23 August 2021, 11:39 | Updated: 24 August 2021, 00:37

The Taliban have said extending the deadline would "cross a red line", with a decision due from Joe Biden within 24 hours
The Taliban have said extending the deadline would "cross a red line", with a decision due from Joe Biden within 24 hours. Picture: Alamy Live News
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The Taliban have warned failure of the US and UK to leave Afghanistan on time would "provoke a reaction" as the Defence Secretary said the evacuation effort is "down to hours now, not weeks".

US President Joe Biden is reportedly going to make a decision on whether to extend the deadline within the next 24 hours.

Currently troops are expected to withdraw from the country by August 31.

The militant Islamic group said that the evacuation effort continuing in Afghanistan past the end of the month would be a "red line" and would "provoke a reaction".

The comments come as Defence Secretary Ben Wallace admitted the Kabul evacuation effort is "down to hours now, not weeks" as he conceded the UK's involvement will end when the US leaves.

Watch: Defence Minister warns of 'very real security threat' from Islamic State at Kabul airport

Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen told Sky News: "This is something ... you can say it's a red line. President Biden announced this agreement that on August 31 they would withdraw all their military forces. So, if they extend it that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that.

"It will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation, so it will provoke a reaction."

Watch: Islamic scholar claims Afghan women 'discovered a voice' under Taliban rule

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to urge Joe Biden to extend the Kabul evacuation deadline as ministers conceded that the Taliban would also have to agree to more time for people to flee.

The leaders will speak during an emergency G7 summit on Tuesday as the Government presses for American troops to remain beyond August 31 to secure the capital's airport for rescue flights.

Ministers still want to evacuate thousands more people including UK passport holders and those under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap) scheme.

Read more: SAS launch operation to save 20 troops surrounded by Taliban

Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said that while conversations are on-going amount western allies, it could still come down to an agreement by the Taliban.

He said: "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. That’s why we’re continuing to work towards the 31st, because even if the political will in London, Washington, Paris, Berlin is to extend, the Taliban may say no."

Read more: Boris Johnson to push Joe Biden to extend Kabul evacuation deadline

Speaking to reporters in Fort George, near Inverness, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: "The Prime Minister is, obviously at the G7, going to try and raise the prospect of seeing if the United States will extend.

"It's really important for people to understand the United States have over 6,000 people in Kabul airport and when they withdraw that will take away the framework ... and we will have to go as well.

"I don't think there is any likelihood of staying on after the United States. If their timetable extends even by a day or two, that will 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."

Government officials said there is "no fixed date" on when the UK will withdraw, but it is feared that without US boots on the ground, the remaining allied forces would be unable to secure Hamid Karzai International Airport from the crowds looking to flee the Taliban takeover, or other potential security threats.

The latest figures from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) revealed that a total of 7,109 people have so far been evacuated from Afghanistan by UK troops.

This includes embassy staff, British nationals, those eligible under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) programme and a number of nationals from partner nations.