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Afghanistan withdrawals: the UK cannot stay alone – minister

The task to withdraw people from Afghanistan to the UK “has to come to an end” when US troops start, the armed forces minister has mentioned.

Afghanistan Withdrawals
Afghanistan Withdrawals

James Heappey mentioned the UK was working to a deadline of 31 August, when the US is set to leave – though the prime minister is likely to ask President Joe Biden for more time for Afghanistan. Evacuations are also reliant on Taliban co-operation, Mr Heappey added. But he said the UK was “taking nothing for granted” with the militants.

On Tuesday, Boris Johnson will ask Mr Biden to extend the deadline for withdrawing US troops at an emergency gathering of world leaders from the G7 countries to let evacuation flights continue.

Thousands of people are waiting to board flights at Kabul’s international airport just over a week after the Taliban seized the capital.

Mr Heappey shared with BBC Breakfast that 6,631 people had been evacuated to the UK in the past week, and there would be nine flights in the next 24 hours.

He said almost 1,800 “eligible people” or UK passport holders stayed in Afghanistan – as well as 2,275 Afghans who can be relocated having worked for the UK government, and a different list of people from “wider Afghan civil society who we would like to get out if we’re able”. He explained that the evacuations would not be conceivable without the US, which “has effectively taken over the full operation” at the airport.

“If there is no opportunity to extend [the deadline] – either because there’s not the international appetite to do so, or perhaps more likely the Taliban are unwilling to allow us to – then we need to continue with our plans to be out by 31 August,” he stated.

“If that is to be the case, every minute counts to get as many people out in the meantime.” He added, “the period of time it would take to get in place a replacement force is not realistic”.

He added that the Taliban also “gets a vote” on whether withdrawals continue after August and that “apparently they’ve indicated that they wouldn’t be” supportive of the postponement.

The Foreign Office mentioned it had sent five extra staff members to Kabul to help with the evacuation, bringing the total number of its staff there to 19.

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