Ministers have dismissed hopes that Joe Biden will extend the August 31 deadline for withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan as the UK, France and Germany prepare to make a last-ditch plea in G7 talks today.
Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel are expected to push the case for keeping the evacuation operation in place longer with thousands of desperate people still flocking to Kabul airport.
However, Mr Johnson and Mr Biden discussed the airlift in a call last night without making any progress, and the Taliban has warned of ‘consequences’ if there is an attempt to cling on.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said this morning it is ‘unlikely’ the deadline will be extended, after the RAF extracted another 2,000 people in the past 24 hours.
‘I think it is unlikely. Not only because of what the Taliban has said but if you look at the public statements of President Biden I think it is unlikely,’ Mr Wallace said.
‘It is definitely worth us all trying, and we will.’
With the prospects of maintaining the military action receding, attention is turning to plans after August 31, with suggestions the Taliban could allow civilian evacuation flights to continue.
However, there was more pressure on Mr Biden to change his approach this morning, with the US chair of the House Intelligence Committee warning he is ‘unlikely’ to meet the timetable for evacuating America citizens and their allies.
Adam Schiff made the grim prediction after an intelligence briefing, saying completing the operation was ‘possible’ but ‘very unlikely given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated’ as well as other people promised protection.
Hopes that Joe Biden (left) will extend America’s August 31 deadline to leave Afghanistan are fading, with Boris Johnson (right) making a last-ditch plea today
British forces have been engaged in a desperate struggle to help as many Afghan allies as possible leave the country
Passengers evacuated from Afghanistan disembark from an RAF Voyager aircraft at RAF Brize Norton last night
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said this morning it is ‘unlikely’ the deadline will be extended, after the RAF extracted another 2,000 people in the past 24 hours
Hopes that Joe Biden would extend America’s August 31 deadline to leave Afghanistan appeared to be fading last night.
Biden ‘unlikely’ to meet target of getting US citizens out by Aug 31
Joe Biden is ‘unlikely’ to meet his August 31 deadline to evacuate US citizens and their allies from Afghanistan, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee said Monday.
Adam Schiff made the grim prediction after an intelligence briefing Monday evening, as the Taliban rejected a mooted extension to the withdrawal date.
Schiff said a full evacuation was ‘possible’ but ‘very unlikely given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated, the number of SIV’s, the number of others who are members of the Afghan press, civil society leaders, women leaders.’
Speaking outside the US Capitol, Schiff continued: ‘I am encouraged to see the numbers of people evacuated, increasing readily to the point where we evacuated 11,000 people in a single day,” Schiff continued.
‘Nonetheless, given the logistical difficulties of moving people to the airport and the limited number of workarounds, it’s hard for me to see that being fully complete by the end of the month. And I’m certainly of the view that we maintain a military presence as long as it’s necessary to get all U.S. persons out and to meet our moral and ethical obligation to our Afghan partners.’
Pentagon chiefs poured cold water on an extension yesterday insisted they were ‘focused on getting this done by the end of the month’.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the President was ‘taking this day by day’ and will make his decision on an extension ‘as we go’.
But he insisted the President still believes ‘we have time between now and August 31 to get out any American who wants to get out’.
Yesterday, the Taliban warned that any Western military operation in Afghanistan that continued into September would breach a ‘red line’ and would ‘provoke a reaction’.
Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the militants, told Sky News: ‘If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations – the answer is no.
‘Or there would be consequences. It will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation, so it will provoke a reaction.’
In a further warning, a senior Taliban commander last night told the Mail: ‘If American troops… can’t leave on [the] agreed deadline then they will face the consequences. Our fighters are ready to deal with them.’
Mr Wallace said the danger at Kabul airport will rise the closer the evacuation effort gets to the departure deadline.
‘As we get closer to the deadline I think it’s correct to say the security risk goes up,’ he said.
‘It just gets more and more dangerous as add-on groups and other terrorist groups such as IS (so-called Islamic State) would like to be seen to take greater credit, or like to be seen to chase the West out of the airport, that is inevitably going to feed their narrative and their ambitions.
‘We are very mindful that we are very, very vulnerable should these terrorists choose to do something.’
Desperate British citizens are being blocked from escaping Afghanistan and are waving their passports at officials in a bid to flee
British soldiers are stationed amid the throngs of people who have gathered near the airport in hope of escaping the country
Zakia Khudadadi, 23, would have been the first female to represent Afghanistan at the Paralympics
It emerged last night that Western powers are negotiating with the Taliban on the possibility of civilian flights being used in the evacuation, even if the military flights stopped.
German foreign minister Heiko Maas said: ‘We are holding talks with the US, Turkey and other partners with the goal of allowing the airport to continue to operate a civilian operation to fly these people out.’
Germany will ‘also continue to talk to the Taliban about this and will do this after the withdrawal of US troops’, he added.
Mr Wallace said: ‘I don’t think there is any likelihood of staying on after the United States.’
Armed Forces minister James Heappey conceded that the Taliban ‘gets a vote’ on the evacuation deadline.
‘We have the military power to just stay there by force, but I don’t know that the humanitarian mission we’re embarked on… is helped by Kabul becoming a war zone,’ he said.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the President was ‘taking this day by day’ and will make his decision on an extension ‘as we go’
Asked about the Taliban spokesman’s remarks, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘I don’t think we’ve had any direct communication to that end.’
He added that ‘discussions on the ground’ have been held with the Taliban over extending the deadline.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said: ‘We’re focused on getting this done before the end of the month.’
But he said the US would ‘absolutely consider the views’ of allies.