G-7 allies to press US to extend Afghanistan presence

US President Joe Biden. (REUTERS)
US President Joe Biden. (REUTERS)


  • President Biden to face pressure at meeting to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan past Aug. 31 to allow more evacuations

Key U.S. allies are expected to pressure President Biden on Tuesday to prolong U.S. operations in Afghanistan past Aug. 31 to evacuate more Westerners and Afghans, despite warnings from the Taliban that they won’t accept the continued presence of international forces beyond the end of the month.

The U.K. has convened an emergency meeting of the Group of Seven advanced economies over the Afghanistan crisis, which will consider whether to prolong evacuation operations past the Aug. 31 deadline the Biden administration has set to end the U.S. presence in the country.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson also hopes to hammer out a united approach to the country and the Taliban regime in the longer term, according to British officials. The U.K. currently holds the rotating presidency of the G-7.

Western officials say the Taliban are seeking international recognition of their takeover as well as foreign aid, points of leverage that could be used to extract concessions from the group as the U.S. and others race to evacuate their own citizens and Afghan allies amid chaos at Kabul airport, which is currently controlled by U.S. troops. The Taliban are also seeking to avoid new sanctions that could hit the impoverished country’s finances.

The Taliban say they won’t allow international troops to remain past the deadline and can’t guarantee that any troops who stay won’t be subject to attack.

Behind the top-level diplomacy hangs the fate of tens of thousands of Afghans, with Britain and some European nations warning there isn’t enough time to get everyone they want out of Afghanistan by Aug. 31.

In Kabul, thousands of Afghans are still struggling to get into the airport, while thousands more are inside waiting for flights. There are also thousands of U.S. and allied troops, as well as equipment, to also take out from Kabul airport by the deadline, meaning that the civilian evacuation has to effectively end before Aug. 31.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace signaled the U.K. is resigned to the deadline, saying Tuesday that an extension seems unlikely, citing public statements by the Taliban and Mr. Biden. He said G-7 leaders would nonetheless press the U.S. president for extra time.

“It is definitely worth us all trying, and we will," Mr. Wallace said in a broadcast interview with Sky News.

Mr. Wallace also said the threat from Islamic State and other militants was increasing as the clock ticks down. He said that the international troops have benefited from a ring of security provided by the Taliban around the airport to keep Islamic State out. The Taliban are in a violent rivalry with Islamic State, which has a local branch in Afghanistan.

“Terrorist groups such as ISIS would like to be seen to take credit or like to be seen to chase the West out of the airport," said Mr. Wallace. “We are very, very vulnerable should these terrorists choose to do something."

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the U.S. and its allies were preparing to continue the rescue mission after the deadline.

“Because of this, we, together with the U.S. and Great Britain, have started to work on scenarios on how to take people out of Afghanistan also after the end of the military evacuation," he said in an interview with Bild TV. He added that negotiations with the Taliban were already under way.

On Monday, an Afghan soldier, from the remnants of the Afghan security forces that didn’t surrender to the Taliban, was shot dead by an unknown assailant while on perimeter security duty at the airport. Afghan, German and U.S. troops returned fire, with at least three more Afghan soldiers wounded in the shootout.

Washington says there is time to get every American out. But Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Monday that the U.S. is still scrambling to figure out how many Americans are left on the ground in Afghanistan.

A U.S. official involved in the effort said Monday that the U.S. is currently evacuating mostly American citizens, green-card holders, and the spouses and children of those individuals. Afghans who were employed by the embassy or other U.S. agencies in Afghanistan haven’t yet been evacuated in significant numbers.

The Taliban see the international effort at the airport, which includes almost 6,000 American soldiers, as a continuation of what they view as the foreign “occupation" they have battled for two decades. They also see the scenes of Afghans desperate to flee their rule at the airport as undermining their attempts to show they have brought stability and peace to Afghanistan.

Under a February 2020 agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban, Washington agreed that all international troops would leave by May 1, 2021. The U.S. and the Taliban accuse each other of violating the terms of that agreement. Mr. Biden, who inherited the accord when he came into office this year, originally said he would withdraw U.S. troops by Sept. 11—a deadline some allies would like to see reinstated—but later moved that to Aug. 31.

After May 1, the Taliban unleashed a nationwide offensive, racing through the country and seizing Kabul on Aug. 15.

On Monday, about 10,900 people were evacuated from Kabul, a White House official said, through a combination of U.S. military cargo flights and coalition flights. Since Aug. 14, the U.S. has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of about 48,000 people, the White House said.


This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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