Afghanistan: Can the US and UK complete Kabul evacuations by August 31?
Rohit Kachroo recounts what happened to the refugees who managed to flee
UK has “hours, not weeks” to evacuate British and local allies of Afghanistanthe Defense Secretary said, as the August 31 deadline draws ever closer.
Rapid Taliban insurgency and reconquest of Afghanistan led to the rise of thousands in the capital Kabulfrom the airport in an attempt to flee the country before Western forces complete their withdrawal.
But chaotic scenes outside the airport mean “not everyone will be out” before the deadline, as Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has repeatedly warned.
Here we examine the key issues surrounding the evacuation of Taliban-led Afghanistan.
Many people have blamed the crisis in Afghanistan on former US President Donald Trump for signing a deal with the Taliban, in which he agreed to withdraw the remaining 12,000 US troops from the country, as long as the Islamist group ensured peace in the country and did not allow terrorist groups to operate.
But President Joe Biden was also keen to end what he described as “America’s longest war” and continued with the pullout when he took over from Trump.
When Mr. Biden took office, there were still around 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, which many say kept a Taliban insurgency at bay.
The president allowed the last troops to start leaving in early July – it was this move that many say triggered the Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan.
The UK said the withdrawal of US troops meant British forces were forced to follow suit as America had provided more than 95% of the manpower and equipment on the ground.
Mr Biden said the choice was “either to follow through on the agreement to withdraw our forces or to escalate the conflict and return thousands of additional US troops to combat in Afghanistan, entering the third decade of conflict”.
Upon signing the peace deal with the Taliban, Mr Trump said “if bad things happen, we will come back with a force like no one has ever seen” – Mr Biden does not appear keen to keep the promise of the former president.
In light of the Taliban’s advance through Afghanistan, the UK and US agreed to send troops back to the country to evacuate those who were to escape.
President Biden has set August 31 as the deadline for the withdrawal of US forces after inheriting the May 1 deadline from the agreement Mr. Trump signed.
Although he has indicated that he has no choice but to complete the withdrawal, the US president does not regret his decision.
In a national speech after the fall of the previous Afghan government, Mr Biden said he stood “squarely” behind the movement to withdraw American troops and that America’s role there “was never meant to be to build a nation.”When announcing the new deadline on July 8, Mr. Biden said, “How many more, how many thousands of American daughters and sons are you willing to risk?”
He added: “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan without any reasonable expectation of a different outcome.”
In comments likely to haunt Mr. Biden’s presidency, he told reporters that the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban would not be an acceptable outcome, suggesting that local forces could defend themselves against the group.
“Do I trust the Taliban? No, ”Biden said. “But I have confidence in the capacity of the Afghan army, which is better trained, better equipped and more competent in terms of warfare.”
The deadline set by President Biden is for the withdrawal of American troops, not necessarily to complete the evacuation efforts, but it cannot be done without American forces.
When setting the deadline, Biden said if he did not meet it, “the Taliban would have started targeting our forces again.”
Part of the deal, signed by Mr. Trump, provided that the Taliban would not attack US forces as long as the government continued to withdraw its troops.
“Staying meant American troops were taking their toll,” Biden said.
The determination of the United States to withdraw all its forces means that Western allies, including the United Kingdom, have no choice but to follow suit.
Defense Secretary Wallace said: “It is really important that people understand that the United States has over 6,000 people at the Kabul airport and when they pull out that will remove the frame … and we will also have to go.”
In a nutshell, the August 31 deadline for the withdrawal of troops from the United States is a deadline for all Western forces to evacuate their citizens and allies.
For the UK this means evacuating all British Embassy staff, citizens and Afghans who have worked with the UK in the past, such as interpreters.
Defense Secretary Wallace said security checks must be carried out on all Afghans, even if they have worked with the UK, as they may sympathize with the Taliban.
The UK and US both have thousands of people they plan to evacuate from Afghanistan by August 31.
Mr Wallace said he was unwilling to speculate on how many people the UK would evacuate, but it is a “significant number”.
The Ministry of Defense has confirmed that around 6,000 people have so far been evacuated by the UK, including 3,100 people and their families.
Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said there were around 1,800 other British passport holders and 2,275 more Afghans.
“But there are thousands more that we would like to bring out if there is the time and the capacity.”
America has so far evacuated more than 37,000 people from Afghanistan, but it is believed that there may be tens of thousands more still waiting to be rescued.
President Biden has left the door ajar to the possibility of extending the deadline, but he would rather not have to.
In Sunday’s update, Mr Biden said: “Our hope is that we don’t have to extend, but discussions are underway as to how far we are.”
But the Taliban threatened “consequences” if he did.
Taliban spokesman Dr Suhail Shaheen told Sky News that August 31 was “a red line”.
“President Biden announced that on August 31 they would withdraw all their military forces. So if they extend it, that means they are extending the occupation when it is not necessary.” He added: “If the United States or the United Kingdom were looking for more time to continue with the evacuations, the answer is no. Or there would be consequences.
Number 10 said “discussions on the ground” had been held with the Taliban over extending the deadline for evacuations, but officials were still working for a deadline at the end of the month.
Asked about the comments, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “I have seen the reports. I don’t think we had any direct communication for that purpose.
“We will continue to conduct our evacuation process as long as the security situation allows. “