Extension of Kabul evacuation in doubt after Taliban warning

US says it ‘understands view’ of militant group that all its troops must leave by end of August

The likelihood of the US extending the emergency evacuation from Afghanistan beyond August 31st has receded as the Taliban warned that any delay of the complete withdrawal of foreign forces would be a "violation".

Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, said that remaining US and other foreign troops at Kabul airport must withdraw in line with the timeline set by the Biden administration.

“Otherwise, it will be a violation,” Mr Shaheen said. “Our leadership will take a decision [on how] to react to the violation.”

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the US military leadership had seen the Taliban's comments and "understand that view".


"Our focus is on getting this done by the end of the month," Mr Kirby said. He added that US defence secretary Lloyd Austin would advise President Joe Biden to secure an extension if he believed one was required, but said: "we just aren't there right now".

Earlier, Britis defence minister James Heappey said there was no prospect of Britain and other Nato allies sending in a new military force to hold Kabul airport after US forces leave. "When the US go, the mission has to come to an end," he said.

He added that trying to use military force to extend the evacuation could turn Kabul into “a war zone” and make it even harder to extricate thousands of Afghans, western civilians and military personnel.

Mr Biden committed to the troop pullout after choosing to move ahead with an agreement the Trump administration sealed with the Taliban last year to end American military operations ahead of the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. The Islamist militant movement seized power shortly after launching a blitz across the country as US soldiers withdrew. Mr Biden said on Sunday he “hoped” to stick to the deadline.


US, UK and other forces are already grappling with chaotic scenes around Kabul airport, which is surrounded by Taliban checkpoints. The US said on Monday that a “hostile actor” had killed a member of the Afghan security forces and wounded several others during an exchange of gunfire, involving US troops, outside the north gate of the airport on Sunday night.

Western politicians are trying to see whether more civilians can be evacuated by “squeezing” the schedule for the withdrawal, if the August 31st deadline remains in place.

Under the original plans, London was working on the assumption that the military at Kabul airport would need a week to finalise their own departure.

That would mean the final evacuation of civilians, said by UK officials to number in “the low thousands”, might have been required to take place as early as Tuesday.

Planners now expect the flights can continue for the rest of the week, but Mr Heappey confirmed it would not be possible to evacuate all British nationals and Afghans who have supported the Nato mission.

A second phase of the evacuation, in which Britain has agreed to resettle 20,000 Afghans over five years, would entail refugees seeking to arrive in the UK via third countries, such as Pakistan.

British prime minister Boris Johnson will on Tuesday urge leaders to push for more time for the evacuation when he chairs a virtual G7 summit on the Afghan crisis. Mr Johnson wants the G7 talks to also to focus on a longer-term approach to the Afghan crisis but accepts, following the US retreat, that Chinese and Russian co-operation will be needed to stop a descent into chaos.

Security Council

Britain is working with France on a UN Security Council resolution that might win the support of Moscow and Beijing. "It's really important we have a united front," said one British official. The council is expected to meet later this week.

The resolution is expected to cover issues including counter-terrorism work, humanitarian aid and the terms on which the world engages with the Taliban. “We will judge them by their actions,” the British official said. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021