Afghanistan: European countries scramble to evacuate people before deadline

Leaders to lobby US president to extend deadline for complete withdrawal of troops

French defence minister Florence Parly and French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian take part in a video meeting with Kabul. Photograph: Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty

French defence minister Florence Parly and French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian take part in a video meeting with Kabul. Photograph: Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty

 

European countries are scrambling to evacuate citizens and Afghan allies from Kabul ahead of an impending deadline for the United States to withdraw its forces.

A deadly firefight at Kabul airport that pitted unknown gunmen against US, German and Afghan troops highlighted the unstable situation as Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the US prepare to meet virtually to discuss the situation at a hastily convened virtual meeting of the G7 on Tuesday.

European leaders are expected to use the meeting to lobby US president Joe Biden to keep troops at the airport beyond August 31st, the deadline set by him for the complete withdrawal of US troops from the country.

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters that “additional time” was needed for evacuations, while his German counterpart Heiko Maas said talks were ongoing with the Taliban to secure a way to continue evacuations beyond the end of the month.

“We are talking with the United States, Turkey and other partners with the aim of facilitating a civil operation of Kabul airport to enable the evacuation of people,” Mr Maas told reporters. “We will also have to continue to talk with the Taliban about this issue, and that’s what we are doing.”

The ability of European countries to continue to evacuate people relies on the presence of US soldiers, who form the backbone of international forces in the country.

“The United States have over 6,000 people in Kabul airport and when they withdraw that will take away the framework ... and we will have to go as well,” British defence secretary Ben Wallace said on Monday. “I don’t think there is any likelihood of staying on after the United States.”

Mr Wallace said Britain had evacuated 6,600 people – including UK passport holders, interpreters and Afghans who had helped the British government – since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan just over a week ago, and hoped to extract thousands more. But he said the reality was “we won’t get them all out”.

Airport chaos

Efforts have been hampered by chaotic conditions at the airport, where several people have been killed in the rush to escape while Taliban militants beat back crowds in a bid to maintain control around the perimeter.

A major problem is that it is not safe for people to leave their homes and travel to the airport, particularly if they are far from Kabul, the French foreign ministry said.

An operation by French special forces and US soldiers brought 260 local Afghan employees of the European Union’s delegation in Kabul to the airport for evacuation on Monday morning, according to France’s ambassador to Afghanistan, David Martinon.

A video he shared showed men, women and children laden with bags queuing to be processed, overseen by armed soldiers and EU humanitarian assistance officers.

France has evacuated almost 2,000 people via Kabul airport, while Germany has extracted almost 3,000, including 143 Germans, roughly 1,800 Afghans and about 350 EU nationals, according to the chief of defence. Berlin estimates that more than 100 German citizens still remain in the country.

Among those evacuated were a 19-year-old German-Afghan woman, her brother and mother, who were rescued by German special forces after making desperate appeals for help after Kabul fell to the Taliban while they were visiting their grandmother.