Afghanistan: US under pressure over evacuation deadline

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Afghan refugees have been arriving in the US

The US is being pressed by allies to delay its withdrawal from Afghanistan to allow more time for evacuating those who want to flee the country, now that it is run by Taliban militants.

US troops controlling Kabul airport - the only one in the country functioning - are scheduled to leave by 31 August.

The UK is hosting a G-7 summit, warning "not everyone will get out".

The Taliban have warned of consequences if foreign forces remain after the deadline agreed with the US.

Currently 5,800 US troops are on the ground. President Joe Biden is set to decide within the next 24 hours whether to extend their stay, an official told Reuters news agency.

The US has evacuated, and facilitated the evacuation of, approximately 48,000 people since an intense airlift started on 14 August, the White House said.

Others seeking to flee remain crammed in or near the international airport in the capital, Kabul.

Many of the people fleeing, particularly those who worked with foreign forces, live in fear of reprisals from a group that imposed a harsh version of Islamic law when in power from 1996 to 2001.

Increasing worries

By Yogita Limaye, BBC South Asia correspondent

Thousands of people, foreign nationals and Afghans, continue to throng the gates of Kabul airport.

Amidst the crowds, even those with the right permits aren't able to get through. Some have been waiting there for days, with little shelter or food.

At least 20 have been killed in shootings and stampedes at the airport since last week. More than 10,000 were evacuated on Monday, but time is running out.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, the BBC has spoken to people who have been in hiding out of fear they will be killed by the Taliban. They say they don't have the means to leave.

There are millions who support the insurgent group as well, hoping they will bring an end to the violence.

The Taliban have been holding discussions on forming a government. Markets and workplaces are slowly opening up. But banks are still closed and fewer women are visible on the streets.

France, Germany and the UK have pressed for more time to complete the evacuations from Afghanistan.

France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters in the United Arab Emirates: "We are concerned about the deadline set by the United States on August 31. Additional time is needed to complete ongoing operations."

Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he had discussed keeping Kabul airport open beyond the deadline with Nato allies and the Taliban.

On Tuesday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to push the US for an extension during the virtual summit with other G7 leaders.

But Defence Secretary Ben Wallace it would all depend on both the US and the Taliban.

"Our focus is to get as many people out," Mr Wallace said.

"But the scale of the challenge means that not everyone will get out. We are ruthlessly prioritising people."

Media caption,
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told the BBC that foreign troops staying past 31 August would be "a clear violation"

Military advisers have told the White House that a decision must be made on Tuesday in order to allow for the troops, along with their equipment and weapons, to leave in time for the deadline, CNN reports.

A defence official told the network that if Mr Biden agreed on withdrawing in time for the deadline, there would be "a few more" days of evacuating people before the drawdown of troops began, possibly at the end of this week.

According to the White House, about 10,900 people were evacuated from Kabul between 11:30 and 23:30 local time (07:00 - 19:00 GMT) on Monday.

Images from Washington's Dulles Airport show Afghans arriving in the country.

The Taliban have tried to paint a conciliatory picture for those Afghans who stay, asking them to help rebuild the country. Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told the BBC people with passports would still be able to leave on commercial flights after the deadline.

He said: "We want them to stay in the country but if they intend to go, they can."

The United Nations human rights council is set to meet in an emergency session on Tuesday to discuss Afghanistan. It comes amid warnings from aid agencies about the deepening humanitarian crisis in the country and concerns over human rights, in particular, the rights of women.

The Taliban say they will respect the rights of women and girls but there are already reports of detentions and executions. Human rights groups say the UN must create an international, independent body to investigate what is happening.

Tuesday's emergency human rights council session could do this - but the draft resolution, submitted by Pakistan does not go that far, says the BBC's Imogen Foulkes, in Geneva.

The resolution asks the UN human rights chief to keep an eye on things, and report back in December.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
There are currently 5,800 US troops on the ground in Afghanistan

The airlift began as the Taliban moved into Kabul following a lightning campaign in which they captured almost all of the country in the wake of the US decision to withdraw forces.

The sole remaining area holding out appears to be the Panjshir region north-east of Kabul, a stronghold of anti-Taliban opponents who say thousands of people are ready to carry on the fight.

The Taliban were ousted by US and allied troops following al-Qaeda's 11 September 2001 attacks. A 20-year conflict ensued.

More on this story