September 28. 2021. 5:35

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Taliban oppose extension to US deadline for evacuating Kabul

Evacuees load on to buses to be processed during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, on Sunday. Photograph: US Marine Corps/AFP via Getty Images


Nato members’ hopes that the US will extend the emergency evacuation from Afghanistan beyond August 31st were in doubt because of the risk of Taliban opposition, a British defence minister admitted on Monday.

James Heappey said the Taliban “gets a vote” on whether to allow the air bridge out of Kabul to continue beyond the deadline set for a total US troop withdrawal from the country.

Reuters reported two sources in the Islamist group now ruling Afghanistan as saying they would not extend the deadline beyond the end of the month.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson will on Tuesday urge the US to allow more time for the evacuation when he chairs a virtual G7 summit on the Afghan crisis and US president Joe Biden said on Sunday the issue was being considered.

But Mr Biden, who last month said all US military operations would end on August 31st, said on Sunday that he “hoped” to stick to the deadline.

Mr Heappey said on Monday that the situation on the ground might not allow an extension as western powers grapple with chaotic scenes around Kabul airport, which is surrounded by Taliban checkpoints.

Mr Heappey said 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.

“Even if the political will in London, Washington, Paris, Berlin is for an extension, the Taliban may say no,” he told LBC Radio. “The Taliban get a vote as well and that’s why we’re continuing to work towards the 31st.”

He confirmed that there was also 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.

Reuters cited Taliban sources as saying that no western approach had been made to extend the deadline and G7 leaders now face the grim reality that the new Afghan regime could turn down any request.

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

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 in the country ahead of the 20th anniversary of the September 11st attacks. The Islamist militant movement seized power shortly after launching a blitz across the country as US soldiers withdrew.

Airport firefight

Meanwhile, a firefight involving western forces erupted at Kabul airport on Monday when Afghan guards exchanged fire with unidentified gunmen, Germany’s military said, adding to the evacuation chaos.

Thousands of Afghans and foreigners have thronged the airport for days, hoping to catch a flight out after Taliban fighters captured Kabul on August 15th.

Twenty people have been killed in the chaos at the airport, most in shootings and stampedes in the heat and dust, penned in by concrete blast walls, as US and international forces try to evacuate their citizens and vulnerable Afghans.

One person was killed in Monday’s clash, the German military said. CNN said a sniper outside the airport fired at Afghan guards – some 600 former government soldiers are helping US forces at the airport – near its north gate.

US and German forces were involved in the clash, Germany’s military said. Three wounded Afghan guards were being treated at a field hospital in the airport, it said. Two Nato officials at the airport said the situation was under control after the firing.

The Taliban have deployed fighters outside the airport, where they have tried to help enforce some kind of order. On Sunday, Taliban fighters beat back crowds at the airport a day after seven Afghans were killed in a crush at the gates as the deadline for the withdrawal of foreign troops approaches. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021/Reuters