The Taliban‘s announcement on Monday that they would not consider allowing U.S. troops to stay past August 31 shows the ‘folly’ of President Biden’s deadline, according to a former British military adviser to the Afghan government.
Foreign governments are accelerating efforts to evacuate their nationals and vulnerable Afghans amid chaotic scenes at Kabul airport.
But hopes that they could extend the operation past August 31 received a setback when a Taliban spokesman threatened ‘consequences’ if foreign forces stayed on.
That meant thousands of people would likely be left behind, said Charlie Herbert, a retired Maj. Gen. in the British Army and former senior NATO adviser to the Afghan Interior Ministry.
‘By setting this hard ending – initially September 11 then brought forward to August 31 – that precipitated the collapse of Afghanistan, this psychological collapse.
‘It’s a fundamental mistake.
‘And by setting that hard timeline, it has bought some time for the evacuation but it puts a hard stop on it.
‘If the Taliban are totally unwilling to negotiate a further extension it’s further evidence of the folly of setting a timeline in the first place.’
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen (left) has said there will be consequences if the U.S. does not stick to President Biden’s August 31 deadline for withdrawing troops
U.S. and coalition evacuations flights continue to take off from Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, where crowds have gathered seeking refuge
Crowds climb up on buildings as they gather near the airport in Kabul in a bid to flee Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover
A group of British soldiers sit among Afghan citizens at Kabul airport amid ongoing discussions about the deadline for withdrawing troops
How US secured Taliban agreement to leave the airport clear for evacuations
After President Biden established an exit date of August 31 this year for all US soldiers to have evacuated the country, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said US officers had recently been speaking with Taliban commanders ‘multiple times a day’ about avoiding conflict at the airport in Kabul, which would be used as the staging ground for the evacuations.
General Frank McKenzie on Sunday, August 15 negotiated the safe passage agreement with Taliban leaders in talks held in Doha, Qatar.
‘I cautioned them against interference in our evacuation, and made it clear to them that any attack would be met with overwhelming force in the defense of our forces,’ General McKenzie said.
‘The protection of US civilians and our partners is my highest priority and we will take all necessary action to ensure a safe and efficient withdrawal.’
At the White House, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said US officials were engaged in an ‘hour by hour’ process of holding the Taliban to their commitment to allow safe passage for civilians wishing to leave the country.
Despite the agreement that the Taliban would not encroach on NATO efforts to evacuate their people, US and German soldiers were involved in a gunfight during the early hours of this morning after shots were fired by ‘unknown attackers’.
And now, in the face of NATO allies urging President Biden to extend his August 31 deadline, Taliban spokesman Dr Suhail Shaheen said there will be ‘consequences’ if the US does not leave Afghanistan on the agreed date.
Biden held out the possibility of an extension on Sunday afternoon.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, he said there were discussions ‘among us and the military about extending.’
‘Our hope is that we will not have to extend,’ he said.
And reports from the U.K. indicated that Prime Minister Boris Johnson planned to use a virtual G7 meeting on Tuesday to press Biden to keep troops beyond August 31.
But the Taliban quickly pushed back.
‘If they extend it, that means they are extending occupation. … It will create mistrust between us,’ spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Sky News from Doha, Qatar.
He added there would be consequences.
‘If they are intent on continuing the occupation, it will provoke a reaction,’ he said.
That leaves thousands of people crammed around the airport wondering if they make it on to one of the last flight and hundreds more Americans holed up awaiting instructions to get to muster points.
A Pentagon spokesman said he would not discuss the details of any conversations with the Taliban.
John Kirby said: ‘Our focus is on getting this done by the end of the month.’
Officials said they had accelerated the evacuation, bringing out 16,000 people on Sunday with some 11,000 carried on U.S. military aircraft.
‘We are head down, focused on keeping these numbers up as best we can, getting as many people out as we can by the end of the month,’ said Kirby.
‘And if there needs to be a discussion about extending that timeline then we absolutely will have that discussion at the appropriate time with the commander in chief.’
Herbert said Taliban consent for having foreign troops in Kabul was never going to last indefinitely, and that military planners had likely worked on the assumption that August 31 would bring the end of the mission.
The result was likely to mean that vulnerable Afghans, who were entitled to safe passage, and foreign nationals will be left behind.
Boris Johnson (pictured left) will attempt to persuade US President Joe Biden (pictured right) to keep American troops in Afghanistan beyond his August 31 deadline when the two leaders take part in a G7 meeting this week
The Pentagon said evacuation flights carried 16,000 people to safety on Sunday as allies accelerate efforts to rescue citizens and vulnerable Afghans
That meant some kind of ‘plan b’ would be needed, perhaps using humanitarian flights at a later date.
The immediate risk, he said, was of panic among people waiting at the airport.
‘My worry is that by announcing this timeline I don’t know what it is going to happen with these huge crowds outside the airport and the sense of desperation,’ he said.
‘I think it’s going to make it even harder over the next 24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours to get out the last few people that we are able to.
‘I worry about crushing and crowd control.
‘One can only say that one hopes that the Taliban maintain to continue their tacit, reluctant consent to this process and won’t make it even harder.’