Seven Afghan civilians have been killed in the crowds at Kabul airport trying to escape the Taliban, the British Ministry of Defence has announced – as Ben Wallace warned that Afghans fleeing to Britain will have to make their own way to the borders if the US does not delay withdrawal.
In a statement, the MoD said: ‘Our sincere thoughts are with the families of the seven Afghan civilians who have sadly died in crowds in Kabul. Conditions on the ground remain extremely challenging but we are doing everything we can to manage the situation as safely and securely as possible.’
The situation around Kabul airport has taken a turn for the worse, with the Independent reporting that four Afghan women were crushed to death on Saturday – and perhaps as many as 12 killed in total – as they sought to access the airfield where military repatriation flights are leaving from.
Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul has been the focal point for thousands trying to flee the Taliban, who seized power after sweeping into the capital a week ago following their astonishing lightning advance across the Middle Eastern country.
The MoD confirmed that the Operation Pitting evacuation mission is being supported by 1,000 British troops – including Paras from 16 Air Assault Brigade – with nearly 4,000 people repatriated from Afghanistan since August 13.
It comes as the Defence Secretary, in what is likely to be read as a plea to Washington, said ‘no nation will be able to get everyone out’ of the Taliban-controlled country, with the US president’s August 31 target date making the rescue mission even more time pressured.
Writing for the Mail on Sunday, Mr Wallace said: ‘If the US timetable remains, we have no time to lose to get the majority of the people waiting out. Perhaps the Americans will be permitted to stay longer, and they will have our complete support if they do.’
Relations between Britain and the US are strained, with Tony Blair – who was in Downing Street when London sent troops into Afghanistan 20 years ago in the wake of 9/11 – accusing Mr Biden of deciding to pull out with ‘little or no consultation’, branding the move ‘imbecilic’.
According to the Sunday Times, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab – who is facing calls to resign over his decision to remain on holiday while Afghanistan collapsed – is seeking to speak to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss extending the end-of-the-month deadline.
The 900 British troops cannot remain without the logistical support of the 6,000 US soldiers in Kabul and will have to finish the evacuation before that point to allow enough time to secure their own safe exit.
Mr Wallace confirmed there were ‘too many people in the airport’ on Saturday, forcing the US side of the operation to suspend access. A MoD spokeswoman stressed that neither UK flights nor processing were affected by the pause, however.
US citizens were yesterday warned not to go to the airport amid fears that they might be hijacked en route by militants. The State Department said the US side of the airport would close for 48 hours. The British section remained open.
According to the MoD, 3,821 British and Afghan nationals have been evacuated from Kabul, where 1,000 British troops are based. About 3,500 people are still waiting to be airlifted.
Last night, an MoD source said the announcement about the refugee centres was intended to display ‘honesty’ about the thousands of British allies likely to be left behind.
While acknowledging that ‘no nation will be able to get everyone out’, Mr Wallace also announces that a series of ‘processing hubs’ will be set up in countries neighbouring Afghanistan for refugees who manage to escape. If they can establish their right to come to the UK, they will be flown to Britain.
The MoD is looking at establishing hubs in countries such as Pakistan and Turkey – but, startlingly, is also exploring whether the Taliban might allow the UK to retain a ‘presence’ in Kabul after the Americans have gone.
There were further worrying reports about the treatment of Britons and Afghans who supported the 20-year intervention who are trying to escape.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy shared a letter on social media that she had sent Mr Raab about the ‘crisis’ facing evacuees, as she sought additional assistance for those on the ground.
The senior Opposition figure said Labour MPs had been hearing of people being ‘shot at, beaten and raped’ while they wait to be called forward at the airport, while the Baron Hotel in the city, where many British nationals are being told to travel to for processing, is being blockaded by the Taliban.
Ms Nandy asked whether NATO allies could put in place a ‘military policing operation’ at the gates of Kabul airport or within the internal processing zone to protect those waiting.
Sir Laurie Bristow, the British ambassador to Afghanistan who has stayed in the capital to help process applications, said the rescue effort was ‘without a doubt the biggest international challenge I have worked on as a diplomat’.
In other dramatic developments:
- Mr Raab was accused of defying an order from No 10 to return early from his holiday as the crisis escalated. However, allies of Mr Raab said Boris Johnson had given him permission to remain;
- Tony Blair branded the ‘abandonment of Afghanistan and its people’ as ‘tragic and dangerous’; Sources claimed that the Prime Minister felt ‘betrayed’ by Joe Biden over the Afghan withdrawal – although No 10 denied there are any tensions between the two;
- One source even claimed the President, 78, was ‘a bit doolally’;
- Taliban leaders Mullah Baradar and Siraj Haqqani arrived in Kabul to form a new government;
- UK hate preacher Anjem Choudary urged the Taliban to restore full Islamic justice, including stoning adulterers;
- The Home Office was scrambling to make the Taliban a proscribed group in an attempt to dissuade British jihadis from heading to Afghanistan;
- Britons in Kabul said the city was running out of food and money; Britain’s heroic ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, called the crisis the ‘greatest challenge’ of his 30-year career. Thousands rallied in London in protest at the Government’s handling of the crisis;
- The Minister with responsibility for Afghanistan, Lord Ahmad, was reported to be on holiday when the Taliban seized Kabul.
Hundreds of Afghans desperately trying to flee the Taliban are pictured outside Kabul airport
Afghans trying to flee (pictured: Chaos at Kabul airport yesterday) to Britain to escape the Taliban will have to make their own way to the borders if the Americans do not delay the date for leaving the country, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace declares today
In a powerfully emotive article for The Mail on Sunday, Mr Wallace warns that time is ‘ticking along, impossible to stop’ towards the imminent end of the UK’s mission to rescue thousands of Afghans entitled to come to the UK. Pictured: Afghans attempt to get into Kabul airport yesterday
Mr Wallace (pictured right) makes a veiled plea for Washington (pictured left: US President Joe Biden) to delay the US leaving date beyond August 31, writing: ‘Perhaps the Americans will be permitted to stay longer and they will have our complete support if they do’
Beneath a fierce late-morning sun, crowds parted to reveal women’s lifeless bodies and then, rising above the chaotic hubbub, the piercing screams of their children
A baby is handed over to the American army over the perimeter wall of the airport for it to be evacuated, in Kabul
Paratroopers tried to pull people from the chaos, and stood atop compound walls, spraying the crowd with hoses to try and cool them down, as medics dashed between casualties
At least four women are thought to have died in what witnesses called a ‘horrendous crush’. Pictured: Soldiers cover up the bodies of those who died yesterday
A soldier gives one of the locals at the airport a bottle of water, as many struggled in chaotic scenes at the airport today
A U.S. Navy Corpsman with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command, hands out water to children during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport
An evacuee holds up a peace sign after being manifested for a flight at Hamid Karzai International Airport
A Pakistani paramilitary soldier, right, and Taliban fighters stand guard on their respective sides at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Torkham, in Khyber district, Pakistan
A Pakistani paramilitary soldier indicates direction to Afghan nationals at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan
The 19th century struggle for power in Afghanistan between the UK and Tsarist Russia was called the Great Game. As the US and the UK pull its troops and the Taliban retake control by force, who will Afghanistan’s new leaders cosy-up with? Turkey, the only Muslim-majority member of Nato, could benefit, partly because it can control the flow of Afghan refugees into Europe. The mullahs in Iran are delighted by the departure of the US and will recognise the new Kabul regime. Russia will also be pleased to see the US leave, but has its own concerns about Islamic extremism. China and Pakistan have also made early noises of support, while Qatar hosted Taliban leaders in its capital Doha since 2013. However India is dismayed by the Taliban’s victory. Here Michael Burleigh looks at where each countries vested interests lie, and which countries will be happy and who will be angry at the Taliban takeover
Tory MP and ex army officer Tobias Ellwood says UN ‘must be brought in immediately’ to deal with chaos at Kabul airport
The United Nations must intervene in Afghanistan ‘immediately’ before the country descends into ‘complete disorder’, Tory chairman of the Commons Defence Committee Tobias Ellwood has urged
The United Nations must intervene ‘immediately’ in Afghanistan before Kabul descends into ‘complete disorder’, the Tory chairman of the Commons Defence Committee has urged – as he warned the airport is ‘likely to implode’ and slammed the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Ex-Army officer Tobias Ellwood, who together with Tom Tugendhat and Johnny Mercer has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the scuttle, told Sky News: ‘If you do want to withdraw from a country you don’t pull out your military first and then choose to allow the civilians to depart.
‘This is the wrong order in which we’ve done things, and this situation is simply not sustainable, it’s getting worse every single day. The airport cannot manage this and with the terrorist threat growing the chances are the airport will implode.
‘What I will say is the United Nations and its agencies must be brought in immediately before complete disorder breaks down. The relationship between the US and the Taliban is very very fragile indeed, the US has frozen Afghanistan’s assets, the economy is in freefall.
‘Many of the civil servants that help run the country and indeed run the airport have already departed. We require some serious international leadership immediately.’
In his article today, Mr Wallace says that the collapse of Afghanistan has been ‘an exhausting, worrying and demanding time’, and warns that ‘the distressing exit of the West will have consequences for us all for years to come’.
He says: ‘The Parachute Regiment at the airport are dealing with unimaginable challenges. Public order, overcrowding, searing heat and desperate people. Soldiers trained for war are instead holding babies and co-ordinating crowds.’
The Minister adds: ‘Too many people in the airport has meant a suspension of access. I am confident that too will be fixed or mitigated but until it is, the crowds will get bigger.
‘And ticking along, impossible to stop, is time. I have said all along that no nation will be able to get everyone out.
‘It is a source of deep sadness for many of us across Nato and no one wanted 20 years of sacrifice to end this way. We will do our best to the very last moment. But it isn’t the end.
‘The Home Secretary and I have been planning the next stage… we will establish a series of processing hubs across the region outside of Afghanistan for those Afghans we have an obligation to bring to this country.’
Meanwhile, The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Home Secretary Priti Patel is scrambling to proscribe the Taliban as a terrorist group amid fears that hundreds of British jihadis will head to Afghanistan to join and live under the Islamist regime.
The Home Office is now looking urgently to ban the group which has avoided proscription so far, even though the Taliban has harboured terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and killed 456 British troops in Afghanistan over the past two decades.
If an organisation is on the Government’s list of proscribed groups, it becomes a criminal offence for anyone in Britain to join or even support it, punishable by up to 14 years in jail.
If the situation remains as it is, Ministers fear that British jihadis could join and train under the regime then escape prosecution on their return to Britain.
Sources have told the MoS that Ms Patel is ‘livid’ that the Taliban in Afghanistan has not been banned already. A source said last night: ‘The fault doesn’t lie with Priti. It goes far back, as no previous Home Secretary has bothered to ban it.’
A Government source told the MoS that MI5 and counter-terrorism units are preparing for the possibility of British jihadis travelling to Afghanistan.
‘Some will go and train under the Taliban and may come back to launch attacks,’ said the source.
‘Others may take their families with them and live under the Taliban’s Islamic government.’
While acknowledging that ‘no nation will be able to get everyone out’, Mr Wallace also announces that a series of ‘processing hubs’ will be set up in countries neighbouring Afghanistan for refugees who manage to escape. If they can establish their right to come to the UK, they will be flown to Britain. Pictured: British and US troops help Afghans in Kabul
The MoD is looking at establishing hubs in countries such as Pakistan and Turkey – but, startlingly, is also exploring whether the Taliban might allow the UK to retain a ‘presence’ in Kabul after the Americans have gone. Pictured: A British evacuation flight with 265 people on board
A U.S. Airman with the Joint Task Force-Crisis Response speaks with families who await processing during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport
A Pakistani paramilitary soldier, front, and Taliban fighters, stand guard on their respective sides while a truck moves to cross at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan
Shocking footage shows injured Afghans bleeding as they desperately try and make their way into the airport
British soldiers desperately shouted for medics and stretchers, as unconscious people were carried away, many being pronounced dead and covered in white sheets
Taliban fighters stand guard on their side at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Torkham, in Khyber district, Pakistan
A Pakistani paramilitary soldier, right, and Taliban fighter stand guard on their respective sides at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan
Ex-Royal Marine who refused to flee Kabul without the Afghan staff from his animal welfare charity says he is now ‘in talks’ with the Foreign Office
Paul ‘Pen Farthing’, 52, says he is ‘in talks’ with the Foreign Office about getting 68 local workers from his Kabul-based Nowzad charity and their families processed by UK officials
A former Royal Marine running an animal welfare charity in Afghanistan says he has begun talks with the UK Government in the hope of getting his staff to safety.
Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing, 52, says he is now ‘in talks’ with the Foreign Office about getting 68 local workers from his Kabul-based Nowzad charity and their families processed by UK officials.
The ex-Royal Marine Commando says he is ‘hopeful’ they will be relocated to the UK.
Pen, whose charity has been backed by celebrities including Ricky Gervais and Judi Dench, said it was an ‘absolute result’.
‘We’re just waiting for that process to finish. Hopefully, I’ve been told, it shouldn’t take too long,’ he told the BBC.
Yesterday the Foreign Office confirmed to the BBC that it had been in contact with Mr Farthing. A spokeswoman told the broadcaster it was ‘working closely with the Home Office to offer assistance’.
Serviceman-turned-charity boss, Pen, served in Helmand at the height of the Afghanistan conflict and saw two of his comrades killed fighting the Taliban.
He remained in Kabul as the extremist group stormed the Afghan capital and took control.
Pen was separated from his wife Kaisa during the takeover, though, as reported by the Daily Mail yesterday, she has since been flown to safety.
Speaking last week as panic-stricken Westerners fled, the veteran spoke of his anger towards Britain and America for abandoning the Afghan people to the ‘medieval’ regime.
And, after turning down the offer of a repatriation flight, he vowed to stay in Kabul until he can secure his British visas for his Afghan staff.
Britain has promised to evacuate about 6,000 UK citizens and Afghan staff from the country, but that is looking increasingly unlikely.
Yesterday, amid chaotic scenes, Britons were told to either go to Kabul airport or the nearby Baron Hotel, where their papers could be processed. But some found their path blocked by makeshift Taliban checkpoints.
Last night, a Briton and his wife told how they came under fire from Taliban militants at a checkpoint as they headed to the hotel. Their driver was injured in the shooting.
As the British man tried to explain to the militants that he was a foreign national he was beaten and threatened.
He told ITV News: ‘My wife came out of the car, she was trying to save me and then they start beating my wife as well. They are warning me that if they see me next to that checkpoint they will kill us.’
It comes as yesterday the US Embassy told citizens not to travel to the Kabul airport without ‘individual instructions from a US government representative,’ citing potential security threats outside its gates.
And yet crowds remained outside its concrete barriers, clutching documents and sometimes stunned-looking children, blocked from flight by coils of razor wire.
Footage has since emerged of pandemonium and violence outside the airport, with US officials reporting that Americans have been beaten by the Taliban as they’ve tried to reach safety. The White House earlier confirmed that three military helicopters were used to rescue 169 Americans who were trapped at a hotel near the airport.
Meanwhile, Taliban co-founder Mullah Baradar arrived in the Afghan capital yesterday for talks with militant commanders, former government leaders and religious scholars.
Nato yesterday begged Mr Biden not to leave Kabul and urged the US troops to stay at the airport to get as many people out as possible.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: ‘The US has stated that the timeline ends on August 31, but several of our allies raised… the need to potentially extend that to be able to get more people out.’
Meanwhile, pressure continues to grow on Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab after new claims emerged accusing him of failing to engage with foreign counterparts on the Afghanistan situation until the Taliban had reached Kabul.
Witnesses told the Times that the Cabinet minister was swimming and using a paddleboard on the last day of his break, which was spent at a beach at a five-star hotel on the Greek island of Crete, as the crisis began to unfold.
Mr Raab was already in the firing line after it emerged he delegated a call about repatriating Afghan interpreters, while away on August 13, to a junior minister, a decision that resulted in the phone conversation with the Afghan foreign minister not taking place and possibly delaying taking them to safety.
And last night he was plunged into a fresh row over his holiday after sources told the Mail on Sunday that he had refused an order by No.10 to return from the Mediterranean to deal with the Afghanistan crisis.
The sources said Mr Raab had been told by a senior Downing Street official on Friday 13th August that he should return to London immediately as the situation in Kabul deteriorated, and that there had been ‘much gnashing of teeth’ when he delayed his homecoming until the early hours of Monday morning.
Nato yesterday begged Mr Biden not to leave Kabul and urged the US troops to stay at the airport to get as many people out as possible. Pictured: Medical support personnel help an Afghan mother with her family off a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport aircraft moments after she delivered a child aboard the aircraft upon landing at Ramstein Air Base, Germany
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: ‘The US has stated that the timeline ends on August 31, but several of our allies raised… the need to potentially extend that to be able to get more people out.’ Pictured: British troops in Kabul yesterday
A Pakistani paramilitary soldier, right, and Taliban fighter, stand guard on their respective sides while a truck moves to cross at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Torkham, in Khyber district
The claim is strongly denied by friends of Mr Raab, who insist that he was assured by Boris Johnson that he could stay with his family until the end of the weekend.
A source said: ‘There is no doubt that Raab was told to come back on that Friday. There was then a significant amount of surprise when he appeared on the Cobra on the Sunday down the line from Crete. He must have nobbled Boris and asked for permission to finish his holiday’.
Last night, Mr Raab told the Mail on Sunday that he had enjoyed a ‘wave of support’, and denied that there was pressure from within his party to resign.
Mr Raab said: ‘I’ve not heard any of my Conservative colleagues call for me to resign, but I have had a wave of support. There is no doubt that, like all countries, there is a measure of surprise at the rapidity of the Taliban takeover.
‘But as the Foreign Secretary travelling around the world, whether I am on leave or I’m travelling for work purposes, I am always set up to be able to grip things’.
A close ally of Mr Raab insisted that No.10 had not ‘ordered’ him to return on the Friday.
The ally said: ‘The suggestion was that he should make plans to come back. They said that if things get worse then he needed to be ready to come back at a moment’s notice. He then talked it through with the PM and it was agreed that he would came back on Sunday’.
DEFENCE SECRETARY BEN WALLACE: The American deadline is looming… we have no time to lose to get people out
By Ben Wallace, Defence Secretary, for the Mail on Sunday
For everyone involved, the last few months have been an exhausting, worrying and demanding time.
As Defence Secretary I have been incredibly proud of the work done by my civil servants and military personnel.
From before the collapse of the Afghan government to the present, four Ministry of Defence civil servants alone have handled the process and faced thousands of fearful Afghans.
They did so often at risk to themselves. Alongside them a small band of 150 military secured their part of the airport.
We are able to do what we are doing today because of them and because of the immense effort and support of our closest allies, the United States.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace says he is ‘incredibly proud of the work done by my civil servants and military personnel’
Our force has now grown to over 1,000 troops, Home Office border officials and embassy staff.
The US has surged to close to 6,000 military personnel. Only last week, as the crisis deepened, I had departmental civil servants volunteering to deploy.
The Parachute Regiment at the airport are dealing with unimaginable challenges. Public order, overcrowding, searing heat and desperate people. Soldiers trained for war are instead holding babies and co-ordinating crowds.
Despite all this we are getting people out – more than 1,000 in the past 24 hours alone.
But be under no illusion, as one problem is solved a new one appears. At first we worried whether the airport would remain open, then if those coming to Britain would able to get to the airport. Next came overcrowding.
One by one, our commanders, Brigadier Dan Blanchard and Vice Admiral Ben Key, removed the problems.
Today’s problem is different. Too many people in the airport has meant a suspension of access. I am confident that, too, will be fixed or mitigated, but until it is the crowds will get bigger.
And ticking along, impossible to stop, is time. I have said all along that no nation will be able to get everyone out.
It is a source of deep sadness for many of us across Nato, and no one wanted 20 years of sacrifice to end this way. We will do our best to the very last moment.
But it isn’t the end. The Home Secretary and I have been planning the next stage.
Firstly, it is important to note that the scheme is not time- limited. We shall stand by our obligations and are investigating now how to process people from third countries and refugee camps.
Pictured: Afghan people gather along a road as they wait to board an evacuation aircraft to leave the country
We will establish a series of processing hubs across the region outside Afghanistan for those Afghans we have an obligation to bring to this country.
As far back as April, we relocated an Afghan family from a Greek refugee camp. People must not despair.
As I write, we are exploring ways to keep a presence in the country after the military are gone. There is much work to do to ensure conditions are right.
If the US timetable remains, we have no time to lose to get the majority of the people waiting out. We have the planes – we just need the flow.
Perhaps the Americans will be permitted to stay longer, and they will have our complete support if they do.
Soldiers often witness the worst of humanity and the best of humanity. I know I did on my operational tours.
Right now, the best resides in the men and women of the Army, RAF and Royal Navy risking their lives to save others.