President Joe Biden wants all Americans to have left the country by the end of the month, in order to stick to the troop withdrawal agreement reached with the Taliban, although he admitted on Sunday night that an extension was under discussion, while this morning UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the evacuation effort is ‘down to hours now, not weeks’.
Taliban spokesman Dr Suhail Shaheen said the group will not accept an extension to the deadline and warned of retaliation if Western forces extend their ‘occupation’ since the group dramatically swept to power.
Shaheen spoke hours after Biden addressed the nation, appearing to push back against extending the August 31 deadline last night, saying the evacuation process is going to be ‘hard and painful’ and there will be ‘discussions’ about how long it will take.
The President also confirmed during the press conference that as many as 11,000 people had been evacuated from the airport in the last 36 hours – and that the US has so far transported around 33,000 to safety since the operation began, including 2,500 Americans.
The Pentagon said that of the 11,000 evacuated over the weekend, some 3,900 were flown out by US aircraft – but this still leaves around 15,000 US passport holders and an additional 50,000-60,000 Afghan allies who are seeking transport.
He said that U.S. forces had expanded the perimeter around the airport amid fears terrorists may seek to exploit the operation by attacking Americans or Afghan civilians.
And during the early hours of this morning, US soldiers at the airport in Kabul, alongside German forces, were engaged in a gunfight with ‘unknown attackers’ – which resulted in the death of one member of the Afgahn security force, and three additional injuries.
Taliban spokesman Dr Suhail Shaheen (pictured) has warned of ‘consequences’ if Western forces stay beyond the end of the month
Speaking last night at a press conference, President Biden appeared to push back on extending the August 31 deadline, saying the evacuation process is going to be ‘hard and painful’ and there will be ‘discussions’ about how long it will take
US soldiers engage in deadly dawn firefight at Kabul airport
US and German forces joined in a gun battle this morning at Kabul airport after Afghan guards and unknown assailants exchanged fire, with one guard killed, the German army said.
The gunfire broke out near the airport’s northern gate, where at least seven Afghans died a day earlier in a panicked stampede of thousands of people trying to flee the country. The circumstances of the shooting, which occurred around dawn, remained unclear.
The U.S. military and NATO did not immediately acknowledge the shooting. There was no comment from the Taliban.
The shooting near the military side of the airport came as the Taliban sent fighters to the north of the capital to eliminate pockets of armed resistance to their lightning takeover earlier this month.
The Taliban said they retook three districts that fell the day before and had surrounded Panjshir, the last province that remains out of their control.
It follows an address last night by President Biden in which he revealed U.S. forces may stay beyond his evacuation deadline of August 31 during a speech last night as he tries to accelerate the operation to rescue Americans after days of chaos and crushes at Kabul airport.
The President confirmed during the press conference that as many as 11,000 people had been evacuated from the airport in the last 36 hours – and that the US has so far transported around 33,000 to safety, including 2,500 Americans.
He said that U.S. forces had expanded the perimeter around the airport amid fears terrorists may seek to exploit the operation by attacking Americans or Afghan civilians.
Speaking about the US’ deadline of August 31, Dr Suhail Shaheen told Sky News: ‘It’s a red line. President Biden announced that on 31 August they would withdraw all their military forces. So if they extend it that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that.
‘If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations – the answer is no. Or there would be consequences.
‘It will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation it will provoke a reaction.’
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to press Biden and other G7 leaders to delay the final withdrawal in a virtual call on Tuesday, despite his armed forces minister warning Kabul will become a ‘warzone’ if the West stay and ignore the Taliban’s demands.
Biden said last night: ‘Let me be clear – the evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul is going to be hard and painful.
‘No matter when it started, when we began. It would have been true if we had started a month ago, or a month from now.
‘There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss and heartbreaking images you see on television. It’s just a fact.’
He said about 11,000 people were lifted out of Kabul in less than 36 hours, bringing the total to 33,000, and said defense officials ‘hope’ they will not have to extend the evacuation operation.
However in a glimmer of hope that an extension was still possible, he added: ‘There are going to be discussions I suspect on how far along we are in the process.
‘Our first priority in Kabul is getting American citizens out of the situation as quickly and safely as possible,’ Biden said.
‘Any American that wants to get home will get home.’
He also said the US government is ‘looking to move our Afghan allies’ out of the country as well, noting that citizens of NATO allies and Afghan allies were amongst the 11,000 individuals evacuated this past weekend.
He added that US forces had expanded the perimeter around the airport amid fears terrorists may seek to exploit the operation by attacking Americans or Afghan civilians.
Defense officials ‘hope’ they will not have to extend the evacuation operation, Biden said, but ‘there are going to be discussions I suspect on how far along we are in the process.’
He also said troops were maintaining constant vigilance against terrorist threats, particularly from the local affiliate of ISIS, sworn enemies of the both the U.S. and the Taliban.
‘The security threat is changing rapidly,’ he said. ‘There are civilians crowded at the airport, although we have cleared thousands of them.
‘We know that terrorists may seek to exploit the situation and target innocent Afghans or American troops.’
Every day that American troops and civilians are at the airport is another day of risk that terrorists launch an attack from distance.
But he said the Taliban had been helpful.
‘We discussed a lot with the Taliban,’ he said. ‘They’ve been cooperative in extending some of the perimeter.’
But he declined to describe further ‘technical changes’ designed to improve security.
‘So far the Taliban has not taken action against U.S. forces,’ he said, rapping his knuckles on the lectern as if knocking on wood.
‘So far they have, by and large, followed through on what they said in terms of Americans to pass through.
‘And I’m sure they don’t control all of their forces. It’s a rag tag force.
‘And so we’ll see if what they say turns out to be true.’
The original evacuation agreement was reached with senior Taliban officials after a sit down in Qatar with General Frank McKenzie.
The date of August 31 was set as the point at which US troops would be removed from Afghanistan, meaning any evacuations need to be completed by this point.
It was agreed between the two parties that a ‘deconfliction mechanism’ would be put in place to allow the evacuation operation from the airport in Kabul to run smoothly and without Taliban interference – so long as the US had completely pulled out by the agreed deadline.
Speaking about the US’ deadline of August 31, Dr Suhail Shaheen told Sky News : ‘It’s a red line. President Biden announced that on 31 August they would withdraw all their military forces. So if they extend it that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that’
Pictured: Members of the British and US armed forces pose together for a photo while working together at Kabul Airport yesterday
During the early hours of this morning, US soldiers at the airport in Kabul, alongside German forces, were engaged in a gunfight with ‘unknown attackers’ – which resulted in the death of one member of the Afgahn security force, and three additional injuries. Pictured: Soldiers of the Turkish Task Force patrol the Hamid Karzai International Airport this morning
Of the 11,000 evacuated over the weekend, some 3,900 were flown out by US aircraft – but this still leaves around 15,000 US passport holders and an additional 50,000-60,000 Afghan allies who are seeking transport. Pictured: British and Canadian soldiers help an Afghan climb up the wall of a canal near the airport in Kabul
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to press Biden and other G7 leaders to delay the final withdrawal in a virtual call on Tuesday, despite his armed forces minister warning Kabul will become a ‘warzone’ if the West stay and ignore the Taliban’s demands
The date of August 31 was set as the point at which US troops would be removed from Afghanistan, meaning any evacuations need to be completed by this point. Pictured: British and Canadian soldiers patrol the perimeter of the airport in Kabul near the military-controlled section
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby disclosed on Tuesday that US officers were speaking with Taliban commanders ‘multiple times a day’ about avoiding conflict at the airport, but several Afghans have been killed or injured outside the airstrip by advancing Taliban forces.
And General McKenzie said any attempts by the Taliban to interfere with rescue operations ‘will be met with overwhelming force.
The Taliban had previously agreeing to allow ‘safe passage’ from Afghanistan for civilians who want to leave, according to President Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Tuesday.
Sullivan acknowledged reports that some civilians were encountering resistance – ‘being turned away or pushed back or even beaten’ – as they tried to reach the Kabul international airport.
But he said ‘very large numbers’ were reaching the airport and the problem of the others was being taken up with the Taliban, whose stunningly swift takeover of the country on Sunday plunged the US evacuation effort into chaos, confusion and violence.
The UK wants to double its Kabul airlift numbers to 12,000 this week, but Johnson accepts that the success of the mission is reliant on US troops maintaining control of Kabul airport.
Evacuees from Afghanistan as they arrive in an Airbus A400 transport aircraft of the German Air Force Luftwaffe in Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Afghan families enter into Pakistan through a border crossing point in Chaman, Pakistan
UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace conceded the his country’s involvement will end when the US leaves, saying: ‘The Prime Minister is, obviously at the G7, going to try and raise the prospect of seeing if the United States will extend.
‘It’s really important for people to understand 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.
‘I don’t think there is any likelihood of staying on after the United States. If their timetable extends even by a day or two, that will give us a day or two more to evacuate people.
‘Because we are really down to hours now, not weeks, and we have to make sure we exploit every minute to get people out.’
In his sit-down interview, Dr Shaheen also claimed people are not fleeing Afghanistan because they are scared, saying it was purely ‘economic migration’, despite the desperate scenes at Kabul airport.
He added it was ‘fake news’ that girls’ schools are being closed amid reports of the Taliban going door to door and threatening people while seeking former government workers.
Many women are fearful that the new regime will erode rights which they have fought for.
But Dr Shaheen insisted: ‘They will lose nothing. Only if they have no hijab, they will have a hijab… women are required to have the same rights as you have in your country but with a hijab.’
He added that women teachers and journalists are continuing to work despite the recent upheaval, despite stories of women being scared to leave their homes and return to work.
People stand on a barrier outside Kabul airport, Afghanistan, after the Taliban takeover of the city last week
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
Biden said he had directed the State Department to contact Americans stranded in the country, where Taliban checkpoints are in place.
‘We’re executing a plan to move groups of these Americans to safety and to safely and effectively move them to the airport compound. For security reasons, I’m not going to go into detail … but I will say again today what I’ve said before: Any American who wants to get home will get home.’
Afghan allies of the West and vulnerable Afghans such as women activists and journalists would be helped too, he said.
Meanwhile, 500 tonnes of medical supplies including surgical equipment and childhood pneumonia treatments due to be delivered to Afghanistan this week are stuck because of Kabul airport restrictions.
‘They were ready and planned to be delivered to Afghanistan to arrive this week. But now that the airport is closed to commercial flights, we can no longer get them in,’ said World Health Organisation spokesperson Inas Hamam.
She said the WHO was calling for empty planes to divert to its storage hub in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to collect the supplies on their way to pick up evacuees from the country.
One of those who managed to flee amid the pandemonium at Kabul airport was an Uber driver who had spent three days desperately trying to escape from the Taliban.
Helmand Khan was flown to safety on an RAF flight with his children after he visited relatives in Afghanistan.
The taxi driver from West London was earlier seen thrusting his British passport at TV crews as he tried to enter a compound where the British Embassy is housing evacuees.
Helmand Khan was flown to safety on an RAF flight with his children after spending three days desperately trying to flee
He told the BBC: ‘You’ve seen by British passport, these are my children! I came in the morning, five o’clock, but I’m still waiting. In the last three days I am trying to go inside.’
Amid the chaos, a firefight broke out between unidentified gunmen, Western security forces and Afghan guards at Kabul airport last night.
One Afghan guard was killed and three others were injured in the battle, which also involved US and German forces, the German military said on Twitter.
The report did not specifying whether the dead Afghan was one of the Taliban fighters deployed to guard the airport.
The airport has been a scene of chaos since the Taliban seized the Afghan capital on August 15 as UK and international forces try to evacuate citizens and vulnerable Afghans.
British armed forces minister James Heappey acknowledged that ‘when the US go, the mission has to come to an end’ in Afghanistan as the Prime Minister prepares to issue the plea to the American president.
The leaders will speak during an emergency G7 summit on Tuesday as the Government presses for American troops to remain beyond August to secure the capital’s airport for rescue flights.
Ministers still want to evacuate thousands more people including UK passport holders and those under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap) scheme.
Mr Heappey said the evacuation mission is ‘fundamentally underpinned by a US presence’, and it would have to end without American troops.
‘Whether or not the US can be persuaded to stay is a matter for the Prime Minister tomorrow in the G7 meeting after the initial overtures made by both the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary in the days previous,’ he told Sky News.
‘But the conversation with the Taliban will then follow, and the Taliban will have a choice: they can either seek to engage with the international community and show that they want to be a part of the international system, they want to be engaged in international diplomacy, or they can turn around and say there is no opportunity for an extension.
‘I think everybody has to be clear that this is not just a discussion that happens between G7 leaders tomorrow, it is a discussion which happens with the Taliban.’
He acknowledged not everybody will be able to be evacuated, as he said there are still ‘thousands more’ people the UK wishes to evacuate, including British nationals.
The Foreign Office said it had sent five extra staff to Kabul airport, taking its total working on the evacuation effort in the capital to 19.
Mr Heappey elaborated to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme by saying that the Taliban, which swept to power last week as the US withdrew its troops, ‘gets a vote’ on the evacuation deadline.
‘It’s just the reality, we could deny them the vote, we have the military power to just stay there by force, but I don’t know that the humanitarian mission we’re embarked on at the moment which is to evacuate as many people from Kabul as we possibly can is helped by Kabul becoming a warzone,’ the minister said.
He added: ‘I think in all reality given what Nato allies have in country at the moment, the period of time it would take to get in place a replacement force is not realistic, I think the reality is that the die is cast, the United States air force is operating Kabul airport, it is entirely a military airport.
Evacuations have been underway in Afghanistan since the Taliban took control of the country on August 13 after American troops were pulled from the country
‘When the US go, the mission has to come to an end.’
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace held talks with their Washington counterparts over the weekend to call for an extension.
Government officials said there is ‘no fixed date’ on when the UK will withdraw, but it is feared that without US boots on the ground, the remaining allied forces would be unable to secure Hamid Karzai International Airport from the crowds looking to flee the Taliban takeover, or other potential security threats.
Meanwhile former British ambassador to the US Lord Kim Darroch said there ‘clearly’ should have been more coordination and planning for an ‘orderly’ exit from Kabul.
He told Radio 4’s Today Programme the soldiers ‘in these appalling circumstances are doing an extraordinary job’, adding that the situation is ‘extraordinarily fragile’, with Taliban forces and British and American forces ‘literally yards apart’.
‘So it’s a very, very tense situation,’ he said.
Asked about the UK’s global response, Lord Darroch said: ‘I think global Britain, post-EU exit, is an interesting and potentially sensible path for the UK to go on.
‘But we’ve reduced our foreign aid, we have done a defence review that does a number of good things but which reduces the size of the British Army, done some trade deals that basically with one exception duplicate EU deals, and we have rather passively acquiesced in a foreign policy disaster that is the Afghan withdrawal.
‘There is a genuine threat from ISIS’: National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan admits ISIS could attack US troops at Kabul airport and refuses to rule out sending in more soldiers
By Katelyn Caralle, U.S. political reporter for dailymail.com
Joe Biden‘s national security adviser warned the Taliban on Sunday that the U.S. will issue a ‘forceful’ response if they interfere in American evacuation efforts from Afghanistan – and he doesn’t rule out sending in more troops.
‘If in the end Americans are blocked from getting to the airport, blocked from leaving the country, or our operations are disrupted or our evacuations are in some way interfered with, we have explained to them that there will be a swift and forceful response,’ Jake Sullivan told NBC News host Chuck Todd during an interview on Meet the Press.
Sullivan detailed that Washington has an agreement with the Taliban that they will allow all American citizens passage to the Kabul airport – including through any checkpoints along their travel to the Hamid Karzai International Airport.
He admitted Sunday that the airport is dangerous and faces ‘threats from ISIS.’
‘I know that the scenes around the airport are heartbreaking, large crowds of people wanting to leave,’ Sullivan said. ‘I know that there is complexity and there is turbulence on the ground and in Kabul, and it’s very risky and dangerous because there’s a genuine threat from ISIS-K. That is the reality of what we are up against, and I’m not going to sugarcoat that reality.’
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan warned the Taliban on Sunday of a ‘forceful response’ if they prevent Americans from evacuating from the Kabul airport – he also admitted the scene at the airport is dangerous with ‘threats from ISIS’
The Taliban has an agreement with Washington to let Americans through checkpoints to the airport. Taliban fighters stand guard as Afghans gather to try and get into Hamid Karzai International Airport to evacuate the country on Saturday
This comment runs counter to Biden’s messaging on Friday that Americans are not being blocked from getting to the airport.
‘We have no indication that they haven’t been able to get, in Kabul, through the airport,’ Biden said in his first press conference since the bundled withdrawal from Afghanistan.
He cited the agreement Sullivan was referencing where the Taliban have vowed to let people with an American passport through checkpoints. Many critics have questioned why the administration would take the word of the militant group.
‘We know of no circumstance where American citizens, carrying an American passport, are trying to get through to the airport [and can’t],’ Biden continued in his press conference. ‘But we will do whatever needs to be done to see to it they get there.’
The president will give on Sunday afternoon an update to the nation on the evacuation efforts of Americans and allies from Afghanistan.
Republican Representative Liz Cheney pushed back against these comments on Sunday, claiming the administration is ‘denying’ the facts of what’s actually happening in the Middle East.
‘The White House is denying what we know is happening on the ground: That Americans are being beaten, they’re being prevented from getting to the airport and they’re probably being held hostage,’ Cheney told Meet the Press.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said over the weekend that Americans are being beaten by the Taliban as they try to reach the airport in Kabul.
The scene outside the airport has become increasingly chaotic as Americans, allies and Afghans all attempt to flee the country after the Taliban takeover last week
Americans still stranded in the country are receiving some mixed signals from Washington, with some advice not to try to get to the airport and to instead shelter in place, but public reassurances that it’s safe to try and gain passage because the Taliban will let them through.
Sullivan said Sunday morning that there are no current plans to deploy more troops to the region, but wouldn’t rule out the future potential of sending in more.
‘At the moment, we believe we have sufficient forces on the ground,’ Sullivan told Todd.
‘But every single day the president asks his military commanders, including those at the airport and those at the Pentagon, whether they need additional resources, additional troops,’ he continued. ‘So far, the answer has been ‘no,’ but he will ask again today.’
Later Sunday morning, Biden will meet with his national security team to hear intelligence and diplomatic updates on the evolving situation in Afghanistan.
So far, Biden has sent in 6,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan to help with evacuation efforts after the Taliban was able to take over the country in just over a week. This means the U.S. has deployed more American troops into Afghanistan than the number of U.S. citizens it has extracted from the country since the Taliban swept into power on August 14.
The Pentagon said Saturday they were only able to evacuate 2,500 Americans from Kabul in the past week.
Overall, the U.S. was able to evacuate 7,000 people from the pandemonium at the Kabul airport since last weekend, including 3,800 in the last day.
Up to 15,000 Americans still need to be evacuated and the administration hopes to get out 50-60,000 more Afghan allies and their families.
Top military brass and Pentagon leaders, however, have not said when pressed on the matter whether evacuation efforts will continue past August 31.
The Pentagon announced Sunday its activating the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF), which taps commercial airlines to loan out planes to help with rescue efforts.
Eighteen planes fro six airlines will be used for ‘onward movement’ of Americans and Afghan allies who are already in ‘safe havens and interim staging bases’, according to a statement from Defense Department spokesperson John Kirby.
‘The Department does not anticipate a major impact to commercial flights for this activation,’ he assures in his statement on the activation.
Stage 1 of the CRAF gives the Department of Defense access to commercial air mobility.
The commercial aircraft will not be flying into the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Instead, planes will be used to aid in the airlift of tens of thousands of evacuees, ferrying Americans and Afghans onward to the U.S. from staging bases in Qatar, Bahrain and Germany.
Planes used for this stage of evacuation include four from United Airlines, two from Hawaiian Airlines and three from each – American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air.
Military flights will continue to go to the airport in Kabul to get refugees out of Afghanistan and to these regional bases.