Poland has ended its involvement in airlift evacuations from Afghanistan amid growing signs that the brief and chaotic air bridge that has rescued tens of thousands of people may be rapidly coming to an end.
With both the US and Taliban insisting that the deadline for withdrawal of foreign forces remains 31 August – less than a week away – Marcin Przydacz, a deputy prime minister, said the group it evacuated to Uzebekistan on Wednesday would be the last.
Przydacz said the decision had been made in consultation with US and UK officials. He added: “After a long analysis of reports on the security situation we cannot risk the lives of our diplomats and of our soldiers.”
The Polish announcement follows increasing indications that the evacuation efforts may be rapidly winding down. The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said on Wednesday it was “clear that the troops will be withdrawn by the end of the month”.
Raab added it was unclear how many people will be left behind in Afghanistan once British troops withdraw.
Hungary’s evacuation efforts were also nearing an end after the central European country airlifted just over 500 people from Kabul, said the foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó.
“The exact timing will be announced by the commander of the army, which may happen as soon as today,” Szijjártó told a news conference, adding that most evacuees were Afghan nationals who had supported a Hungarian charity or Hungarian troops there.
France also indicated it was “very probable” that its operations to evacuate its citizens and partners from Afghanistan would end on Thursday, according to the country’s European affairs minister, Clément Beaune.
With the Taliban having threatened on Tuesday to block Afghans from travelling to the airport in Kabul, and Biden saying the US was sticking to the 31 August deadline, it was clear that very large numbers of Afghans who had hoped to escape would be left trapped under Taliban rule.
According to estimates, 300,000 Afghans may be vulnerable because of their associations with the US and its western allies.
Speaking to reporters at the White House on Tuesday, Biden said 70,700 people had been airlifted out so far.
“We are currently on pace to finish by 31 August,” he said. “The sooner we can finish, the better. Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops.”
According to US military officials, the full withdrawal of the 6,000 US troops in Kabul may begin in earnest as early as this week or at the weekend, with about 300 having already departed.
Evidence of the winding down of the airlift came as the leader of a resistance movement to the Taliban vowed never to surrender but said they were open to negotiations with the new rulers of Afghanistan, according to an interview published by Paris Match on Wednesday.
Ahmad Massoud, the son of the Afghan rebel commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, has retreated to his native Panjshir valley north of Kabul along with the former vice-president, Amrullah Saleh.
“I would prefer to die than to surrender,” Massoud told the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy in his first interview since the Taliban took over Kabul. “I’m the son of Ahmad Shah Massoud. Surrender is not a word in my vocabulary.”