UK scrambles to complete Kabul airlift as envoy flags risk of provoking Taliban

Britain has begun a last-ditch scramble to get people out of Kabul amid warnings from the senior diplomat on the ground that staying past the current 31 August deadline may not be realistic and risks provoking the 塔利班.

Speaking to MPs from Kabul, Sir Laurie Bristow, Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, said trying to hold Kabul’s airport any longer would be fraught with risk. He was speaking before Tuesday’s G7 meeting, which is expected to discuss a request from the prime minister, 鲍里斯·约翰逊(Boris Johnson), to the US president, 乔拜登, to stay longer.

The ambassador’s comments came shortly after a spokesperson for the Taliban threatened that if US-led forces at the airport tried to stay into September that would cross a “red line” and “provoke a reaction”.

Bristow said: “The signalling that we’re seeing from the Taliban, including earlier today, is pretty uncompromising that they want the operation finished by the end of the month.

“So I think it follows from that, that if the US and its allies were to try to push beyond that, then there’s at least a risk there, of us doing so in a much more difficult and less compliant environment.”

The virtual meeting also heard that planning by the British military for the end of the emergency airlift by the RAF, which has evacuated more than 5,700 people since 13 八月, had already begun.

Maj Gen Nick Borton, the chief of staff for operations, said that “we’re now starting to plan the conclusion” of the evacuation “and the difficult business of drawing the operation to a close” eight days before the current deadline.

A final decision by the US is likely to emerge from Tuesday’s virtual G7 meeting, but any agreement would have to be negotiated with the Taliban, who control Kabul, the airport perimeter and access to it.

The diplomat’s warning came as part of the first briefing of MPs by the government since the start of the Afghan crisis a couple of weeks ago.

It also heard that:

Ministers had already begun hinting publicly that an end to the airlift could be close. 本·华莱士, the defence secretary, said the evacuation was “down to hours, 不是几周”.

The junior defence minister James Heappey said the focus was now on evacuating about 1,800 British passport-holders, 和 2,275 people already accepted as having a right to resettle in the UK because they had helped as interpreters.

Kabul airport is held by more than 5,000 US troops with the support of 1,000 from the UK, as well as forces from other countries – but without the US presence and the effective permission of the Taliban it cannot remain open.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Suhail Shaheen, told Sky News there could be a military response if Washington were to extend its evacuation operation. 他说: “If they are intent on continuing the occupation, 所以 it will provoke a reaction.”

It is not clear that Biden will be willing to try to extend the deadline. 在星期一, Downing Street was stressing that Johnson’s request would be made as part of the wider G7 discussion, suggesting it was not high on the British leader’s priorities.

Communication between the White House and Downing Street during the crisis appears poor, with British ministers and officials repeatedly complaining that the US administration has not been clear with allies how long it plans to keep its military on the ground and allow the evacuation to continue.

At the same briefing, Heappey indicated that the world leaders’ meeting would be crucial in setting a common position. “There will be a point, depending on the outcome of the discussions with the G7 leaders, when we will need to say that the air bridge is coming to an end.”

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