Western countries worked at a war-footing pace” on Tuesday to get people out of Afghanistan, a NATO country diplomat said, as U.S. President Joe Biden looked set to come under pressure from other G7 leaders to seek more time to complete the airlift.
Widespread chaos punctuated by sporadic violence has gripped Kabul’s airport, with Western troops and Afghan security guards driving back crowds desperate to flee following the Taliban’s take over of the Afghan capital on Aug. 15.
Countries conducting the evacuations are trying to meet an Aug. 31 deadline agreed earlier with the Taliban for the withdrawal of foreign forces, a NATO diplomat told Reuters.” Every foreign force member is working at a war-footing pace to meet the deadline,” said the official, who declined to be identified.
Read More: Aid agencies in Afghanistan face moral crisis, to stay or not to stay
A Taliban official said on Monday an extension would not be granted, though he said foreign forces had not sought one. Washington said negotiations were continuing.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said ahead of the G7 meeting: “I will ask our friends and allies to stand by the Afghan people and step up support for refugees and humanitarian aid.”
“The Taliban will be judged by their deeds and not their words.”
Britain’s defence minister, Ben Wallace, told Sky News he was doubtful there would be an extension “not only because of what the Taliban has said but also if you look at the public statements of President Biden, I think it is unlikely”.
Today I will hold an emergency @G7 meeting to coordinate our response to the crisis in Afghanistan.
I will ask our friends and allies to stand by the Afghan people and step up support for refugees and humanitarian aid.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) August 24, 2021
‘DOES IT STILL HURT? YES’
Many Afghans fear reprisals and a return to a harsh version of the Islamic law that the Taliban enforced while in power from 1996 to 2001, in particular the repression of women and freedom of speech.
Read More: Taliban warns of ‘consequences’, evacuation deadline pressures US
There have been isolated but numerous incidents of Taliban aggression and intolerance reported on social media, as well as reports of Taliban searches for old enemies, fanning those fears.
Nevertheless, thousands of Afghans have returned to their homes in the provinces after learning that the situation there was “relatively calm”, said the NATO diplomat, while cautioning that scant intelligence and security reports were coming in from remote districts.
Australia evacuated more than 50 female Afghan Paralympians, athletes and their dependents after securing visas for them, the Australian Broadcasting Corp reported on Tuesday.
Read More: G7 leaders to decide recognition of Taliban govt
The G7 leaders could discuss taking a united stand on the question of whether to recognise a Taliban government or renew sanctions to pressure the Islamist militant movement to comply with pledges to respect women’s rights and international relations.
“The G7 leaders will agree to coordinate on if, or when to recognise the Taliban,” said one European diplomat. “And they will commit to continue to work closely together.”
Leaders of the Taliban, who have sought to show a more moderate face since capturing Kabul, have begun talks on forming a government, that have included discussions with some old enemies from past governments, including a former president, Hamid Karzai.
Boris Johnson's expected to urge President Biden to delay US withdrawal from Afghanistan when G7 leaders meet virtually later.
Shadow Foreign Secretary @lisanandy tells me the Prime Minister needs to recognise the error of his ways and show leadership today: pic.twitter.com/XJ3Scm5HvE
— Georgie Prodromou (@GeorgieProRadio) August 24, 2021
Recognition of a Taliban government by other countries would have important consequences, like allowing the Taliban access to foreign aid than previous Afghan governments have depended upon.
Biden will face pressure from other leaders to extend the Aug. 31 deadline for evacuations. France has said more time was needed, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Monday the G7 needed to consider whether to remain beyond that date.
Biden has faced widespread criticism over the withdrawal, which was initiated by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, under a deal struck with the Taliban, and his opinion poll ratings have slipped.
For its part, the powerful U.S. military has been grappling with the collapse of U.S.-backed Afghan forces after 20 years of training. “Was it worth it? Yes. Does it still hurt? Yes,” General David Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps, wrote in a memo to Marines.
Read More: China warns NATO, says small group of G7 states can do nothing
Via Reuters with inputs from GVS.