Western troops at Kabul airport yesterday worked frantically to evacuate people from Afghanistan before a deadline on Tuesday next week as US President Joe Biden faced growing pressure to negotiate more time for the airlift of thousands trying to flee.
Leaders of the G7 — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US — were yesterday due to meet virtually to discuss the crisis.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was expected to push for a deadline extension.
Chaos punctuated by sporadic violence has gripped the airport, with foreign troops and Afghan security guards driving back crowds clamoring to get on flights following the Taliban’s takeover of the Afghan capital on Aug. 15.
Countries that have evacuated about 58,700 people over the past 10 days were trying to meet the deadline agreed earlier with the Taliban for the withdrawal of foreign forces, a NATO diplomat said.
“Every foreign force member is working at a war-footing pace to meet the deadline,” said the official, who declined to be identified.
Biden, who has said US troops might stay beyond the deadline, has warned the evacuation was going to be “hard and painful,” and much could still go wrong.
A Taliban official on Monday said that an extension would not be granted, although he said foreign forces had not sought one. Washington said negotiations were continuing.
CIA Director William Burns met Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul on Monday, two US sources said.
US Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told reporters after a briefing by intelligence officials that he did not believe the evacuation could be completed in the days remaining.
“It’s possible, but I think it’s very unlikely given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated,” Schiff said.
UK Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace told Sky News he was doubtful there would be a deadline extension, but German Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas said Germany was working with the US and Britain to ensure the NATO allies can fly civilians out after the deadline.
In Moscow, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov said the Kremlin was interested in serving as a middleman in resolving the crisis along with China, the US and Pakistan.
At the same time, Russia opposes the idea of allowing Afghan refugees to enter the ex-Soviet region of central Asia or having US troops deployed there, he said.
The G7 leaders could discuss taking a united stand on the question of whether to recognize a Taliban government, or alternatively renew sanctions to pressure the Islamist 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,” one European diplomat said. “And they will commit to continue to work closely together.”
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