Joe Biden defies calls to extend Afghanistan deadline amid fears for troops

President Biden
President Biden

Joe Biden cited heightened security risks to troops as he defied calls by Boris Johnson and other G7 leaders to delay his August 31 exit date from Afghanistan.

Following an emergency meeting of G7 leaders, chaired by the Prime Minister on Tuesday afternoon, the US President said the US was “on pace” to meet the deadline for evacuations.

He insisted there were “increasing risks” for his troops and their allies staying in Afghanistan beyond the end of the month.

The decision means the UK now has limited time remaining for its evacuation effort as US troops are providing security at Kabul airport to allow people to flee the country.

Mr Johnson had hoped to persuade Mr Biden to keep his forces on the ground past August 31 to allow the evacuation effort more time, although Defence Secretary Ben Wallace had conceded ahead of the talks that an extension to the deadline was “unlikely”.

Mr Johnson said after the virtual meeting that leaders had agreed the “number one condition” up to and after the deadline was that the Taliban must grant “safe passage for those who want to come out”.

He said there were “harrowing scenes” at Kabul airport for those attempting to flee Afghanistan, adding the UK would “go on right up until the last moment that we can”.

He said while he was “confident” of getting thousands more people out of Afghanistan “the situation at the airport is not getting any better, there are public order issues, it’s harrowing scenes for those who are trying to get out, and it’s tough for our military as well”.

The Taliban has warned that evacuations “will not be allowed” after August 31, while it earlier said it would not accept foreign troops remaining in Afghanistan past the end of the month.

The group, which swept to power last week in the wake of America’s major withdrawal of troops, has suggested that foreign forces remaining past the deadline would cross a “red line” that will “provoke a reaction”.

Mr Biden, speaking after the G7 meeting, said US and allied forces run the risk of attack by Isis affiliates and straining a “tenuous” working relationship with the Taliban if they stay in Afghanistan longer.

He told reporters: “There was strong agreement among the leaders both about the evacuation mission underway as well as the need to co-ordinate our approach to Afghanistan as we move forward.

“First, on evacuation, we agreed we will continue our close co-operation to get people out as efficiently and safely as possible.

“We are currently on a pace to finish by August 31, the sooner we can finish the better.

“Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops, but the completion by August 31 depends upon the Taliban continuing to co-operate, allow access to the airport for those who we are transporting now, and no disruption to our operations.”

Mr Biden added that he had asked for contingency plans to be put together to adjust the timetable “should that become necessary”.

Mr Johnson said G7 leaders – who were joined in Tuesday’s meeting by the secretaries general of the United Nations and Nato – had agreed on a “road map” for engaging with the Taliban.

He said: “The number one condition we’re setting as G7 is that they have got to guarantee, right the way through, through August 31 and beyond, safe passage for those who want to come out.

“Some will say that they don’t accept that and some, I hope, will see the sense of that, because the G7 has very considerable leverage – economic, diplomatic and political.”

A joint statement from leaders of the G7 countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US – reaffirmed their commitment to the people of Afghanistan.

The statement added: “The legitimacy of any future government depends on the approach it now takes to uphold its international obligations and commitments to ensure a stable Afghanistan.”

The Ministry of Defence said on Tuesday evening that some 9,226 people have now been evacuated from Kabul since the mission began on Friday.

This includes embassy staff, British nationals, those eligible under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (Arap) programme and a number of nationals from partner nations.

However, the Ministry of Defence said it would not comment on reports in the Guardian, which cite defence sources, that the evacuation could end within 24 to 36 hours.

The newspaper said that the US military requires two to three days to close its operations at the airport in Kabul, and that British troops aim to be at least 24 hours ahead of that – leaving a small window for remaining flights to depart.