Johnson and Biden discuss Afghanistan evacuation effort ahead of G7 meeting

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has discussed evacuation efforts in Afghanistan with President Biden, ahead of an emergency G7 leaders meeting to discuss the crisis.

Downing Street said that during a call on Monday the two leaders agreed to continue working together to ensure eligible people can leave the country, including after August 31 when the initial phase of the evacuation is due to end in line with America’s planned withdrawal.

In a readout of the call, the White House said the two leaders discussed plans for the virtual meeting on Tuesday, “underscoring the importance of close coordination with allies and partners in managing the current situation and forging a common approach to Afghanistan policy”.

A spokesperson said in No 10’s readout: “The leaders agreed to continue working together to ensure those who are eligible to leave are able to, including after the initial phase of the evacuation has ended.”

The spokesperson added the two leaders: “Committed to driving international action, including through the G7 and UN Security Council, to stabilise the situation, support the Afghan people and work towards an inclusive and representative Afghan government.”

The call comes as the Prime Minister is expected to urge the US president to delay the withdrawal of forces from Kabul airport during the virtual summit of G7 leaders.

Ben Wallace comments
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace: ‘Down to hours now, not weeks’

Earlier on Monday, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the Kabul evacuation effort is “down to hours now, not weeks” as he conceded Britain’s involvement will end when the US leaves Afghanistan.

The Taliban also said any attempt to continue the operation past August 31 would “provoke a reaction” as Boris Johnson prepared to press Joe Biden for an extension to the deadline.

The armed forces minister James Heappey said the numbers of people the UK wanted to evacuate from “Afghan civil society” had “grown significantly” in recent weeks, in an effort to resettle those who may face recrimination from the Taliban.

But the minister also warned the UK will not be able to evacuate everyone it hopes to.

Mr Heappey said: “We will get out as many as we possibly can but we have been clear throughout that there is a hard reality that we won’t be able to get out everybody that we want to”.

But he added: “The airlift is not the only route out of Afghanistan, not the only route to the UK.”

He said UK nationals and more than 2,200 Afghans who helped British forces – the remaining people under the Arap (Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy) – are the “focus” of the Government’s evacuation efforts from Afghanistan.

Speaking to reporters in Fort George, near Inverness, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “The Prime Minister is, obviously at the G7, going to try and raise the prospect of seeing if the United States will extend.

“It’s really important for people to understand the United States have over 6,000 people in Kabul airport and when they withdraw that will take away the framework… and we will have to go as well.

“I don’t think there is any likelihood of staying on after the United States. If their timetable extends even by a day or two that will give us a day or two more to evacuate people.

“Because we are really down to hours now, not weeks, and we have to make sure we exploit every minute to get people out.”

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Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Sky News: “This is something… you can say it’s a red line.

“President Biden announced this agreement that on August 31 they would withdraw all their military forces. So, if they extend it that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that.

“It will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation, so it will provoke a reaction.”

Downing Street said the UK will continue its evacuation process “as long as the security situation allows” when asked about the Taliban spokesman’s remarks.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman that “discussions on the ground” have been held with the Taliban and added: “I’ve seen the reports. I don’t think we’ve had any direct communication to that end.”

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said Mr Johnson must use the G7 call to “step up and demand” the extension past August 31, secure a pact to “deal with the unfolding refugee crisis” and develop a strategy to support those left behind.

“The Prime Minister has had 18 months to plan for this – the world’s eyes are on tomorrow’s meeting to make the next seven days count,” the Labour MP said.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace held talks with their Washington counterparts over the weekend to call for an extension.

Government officials said there is “no fixed date” on when the UK will withdraw, but it is feared that without US boots on the ground, the remaining allied forces would be unable to secure Hamid Karzai International Airport from the crowds looking to flee the Taliban takeover, or other potential security threats.

Mr Biden signalled on Sunday that he did not want US armed forces to stay in the central Asian country beyond August.

Asked about delaying the withdrawal of American troops during a press conference, the US president said: “Our hope is that we don’t have to extend but there are discussions going on about how far we are.”

Meanwhile, it was reported that a firefight at one of the gates of Kabul’s international airport killed at least one Afghan soldier on Monday.