UK evacuation from Afghanistan ‘down to hours', says UK defence secretary


The British effort to evacuate people by air from Kabul is “down to hours" now the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, has said.


Ben Wallace said troops would leave Kabul's airport when the US withdrew, which is due to happen on 31 August.


Mr Wallace said: "I don't think there is any likelihood of staying on after the United States.


"We are really down to hours now, not weeks. We have to make sure we exploit every minute to get people out."


At an emergency meeting of G7 world leaders on Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will ask US President Joe Biden for an extension of that deadline in order to allow more flights.


No 10 also said talks were ongoing with the Taliban, as “they do have a say in this”, adding the UK would continue rescuing people “as long as the security situation allows”.


But the prospect of an extension seemed ever more remote after the Taliban, who control Kabul and access to its airport, signalled on Monday that they would view this as a provocation.


The Ministry of Defence said 7,109 individuals had been evacuated from Afghanistan on UK flights since 13 August.


The Taliban's swift takeover of Afghanistan shocked its people and the world. It happened after foreign forces announced their withdrawal following a deal between the US and the Taliban, two decades after American-led forces removed the militants from power in 2001.


The Ministry of Defence said 7,109 individuals had been evacuated from Afghanistan on UK flights since 13 August.


The Taliban's swift takeover of Afghanistan shocked its people and the world. It happened after foreign forces announced their withdrawal following a deal between the US and the Taliban, two decades after American-led forces removed the militants from power in 2001.


Wallace said that it is really important for people to understand that the United States have over 6,000 people in Kabul airport.


"When they withdraw that will take away the framework … and we will have to go as well,” he said.


Although there have been some calls for Britain to carry on the evacuation effort without the Americans, Wallace declared that this was not an option.


“I don’t think there is any likelihood of staying on after the United States,” he said. “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.”


Downing Street said on Monday evening that the prime minister had spoken to Mr Biden, before Tuesday's G7 summit, saying they had "committed to driving international action" to "stabilise the situation".


They also agreed to continue working together to ensure that people eligible to leave can do so "including after the initial phase of the evacuation has ended".


Other US allies including France, Germany and Italy have also said they need more time beyond the 31 August deadline.


Armed forces minister James Heappey said about 1,800 "eligible people" or UK passport holders remained in Afghanistan - as well as 2,275 Afghans who can be resettled having worked for the UK government, and a further list of people from "wider Afghan civil society who we would like to get out if we're able".


He said airport checks were necessary for UK security and said there were "people right now in Kabul trying to get onto British flights that we have identified in our checks as being on the UK no-fly list".


Under the second phase, Afghans will be able to have resettlement claims processed at refugee camps or UK embassies in countries neighbouring Afghanistan.