Sign up for myFT Daily Digest to be the first to know about Afghan news.
Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister, to hold crisis talks on Afghanistan with world leaders, as Britain urges the United States to extend evacuation schedule amid “heartbreaking scenes” and deaths in Kabul airport.
Johnson, as G7 chairman, will hold talks on Tuesday that will include evacuation arrangements for Western nationals and Afghan citizens, with Britain saying seven Afghans died in a crash near Kabul airport on Saturday. .
Johnson also wants the G7 talks to focus on a longer-term approach to the Afghan crisis, but accepts, after the US pullout, that China and Russia are now key players in the region.
Britain is working with France on a UN Security Council resolution that could win the support of Moscow and Beijing. “It is really important that we have a united front,” said a British official.
The resolution is expected to cover issues such as the fight against terrorism, humanitarian aid and the conditions under which the world engages with the Taliban. “We will judge them by their actions,” said the British official.
Dominic Raab, British Foreign Secretary, told the British Sunday Telegraph newspaper that the UK “should appeal to countries with potentially moderating influence like Russia and China, however uncomfortable that is”.
Joe Biden, US President, suggested on Sunday that the United States could extend the deadline for withdrawing its personnel from Afghanistan beyond August 31.
“Our hope is that we won’t have to prolong it, but there are going to be discussions, I guess, on the state of play of the process,” he told reporters.
Lloyd Austin, US Secretary of Defense, had talks with Ben Wallace, British Secretary of Defense. A UK official said the evacuation schedule was “tight” with the UK still trying to get people out who are said to be “in the thousands”.
Downing Street has denied any disagreement between Johnson and Biden, but the British Prime Minister’s foreign policy, heavily dependent on the United States, has been rocked by the crisis and has forced London to court other capitals.
As British ministers privately denounced the way the United States withdrew, Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister who took British troops to Afghanistan 20 years ago, said Washington’s strategy was based on “a foolish political slogan about ending ‘eternal wars’.”
His comments referred to Biden’s promise to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The US and UK governments have come under heavy criticism since the Taliban seized power a week ago following the withdrawal of US troops.
A meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – is expected to take place this week. “This is a great moment for the UN,” said a British official.
British officials were moderately encouraged by an appeal last week between Raab and Wang Yi, his Chinese counterpart, but no appeal has yet taken place with Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister.
Some have argued that Johnson needs to recalibrate his foreign policy towards European allies after the bitterness of Brexit.
“One lesson we must learn is that if Britain and the NATO EU countries are to play a significant military role, we will have to work closely together to develop a capability which means we do not have to depend on an American presence, ”Damian Green, a former Conservative cabinet minister, said. “The sooner we start on this path, the better. “
A senior British army officer agreed. “This government put all its eggs – and the whisk and the bowl – in the American basket,” he said. “Britain’s only ‘eternal war’ is with the EU. It’s ridiculous.”
Johnson’s allies argue that the United States has long been on track to extricate itself from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as Washington focuses on Asia.
James Heappey, Britain’s Defense Minister, said efforts to evacuate eligible Britons and Afghans from Kabul had improved in the past 24 hours, with more than 1,700 people airlifted out of the country. There are currently 1,000 British troops overseeing the operation at the airport.
Brigadier Dan Blanchford, who commands the British military operation on the ground, said on Sunday his forces had witnessed “heartbreaking scenes” while assisting in the evacuation. “The horrific difficulties families and individuals face in getting to the airport are clear,” he said.
British authorities warned on Friday that it took families between 24 and 48 hours to cross Kabul and reach the airport via Taliban checkpoints in the city.