Afghanistan live updates: Taliban say August 31 deadline for troop withdrawals a 'red line'

Afghanistan live updates: Taliban say August 31 deadline for troop withdrawals a 'red line'

The Taliban say the 31 August deadline for the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan is a "red line" and that no extension will be allowed.

US President Joe Biden said on Sunday that personnel may need to stay beyond that date to continue the evacuation of all Americans (see full story below). Britain is urging Washington to extend the evacuation and Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to press Biden at an emergency G7 meeting on Tuesday.

But Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen has said that such a move by the US or the UK would mean "they are extending occupation" and would bring "consequences", creating "mistrust" between the two sides.

See our live blog below for the latest updates.

Key developments:

  • The German military says an Afghan security guard was killed and another three were wounded in an exchange of fire involving German and American forces at Kabul airport early on Monday.
  • Boris Johnson said on Sunday that leaders of the G7, whose presidency is currently assured by the UK, will meet remotely on Tuesday for "urgent discussions" on Afghanistan.
  • Western countries are rushing to evacuate their citizens as well as Afghans considered at-risk following the Taliban takeover.
  • At least seven people died in the chaos outside the Kabul airport, the British military said on Sunday, as thousands try to flee.
  • The UK prime minister spoke on Sunday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying countries should work together to share the burden over aid and refugees.
  • The US defence department has ordered the emergency use of commercial aircraft to assist in Kabul evacuations.
  • The Taliban have sent fighters north to face a potential rebellion in the Panjshir Valley.


Evacuations from Afghanistan to Europe: the tally so far

Context: the White House said on Sunday that around 25,100 people had been evacuated by the US and its allies since August 14. President Biden is aiming to pull out all remaining 10-15,000 Americans and hopes to do the same for Afghan allies and their families (50-65,000 people) by August 31, a task deemed "mathematically impossible" by the EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell.
Here's a round-up of evacuations to main European countries:
UK: 5,725 people since August 13, including 3,100 Afghans.
Germany: nearly 3,000 people of 38 nationalities on 21 flights. The United States also organised the evacuation of some 5,000 people to its military base in Ramstein.
Italy: around 1,600 Afghan civilians in less than a week, with an overall target of 2,500.
France: 100 French nationals, nearly 40 nationals of partner countries and some 1,300 Afghans.
Denmark: 650 people including at least 45 Afghans and their families.
Poland: more than 350 people have already landed.
Belgium: the first two planes arrived Monday with 226 people, mostly Afghans and their families, from Islamabad where Belgian forces have already evacuated some 400 people.
Spain: 314 Afghans arrived overnight on board two military planes. Via its bases in Rota and Moron in Andalusia, it also now serves as a transit country for US evacuations.
Sweden: over 170 people including 68 who worked for its army who have residence permits.
Hungary: the first plane participating in the airlift arrived Sunday evening with 173 people including 96 Afghans as well as Hungarians and Americans, evacuated via Uzbekistan. At least 26 Hungarians had previously been brought out by allies.
Bulgaria: 20 nationals evacuated via allied planes.
Romania: over 45 Romanians repatriated including 15 on a Romanian military plane.
Austria: at least eight Austrians have been evacuated, dozens more and Afghans with Austrian residence permits are waiting to leave. 
Switzerland: around 100 people so far, including at least 11 Swiss and Afghans with their families. A 300-seat plane flew to Tashkent on Monday to transport evacuees from Kabul to Uzbekistan.

Iran seeks a government 'representative of Afghan diversity'

Iran has called on "all parties" in Afghanistan to end the violence and to negotiate to form a government "representative of the diversity" of the country, and which wants good relations with its neighbours.
"There is no military solution to the crisis", foreign affairs spokesman Saïd Khatibzadeh told a televised press briefing.
"All groups and all political camps must refrain from resorting to force and work towards negotiation and dialogue," he said, adding that Tehran keeps open a permanent channel of communication with all sides in Afghanistan.
Iran shares a border of more than 900 km with Afghanistan and had conflicting relations with the Taliban during their previous rule, which Tehran never recognized.
But its Shi'ite government as recently showed signs of a rapprochement with the Taliban's Sunni militia in the name of pragmatism.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Iran has accepted more than 3.46 million Afghans on its soil, the vast majority of them refugees or undocumented, more than 4% of the country's population.
Khatibzadeh would not say how many Afghan refugees had entered Iran recently.

Russia says it won't intervene in standoff with Taliban

Russia says it will not interfere in the stand-off between the Taliban and their opponents in Afghanistan.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization member states discussed the standoff and its implications of “another civil war in Afghanistan." He says that, “Of course, no one is going to intervene in these events.”

Taliban spokesman said Monday the group’s forces have surrounded Panjshir, the only one of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces that has not yet fallen to the Taliban. Several Taliban opponents have gathered in Panjshir.

They include Amrullah Saleh, the vice president in the toppled government who claims to be the acting president, and Ahmad Massoud, son of the slain commander of the Northern Alliance militias that partnered with the U.S. to drive the Taliban from power in 2001.

The Collective Security Treaty Organization includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Moscow fought a 10-year war in Afghanistan that ended with Soviet troops’ withdrawal in 1989 and has made a diplomatic comeback as a mediator, jockeying with the U.S. for influence in the country. It has hosted several rounds of talks on Afghanistan, most recently in March, that involved the Taliban — even though Russia has labeled them a terrorist organisation.


Taliban won't form government 'as long as single US soldier present' in country

The Taliban will not announce the constitution of a government in Afghanistan as long as American soldiers remain on its soil, two sources within the Islamist movement told AFP on Monday.
"It was decided that the formation of the government (...) would not be announced as long as a single American soldier was present in Afghanistan," said one of the sources. The information was confirmed by a second.

Pakistan gets Taliban assurance against attacks

Pakistan’s interior minister says the Taliban have assured his country they will not allow the outlawed Pakistani Taliban — a separate militant group from the one in Afghanistan — to use Afghan soil for attacks against Pakistan.

Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said on Monday that his ministry has information that amid the Taliban sweep across Afghanistan, some of the leaders and members of the Pakistani Taliban, or Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, were freed from Afghan prisons.

Ahmed said Islamabad was in contact with the Taliban over the matter.

The Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for several past attacks, including the 2014 deadly attack on a Peshawar school that killed 154 people, mostly schoolchildren.

Islamabad alleges the Pakistani Taliban have been hiding in Afghanistan for the past several years, after fleeing military operations launched against them inside Pakistan.

Ahmed also said that since last week, Pakistan has helped more than 2,000 foreigners and Pakistanis leave Afghanistan by air and land routes. Pakistan is issuing visas upon arrival to all diplomats, foreigners and journalists seeking to leave Kabul over security concerns.


7th French evacuation flight arrives in Paris

A 7th plane operating as part of the French airlift out of Kabul arrived in Paris overnight on Sunday carrying an "overwhelming majority of Afghans", a French army chief told AFP.
Colonel Pascal Ianni said the aircraft landed at Roissy airport at around 2.30am with 250 passengers, all but 10 of them Afghans.
Under Operation Apagan, France has repatriated just under 100 French people. and more than 1,300 Afghans via Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, he added. Two more flights are due to arrive in Paris during the day.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly are expected in the UAE on Monday.
Evacuated Afghans will be able to apply for asylum in France if they wish. All are housed, given health checks and fed on arrival.
As well as French nationals, Paris also wants to help Afghans who worked with the French army, French organizations and NGOs targeted by the Taliban.

UK will make case for evacuations after 31 August deadline

The UK’s defence secretary said on Monday the government would make the case for extending the evacuations of people from Afghanistan beyond the 31 August deadline agreed with the Taliban.

Ben Wallace told reporters UK PM Boris Johnson "will, at the G7 obviously, try to raise the possibility of the US extending".
The UK is hosting a virtual meeting of the G7 on Tuesday for “urgent discussions” on the situation in Afghanistan.
Once the US pulls out, the UK will have to follow suit, Wallace added. 
"It is very important for people to understand that the US has over 6,000 people at Kabul airport and when they withdraw, it will take away that framework (...) and we will have to leave as well," he said. 
The British army said on Sunday evening that it had evacuated 5,725 people from Afghanistan since 13 August, including 3,100 Afghans.

‘10 million children need assistance to survive’ - UNICEF

The chief of UNICEF has said there are around 10 million children in Afghanistan who “need humanitarian assistance to survive”.
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement there were an estimated one million children “projected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition over the course of this year and could die without treatment”.
She added there are an estimated 4.2 million children out of school, and the UN has documented, since January, “over 2,000 grave violations of children’s rights”.

“We anticipate that the humanitarian needs of children and women will increase over the coming months amidst a severe drought and consequent water scarcity, the devastating socioeconomic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the onset of winter,” she said. 
Fore added that UNICEF would continue to have an on the ground presence in the country “now and in the days to come”.
“We urge the Taliban and other parties to ensure that UNICEF and our humanitarian partners have safe, timely and unfettered access to reach children in need wherever they are,” she said.

Britain urges US to extend Kabul evacuations

Britain is urging the United States to extend its evacuation effort in Kabul beyond August 31, saying without the Americans other countries will have no choice but to stop their own operations to help people fleeing the Taliban takeover.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to press President Joe Biden at an emergency meeting of Group of Seven leaders on Tuesday convened by Britain.

Some UK military leaders have said Britain should keep troops at Kabul airport to continue the evacuation effort even if the Americans leave. But Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said Monday that “there is a hard reality that there would be no international airlift without the way that the U.S. are underpinning it.”

He said that “whether or not the US can be persuaded to stay is a matter for the prime minister tomorrow in the G-7 meeting.” He said that an agreement from the Taliban would also be needed for an extension.

Biden has not ruled out extending the airlift beyond the Aug. 31 deadline he set before the Taliban’s swift takeover in Afghanistan, but he said he hoped it would not be necessary.


Taliban spokesman: 31 August withdrawal a 'red line'

A spokesman for the Taliban said the deadline of 31 August for the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan was a "red line" and that no extension would be allowed.

While U.S. President Joe Biden had promised the withdrawal of troops by the 31 August deadline, he has since said personnel may need to stay to continue the evacuation of all Americans from the country.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, speaking in an interview with UK broadcaster Sky News, said "if they extended, that means they are extending occupation".

"If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations - the answer is no. Or there would be consequences," he went on.

He added that any extension would create "mistrust" between the Taliban and the two sides.

Biden: Kabul airlift deadline may be extended beyond August 31

President Joe Biden said Sunday the U.S.-led evacuation of Americans, at-risk Afghans and others from the Kabul airport accelerated this weekend, although it remains vulnerable to threats posed by the Islamic State extremist group, AP reports.

One week after the Taliban completed its takeover of Afghanistan by capturing Kabul, Biden said discussions are underway among military officials about potentially extending the airlift beyond Biden's Aug. 31 deadline. “Our hope is we will not have to extend, but there are discussions,” he said, suggesting the possibility that the Taliban will be consulted.

Since Aug. 14, one day before the Taliban entered Kabul, the airlift has evacuated 28,000 people, Biden said. He said that included 11,000 who had departed from Kabul in a 36-hour period this weekend, but he did not provide details. The number appeared to include flights by charter and non-U.S. military aircraft as well as the U.S. Air Force C-17 and C-130 transport planes that have been flying daily from the capital. The U.S. military is controlling air traffic on both the civilian and military sides of the airport.

Tens of thousands of people remain to join the airlift, which has been slowed by security issues and U.S. bureaucracy hurdles.

Biden asserted, without a full explanation, that U.S. forces have managed to improve access to the airport for Americans and others seeking to get on flights. He suggested that the perimeter had been extended, widening a “safe zone.”

“What I’m not going to do is talk about the tactical changes we’re making to make sure we maintain as much security as we can," he said. "We have constantly, how can I say it, increased rational access to the airport, where more folk can get there more safely. It's still a dangerous operation but I don’t want to go into the detail of how we’re doing that.”

Later Biden added: “We've discussed a lot with the Taliban. They’ve been cooperative in extending some of the perimeter.”

He said groups of Americans in Kabul are being moved more efficiently and safely to the airport, but he provided no details.

“Any American who wants to get home, will get home,” he asserted.

Earlier Sunday, administration officials said the U.S. military is considering “creative ways” to get Americans and others into the Kabul airport for evacuation from Afghanistan amid “acute” security threats, and the Pentagon on Sunday ordered six U.S. commercial airlines to help move evacuees from temporary sites outside of Afghanistan.

Addressing a criticism cited by many Republicans, Biden said no Afghan evacuees are being flown directly to the United States from Afghanistan without prior screening. He said they are being screened in third countries.

Biden and his top aides have repeatedly cited their concern that extremist groups in Afghanistan will attempt to exploit the chaos around the Kabul airport.

“The threat is real, it is acute, it is persistent and something we’re focused with every tool in our arsenal," said Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.

Sullivan said on CNN's “State of the Union” that 3,900 people had been airlifted out of Kabul on U.S. military flights over the past 24 hours. A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to provide details not yet made public, said those people were flown on a total of 23 flights — 14 by C-17 transports and nine aboard C-130 cargo planes.

That represents an increase from 1,600 flown out aboard U.S. military planes in the previous 24 hours, but remains far below the 5,000 to 9,000 that the military says it has the capacity to airlift daily. Sullivan also said about 3,900 people were airlifted on non-U.S. military flights over the past 24 hours.

The Biden administration has given no firm estimate of the number of Americans seeking to leave Afghanistan. Some have put the total between 10,000 and 15.000. Sullivan on Sunday put it at “several thousand.”

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” Austin said that as Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline for ending the evacuation operation approaches, he will recommend whether to give it more time. Tens of thousands of Americans and others have yet to be flown out of the country.

Austin’s interview with ABC aired Sunday but was taped Saturday. In a notice Sunday, the State Department urged people seeking to leave Afghanistan as part of an organized private evacuation effort not come to the Kabul airport “until you have received specific instructions” to do so from the U.S. Embassy’s flight organizer. The notice said that others, including American citizens, who have received specific instructions from the embassy to make their way to the airport should do so.

Austin said the airlift would continue for as long as possible.

“We’re gonna try our very best to get everybody, every American citizen who wants to get out, out,” Austin said in the interview. “And we’ve got -- we continue to look at different ways to -- in creative ways -- to reach out and contact American citizens and help them get into the airfield.”

The British military said Sunday another seven people had been killed in the unceasing crush of crowds outside the airport.

Republicans in Congress stepped up their criticism of Biden's response. “If the Taliban is saying that Americans can travel safely to the airport, then there is no better way to make sure they get safely to the airport than to use our military to escort them,” GOP Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, an Army veteran, said on ABC's “This Week.”

Ryan Crocker, who served as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan under Presidents George W, Bush and Barack Obama, told CBS' “Face the Nation” that Biden’s management of the withdrawal was “catastrophic” and had unleashed a “global crisis.”

A central problem in the evacuation operation is processing evacuees once they reach other countries in the region and in Europe. Those temporary waystations, including in Qatar, Bahrain and Germany, are sometimes reaching capacity, although new sites are being made available, including in Spain.

In an attempt to alleviate that, and to free up military aircraft for missions from Kabul, the Pentagon on Sunday activated the Civil Reserve Air Fleet. The Defense Department said 18 aircraft from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, Omni Air, Hawaiian Airlines and United Airlines will be directed to ferry evacuees from interim waystations. The airlines will not fly into Afghanistan. The six participating airlines have agreed to assist for a little less than two weeks, which roughly coincides with the currently planned duration of the airlift, which is to end Aug. 31.

The civil airline reserve system was last activated in 2003 for the Iraq War. The commercial airliners will retain their civilian status but the military's Air Mobility Command will control the flights.

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