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Boris Johnson Insists G7 Can Engage With The Taliban After Failing To Persuade US To Extend Withdrawal Deadline

4 min read

Boris Johnson has said the G7 has a “roadmap” to deal with the Taliban after Joe Biden dismissed a push from the group of leaders to extend the deadline for US troops to leave Afghanistan.

The US President’s decision means it is virtually impossible for the main airport in Kabul to continue to be used by Britain and other Western countries to bring back thousands of refugees now at risk of reprisal from Islamic insurgents.

After chairing a virtual meeting of world leaders this afternoon the prime minister said they have agreed “not just a joint approach to dealing with the evacuation, but also a roadmap for the way in which we're going to engage with the Taliban, as it probably will be a Taliban government in Kabul”.

"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," Johnson said in a statement to media following the summit. 

"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.”

But he admitted he had failed to convince Biden to keep the remaining US soldiers beyond the end of the month, meaning evacuations from Hamid Karzai airport will likely end.

There is concern there will be a lack of co-operation by the Taliban, leading to increased violence, if troops remain in Kabul beyond the current deadline. 

"The UK alone has taken 9,000 people out of Kabul, I think 57 flights – huge, huge effort by our military," Johnson said.

"We will go on right up until the last moment that we can. But you have heard what the President of the United States has had to say, you have heard what the Taliban have said.

"I think you have got to understand the context in which we're doing this, we're confident we can get thousands more out.

"But 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."

Biden addressed his fellow leaders at the meeting of the G7, which also includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, for around seven minutes, after which an official from his administration told reporters the US was keeping to its existing timetable to withdraw the final 7,000 troops.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a press conference this afternoon that no evacuations from Afghanistan will be permitted after the August 31 deadline.

"August 31 is the time given and after that it's something that is against the agreement," he said.

"All people should be removed prior to that date. After that we do not allow them, it will not be allowed in our country, we will take a different stance.”

The Pentagon spokesman John Kirby earlier reiterated that the US military is still planning a full withdrawal by the end of the month.

"There's been no change to the timeline of the mission," he said.

This morning defence secretary Ben Wallace conceded an extension to the deadline for pulling out the remaining troops is “unlikely”.

“Not only because of what the Taliban has said but if you look at the public statements of President Biden I think it is unlikely," he told Sky News. "It is definitely worth us all trying and we will."

Wallace insisted it would not be appropriate to try to secure Kabul airport with UK troops after the US pulls out, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It's not about effectively whether I could fly in thousands of troops and secure the airport.

"Yes I could do that, I could probably secure the airport for a few months, or maybe a year or two.

"But for what purpose? For them to be shot at, attacked, people not to get to the airport and to trigger just a permanent fight? I don't think that is a solution."

Sir Mark Lyall Grant, a former national security adviser, said it was "totally unrealistic" to think there could be an extension to the deadline without the Taliban's consent.

"The Taliban could stop this evacuation process in one hour's time if they started firing missiles at departing planes, if they lobbed a mortar into the airport," he told BBC Radio 4's World at One.

"So this evacuation is happening with the cooperation of the Taliban.”

There are already “credible" reports of the Taliban carrying out summary executions, according to UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet.

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