At G7 summit, EU fails to extend the deadline for Kabul airport evacuations

A handout photo made available by the Chigi Palace Press Office shows Italian Premier Mario Draghi during a virtual G7 meeting on the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, Rome, Italy, 24 August 2021. [Handout photo/EPA/EFE]

At the G7 summit on Tuesday (24 August), EU leaders urged US President Joe Biden to continue securing Kabul airport until operations to evacuate vulnerable Afghans are completed past the 31 August deadline, apparently without success.

Leaders of the G7 major industrialised nations – Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States – met virtually to discuss how to complete the chaotic withdrawal and deal with the Taliban now that they have seized power.

The EU was represented at the summit by the Presidents of the European Commission and the European Council, Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel.

Michel said European leaders had urged their “American friends” to “secure the airport as long as necessary to complete the operations and ensure a fair and equitable access to the airport for all nationals entitled to evacuation”.

The United States has an agreement with the Taliban, which overthrew Afghanistan’s former Western-backed government, to withdraw US forces by 31 August, including from Kabul airport.

Many fear that past this deadline, the Taliban will simply close the airport.

Despite the current pace of evacuation, which has involved dozens of military transport planes from the United States and around the world, many thousands of Afghans who officials and advocacy groups say face potential retribution at the hands of the Taliban, will not be able to leave by Biden’s deadline.

Since 14 August, more than 70,000 people, including American citizens, NATO personnel and Afghans at risk, have been evacuated from Kabul, Biden said on Tuesday.

The Taliban warned Monday there would be “consequences” if the United States and its allies try to remain in Afghanistan beyond the agreed deadline.

Taliban warn of 'consequences' if West remains in Afghanistan beyond 31 August

The Taliban warned there would be “consequences” if the United States and its allies try to remain in Afghanistan beyond next week, as Washington ramped up its efforts to evacuate tens of thousands of people desperate to flee.

But Washington’s European allies fear this will not give them enough time to evacuate Afghans who worked for international missions or militaries and who are now at risk of Taliban reprisal. The Association of Wartime Allies, a refugee resettlement group, estimates 250,000 Afghans, including interpreters and drivers and other workers who helped the US effort, need to be evacuated.

“Several leaders during the G7 meeting expressed concerns about this timing, 31 August, and we have also had the opportunity to express our opinion on that,” Michel said.

In addition to the European leaders who were on the call, Michel said that Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had spoken with other EU heads of states and government.

“They told us that for them it is very important to try to extend this time,” he said.

Michel refused to tell journalists how Biden had responded.

The EU will continue to advocate democracy and human rights in the world beyond the end of the Western military mission in Afghanistan, Michel said.

The end of military operations in Afghanistan “is not the end of our commitment to promote rule of law, democracy and rights in the world – on the contrary we must be more determined than ever,” he told a news conference after taking part in a G7 summit on Afghanistan.

“This must be clear to actors who are trying to take advantage of the current situation.”

The talks did not result “in new dates” for the end of the evacuation mission, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, although there were intensive discussions on whether a civilian-operated airport in Kabul could be used after 31 August.

She added that there were intensive discussions on whether a civilian-operated airport could be used after that deadline and that Germany was ready to work with countries neighboring Afghanistan, such as Pakistan and Iran, to help refugees.

Most European Union staff based in Afghanistan, including Afghans, have been evacuated from Kabul airport, von der Leyen said.

“I’m very grateful that most of the staff, including the Afghan staff, including their families, have been evacuated now from Afghanistan and are safe,” she said.

She added that the G7 leaders agreed it was their “moral duty” to help the Afghan people following the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan.

“The situation is indeed a tragedy for the Afghan people and it is a major setback for international community,” she said.

Von der Leyen said aid was crucial for those facing immediate risk in Afghanistan, in particular the large number of internally displaced people, of whom 80% are women and girls.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the top condition of the G7 agreement was that militants must allow safe passage to Afghans wanting to leave the country even after that deadline.

The G7 has made it a priority that Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers break all ties with terrorist organisations and that the Taliban must engage in the fight against terrorism, an official at the French presidency said.

Speaking after President Emmanuel Macron attended the G7 meeting, the official also told reporters the 31 August deadline to withdraw from Afghanistan was in the hands of the United States.

Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers said on Tuesday they wanted all foreign evacuations from the country completed by the 31 August deadline, adding they would not agree to an extension.

The Afghan government collapsed as the United States and its allies withdrew troops two decades after they ousted the Taliban in the weeks after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States by al Qaeda militants, whose leaders had found safe haven in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

Leaders of the Taliban, who have sought to show a more moderate face since capturing Kabul, have begun talks on forming a government that have included discussions with some old enemies, including former President Hamid Karzai.

The Taliban appointed a former Guantanamo detainee, Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, as acting defence minister, the Qatari-based Al Jazeera news channel said, citing a Taliban source. Some former Afghan government officials say they have been ordered back to work.

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