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27th Mar 2023

US will not delay Kabul pull-out, Biden tells Western allies

  • UK prime minister Boris Johnson at the virtual meeting of the G7 leaders (Photo: Number 10 - Flickr)
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European leaders were unable to convince US president Joe Biden to extend the withdrawal deadline for US troops beyond 31 August at a virtual meeting of the G7 leaders of the globe's richest countries on Tuesday (24 August).

Both Biden and the Taliban, which took over Afghanistan in recent weeks after 20 years of US and Nato engagement, rejected the extension of the deadline needed for evacuation of Afghan staff, their families, and vulnerable groups.

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Biden said after the G7 meeting that the US's completion of evacuations by 31 August was dependent on the Taliban allowing access to the airport.

He added, however, that there were going to be contingency plans to stay past the deadline to finish evacuating Americans and Afghan allies.

The Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the group was opposed to letting Afghan nationals leave.

EU concern about the timing

European Council president Charles Michel told reporters after the G7 meeting that "several leaders have expressed concern about this timing, 31 August, to try to extend this timing", and refused to say what was Biden's response.

He added that it would be "key to guarantee safe passage".

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell earlier said that 260 of the EU's local staff and families had been evacuated.

Previously, the EU has said there were 400 local staff and families in Afghanistan who have worked with the bloc.

"You've heard what the president of the United States has had to say. You've heard what the Taliban have said," UK prime minister Boris Johnson, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the G7, told reporters after the meeting.

"We're confident we can get thousands more out, but the situation at the airport is not getting any better," he added

Leaders are hoping the Taliban can be tamed with the possibility of funds and international recognition.

Johnson said the virtual summit focused on a "roadmap for future engagement with the Taliban".

The G7 statement set out conditions for recognising the Taliban, the only leverage that seemed to be left in the Western leaders' hands.

The conditions are preventing terrorism, respecting human rights, in particular those of women and minorities, and "on pursuing an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan".

Johnson said that the "number one condition we're setting as G7 is that they've got to guarantee right the way through, through August 31 and beyond, safe passage for those who want to come out".

"The legitimacy of any future government depends on the approach it now takes to uphold its international obligations and commitments to ensure a stable Afghanistan," the G7 statement said.

Transitory phase

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen warned not to underestimate the potential political trade-off with the Taliban.

"We are in a transitory phase where we should not underestimate [that] we have some leverage, Afghanistan is a poor country, there is an enormous need of support," she said.

Von der Leyen added that there are talks with the Taliban, but that these are "operational talks, separated from political talks, or talks on recognition".

Johnson described the Western allies toolkit, including withholding funds, as "huge leverage".

"What we're saying is Afghanistan can't lurch back into becoming a breeding ground of terror, Afghanistan can't become a narco-state, girls have got to be educated up to the age of 18," he said.

The G7 statement did not mention the possibility of sanctions against the Taliban.

US troops, which have secured the airport in Kabul, have started leaving Afghanistan, US media reported, with evacuations due to end in a week.

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