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Seven Afghan civilians were killed in a crush at Kabul Airport on Saturday, despite efforts by British troops there to save them. This was in addition to two people shot dead by US troops last week and three killed when a US Air Force C-17 transport jet was cleared for take-off with desperate Afghan men clinging to the undercarriage.
The Taliban* is helping UK authorities straighten out the mayhem caused by the panicked US evacuation of Afghanistan, says a British government minister.
Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told reporters on Sunday that the insurgent movement was sorting evacuees and asylum-seekers into separate queues for the British and US airlift operations out of Kabul.
“Today the marshalling [that the] Taliban are doing is making a big difference”, Heappey said. “So if people are instructed to come forward we encourage them to do so because we are getting people through”.
The minister said the Royal Air Force had flown 1,721 people out of the Afghan capital on Saturday, and a further 731 people had been processed and were ready to board flights on Sunday.
In a tweet, Heappey praised the 600 British soldiers deployed in Kabul for their efforts to save Afghan civilians’ lives on Saturday in a crush at the gates of the fortress-like Hamid Karzai International Airport. Seven people lost their lives in the incident, adding to two shot dead by US troops last week and three killed when a US Air Force C-17 transport jet was cleared for take-off with desperate Afghan men clinging to the undercarriage.
© AFP 2021 / NICHOLAS GUEVARA
Heappey also said he hoped British troops could stay after the US forces finally abandon Afghanistan on 31 August, but acknowledged that would “depend on the Taliban” and “this is not something we can unilaterally decide to do”.
“Our relationship in Afghanistan may be easier in the future if we have a presence”, the minister claimed.
Questioned on speculation that the 31 August deadline could be extended, Heappey said it would be an “opportunity to continue with flights… but we are assuming nothing”.
“Absolutely nobody can say we’ll be able to get everybody out, the hard reality is that that simply may not be the case”, he cautioned. But he reassured Afghans seeking refuge in the UK: “People shouldn’t despair that when the military air bridge ends that’s the end of their chances, there will be other routes into the resettlement programme”.
On Sunday, the White House announced it was commandeering civilian airliners to help speed up the evacuation, saying planes operated by American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, Omni Air, Hawaiian Airlines, and United Airlines would be called up under the Civil Reserve Air Fleet scheme.
US President Joe Biden and his administration have drawn condemnation at home and abroad for their hurried evacuation of Afghanistan after failing to foresee the Taliban’s rapid takeover following the final withdrawal of US and NATO troops earlier this year.
*The Taliban is a terrorist group banned in Russia and many other countries.