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UK Ministers Allegedly Mull Talks With Taliban Amid Fears Swift US Pullout Could Imperil Evacuations

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The airlift of Western citizens and Afghans who worked for foreign governments is currently being ramped up, with President Biden vowing US forces would remain until the evacuation of Americans was finished, even if that meant staying past the 31 August deadline for complete withdrawal.

The UK government is concerned that if American forces currently deployed to Kabul international airport to ensure security were to leave, the evacuation of thousands of people from Taliban*- reclaimed Afghanistan would be endangered, reported The Guardian.

It was also suggested that some UK ministers and members of the military were mulling dealing directly with the Taliban. This, according to the outlet, would ultimately legitimise the position of the militant group, which many believe has not evolved since its inception.

There is no clarity regarding how long Washington intends to keep its contingent of 6,000 troops on the ground to safeguard the situation, government sources are cited as saying, adding that the UK could not continue airlifting people out without their presence. Bearing that in mind, along with uncertainty over the Taliban’s future actions, the UK wanted to wrap up its evacuation as rapidly as possible.

“There’s a realistic view that we want to just go as quickly as possible,” a Whitehall source was cited as saying.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier appeared to hint at the possibility of recognising the Taliban. “We will judge this regime based on the choices it makes and by its actions rather than by its words,” Johnson told MPs.

Earlier on Sky News Gen Sir Nick Carter, the head of the British armed forces, said he believed the Taliban sought an “inclusive Afghanistan”. He spoke of the Islamist group as “country boys” who had “honour at the heart of what they do”.

“I do think they [Taliban] have changed and recognise Afghanistan has evolved and the fundamental role women have played in that evolution,” said Carter, when questioned about the Taliban’s notorious misogyny and violence against women.

‘Elusive Timeline’

The airport in Kabul witnessed scenes of chaos earlier this week, when Taliban seized the capital, completing their sweeping offensive to reclaim territory from Afghan government forces. In the wake of the events, former President Ashraf Ghani announced his resignation and left the country.

Images online showed hundreds of Afghans flocking to the Hamid Karzai International Airport, hoping to leave the country on one of the US flights.

© AP Photo / Shekib Rahmani

Hundreds of people gather near a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane at a perimeter at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.

The airport has since been secured by the US ahead of a planned evacuation deadline of 31 August.

President Biden on Wednesday stated that US forces would remain until the evacuation of Americans was finished, even if that meant staying past the deadline.

Presidential national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday that the Taliban had agreed to allow “safe passage” from Afghanistan for civilians seeking to join the US-directed airlift from the capital.

Sullivan tweeted that the forces would hold the airport “to get all Americans out of Afghanistan”.

When I was asked about whether we’re going to get all Americans out of Afghanistan I said “that’s what we intend to do” and that’s exactly what we’ll do, and are accomplishing right now with HKIA re-opened and operational, thanks to the incredible work of our troops and diplomats

— Jake Sullivan (@JakeSullivan46) August 17, 2021

​However, he conceded there is no timetable for completing the evacuation. London’s attempts to seek reassurances over that elusive “timeline” had not proved successful, a source was cited as saying.

Around 700 Britons, Afghans and others were airlifted out of Kabul on Tuesday, according to official figures.

Speaking ahead of the airlifting of another 1,000 people on seven more aircraft, General Carter said: “The situation has stabilised since the weekend but it remains precarious.”

A security source added that the UK was forced to rely on “uncomfortable intermediaries” regarding Taliban’s actions, as the Islamists have a separate agreement with the US to allow its ongoing withdrawal.

‘Catastrophic Failure of Western Policy’

Amid the developments in Afghanistan, Boris Johnson has been fending off criticism over his government’s “catastrophic” and “appalling” conduct. The Prime Minister insisted the West was unable to continue the US-led mission in Afghanistan without America’s “might”, air power and logistics.

Addressing MPs after recalling parliament from summer recess over the Afghanistan situation, he underscored that a military defence of the war-torn nation by the west was not possible in the absence of Washington’s support.

© AP Photo / Lt. Mark Andries

Marines assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) await a flight to Kabul Afghanistan, at Al Udeied Air Base, Qatar Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021

At the heated House of Commons session, a chorus of over 30 Tories deplored Britain’s failure to anticipate the Taliban takeover of Kabul. The government’s conduct was questioned by high-profile Conservatives such as ex-prime minister Theresa May, former defence secretary Liam Fox, and former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Dozens of MPs and peers slammed Britain’s perceived failures in intelligence and preparation regarding developments in Afghanistan.

© REUTERS / Stringer

A member of Taliban (C) stands outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16

They also ridiculed Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who were both on holiday when Kabul was being besieged by Taliban. Addressing Raab, Labour leader Keir Starmer said the foreign secretary could hardly “coordinate an international response from the beach”.

Theresa May suggested the UK ought to have attempted to form a NATO alliance to remain in Afghanistan without the US.

“Was our intelligence really so poor? Was our understanding of the Afghan government so weak? Was our knowledge on the ground so inadequate? Or did we just think we had to follow the United States and on a wing and a prayer it would be all right on the night?” she said.

Ex-cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith said the “parallels” with the departure from Vietnam of the Americans was “shocking but also very true”.

“Did we at any stage demand that the US government review their decision? Did we say to them this was wrong?” queried Iain Duncan Smith.

Boris Johnson also faced backlash in the House of Lords. Philip Hammond, a former defence secretary and chancellor, weighed in on the developments as signalling a “catastrophic failure of western policy”.

Michael Howard, ex-Tory leader and home secretary, said the withdrawal from Afghanistan “fatally undermines the credibility of any assurance of support – past, present or future – that we in the west offer to those who need it”.

Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative foreign affairs committee chair, who served in Afghanistan, acknowledged that the UK and its western allies had been given a “very harsh lesson”.

“This doesn’t need to be defeat, but at the moment it damn well feels like it,” he said.

© AP Photo / Rahmat Gul

Taliban fighters patrol in Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021.

Referring to US President Joe Biden’s statements blaming unfolding events in Afghanistan on his predecessor, Donald Trump, and unwillingness of Afghan forces to fight the Taliban, Tugendhat added:

“To see their commander-in-chief call into question the courage of men I fought with – to claim that they ran – is shameful. Those who have not fought for the colours they fly should be careful about criticising those who have.”

Many questioned the “catastrophic failure of our intelligence or assessment of our intelligence”, regarding ability to anticipate the speed with which the Taliban reclaimed ground. Some Conservative MPs have privately pressed for an inquiry by the intelligence and security committee and for Johnson to release the intelligence analysis, added The Guardian.

The prime minister told MPs his government would do everything possible to avert a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

“We must deal with this position as it now is. Accepting what we have achieved and what we had not achieved,” he said.

Johnson pledged to double the aid budget to Afghanistan to £286 mln, and said the UK would use the upcoming G7 meeting to coordinate international humanitarian assistance.


*The Taliban is a terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries

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