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Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, will organize crisis talks over Afghanistan with world leaders, as Britain puts pressure on the US to extend the evacuation timetable amid “distressing scenes” and deaths at the Kabul airport.
Johnson, as chairman of the G7, will hold talks Tuesday on evacuation arrangements for Western and Afghan citizens, with Britain saying seven Afghans died in an instant near Kabul airport on Saturday.
Johnson also wants G7 talks to focus on a long-term approach to the Afghan crisis, but accepts after the US withdrawal that China and Russia are now key players in the region.
Britain is working with France on a UN Security Council resolution that could gain the support of Moscow and Beijing. “It is very important that we have a united front,” said a British official.
The resolution is expected to cover issues such as counter-terrorism, humanitarian aid and the world’s dealings with the Taliban. “We will judge them by their actions,” the British official said.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the British Sunday Telegraph that the UK “should bring in countries with potentially moderating influence such as Russia and China, however inconvenient that may be”.
President Joe Biden suggested on Sunday that the US could extend the deadline for the withdrawal of US personnel from Afghanistan beyond August 31.
“We hope we don’t have to renew, but I suspect there will be discussions about how far along we are in the process,” he told reporters.
Lloyd Austin, the United States Secretary of Defense, has held talks with Ben Wallace, the British Defense Secretary. A British official said the evacuation timetable was “tight” as the UK is still trying to get people out who are said to be “in the low thousands”.
Downing Street has denied any rift between Johnson and Biden, but the British prime minister’s foreign policy — heavily reliant on the US — has been shaken by the crisis and has forced London to take other capitals to court.
While British ministers secretly expressed the way the US was withdrawing, Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister who led British troops to Afghanistan 20 years ago, said Washington’s strategy was based on “an imbecile political slogan about ending of the ‘forever wars’.”.
His comments were a reference to Biden’s pledge to remove US troops from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks.
The US and UK governments have come under heavy criticism since the Taliban took power a week ago in the wake of the withdrawal of US troops.
A meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, the UK and the US – is expected to take place this week. “This is a big moment for the UN,” said a British official.
British officials were moderately encouraged by a phone call last week between Raab and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, but no talks have yet taken place with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Some have argued that Johnson should recalibrate his foreign policy towards European allies after the bitterness of Brexit.
“One lesson we must learn is that if Britain and the EU countries are to play a significant military role in NATO, we must work closely together to develop a capability that means we are not dependent on an American presence,” Damian said. Green, a former Tory cabinet minister, said. “The sooner we start on this path, the better.”
A senior British military officer agreed. “This administration has put all its eggs – and the whisk and bowl – in the American basket,” he said. “The only ‘forever war’ Britain has is with the EU. It’s ridiculous.”
Johnson’s allies argue that the US has long been on track to free itself from conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan as Washington turns to Asia.
British Defense Secretary James Heappey said efforts to evacuate Britons and eligible Afghans from Kabul have improved over the past 24 hours, with more than 1,700 people fled the country. There are currently 1,000 British troops overseeing the operation at the airport.
Brigadier Dan Blanchford, who commands Britain’s ground-based military operation, said on Sunday that his troops had witnessed “harrowing scenes” while assisting in the evacuation. “The appalling difficulties that families and individuals face in getting to the airport are clear,” he said.
British officials warned Friday that it would take families between 24 and 48 hours to cross Kabul and reach the airport through Taliban checkpoints in the city.
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