U.K. Sees Little Chance of G-7 Swaying Biden on Afghanistan
(Bloomberg) -- U.S. President Joe Biden will face a plea from his closest allies to extend the Afghanistan evacuation deadline, though the U.K. warned they are unlikely to change his mind as conditions on the ground become more perilous.
The airlift will dominate a virtual Group of Seven summit Tuesday starting 2:30 p.m. in London and convened by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson just a week before the Aug. 31 date set by Biden to complete the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The American exit ultimately accelerated the rapid Taliban takeover and collapse of the Afghan government.
The stakes were raised further after the Taliban spokesman warned of “consequences” if the U.S. postpones its withdrawal. An end of August deadline effectively means the civilian evacuation will have to end earlier because of the need for time to get the military out. Removing foreigners and Afghans, whose ties to outside powers leave them vulnerable to Taliban reprisals, will be much harder once U.S. forces leave.
U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace dialed back expectations on a possible extension. “I think it is unlikely, not only because what the Taliban have said but if you look at the public statements of President Biden,” he told Sky News on Tuesday. “It’s definitely worth us all trying and we will.”
He added that as “we get closer to the deadline, it’s correct to say the security risks goes up. It just gets more and more dangerous.”
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan declined to preview Biden’s remarks to the G-7, saying only that “the president continues to consult with the prime minister and our other allies on how this evacuation should proceed from here.” U.S. officials have also not said how many Americans have been evacuated from Afghanistan.
In a statement ahead of the meeting, the U.K. appeared to play down the prospects of an extended evacuation mission, instead focusing on the need for G-7 agreement on humanitarian aid and resettlement programs.
Western powers are likely to closely monitor human rights under a Taliban leadership that claims to have moderated its position on issues such as the role of women, before giving any tacit or official recognition of the group’s rule.
U.S. and European governments have been slapped with stinging criticism over their failure to predict the pace at which the Taliban would surge into the capital, Kabul. And the political fallout could intensify if an abrupt end to evacuations results in thousands of eligible Afghans being left behind.
“I think we all understand that view,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters on Monday. He declined to comment on extending the deadline beyond saying that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Biden will discuss options when the time comes.
American military officials are talking with the Taliban “several times a day” to coordinate evacuation efforts, he said. Top European diplomats also described efforts to extend the operation.
France’s evacuation air bridge in Afghanistan will end Thursday if the U.S. maintains its plan to pull out troops on Aug. 31, AFP news agency reports, citing Nicolas Roche, a top diplomat. France has repeatedly voiced concern about the planned deadline and said more time is needed to complete the current operations.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Berlin is working with the U.S. and Turkey -- which has helped guard Kabul’s airport for years -- and the Taliban to help extend the evacuation.
Tuesday’s meeting could expose tensions between Biden and the rest of the G-7. According to a British diplomatic memo, the U.S. president told the bloc in June he’d maintain enough of a security presence in Afghanistan to ensure they could continue to operate in Kabul following the main U.S. withdrawal.
In any event, the U.S. drawdown saw the Afghan government rapidly collapse. A spokesman for Johnson declined to comment when asked if relations between the two leaders had been affected.
But recent developments have served as a reality check for America’s allies, amid questions over their ability to go it alone as the U.S. focus shifts under Biden. The U.K., for example, made clear that staying in Afghanistan isn’t viable.
“We are going to need to leave the airport at the same time as the Americans,” Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain, told reporters.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.