Afghanistan: Boris Johnson urges world leaders to stand by Afghan people ahead of G7 – as Biden to decide on deadline extension in next 24 hours

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Boris Johnson is urging President Joe Biden and other world leaders to stand by the Afghan people and not walk away, amid fears that the Taliban is plotting vicious reprisals.

The prime minister is chairing a video-link summit of G7 leaders and calling for a boost in international support for refugees and humanitarian aid after the withdrawal of US troops.

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‘Special relationship’ under strain

The summit – just a week before Mr Biden’s controversial 31 August pull-out deadline – is being seen as the last hope of persuading the president to back down and allow more evacuations.

On the eve of the summit a US official told Reuters news agency that Mr Biden will decide within 24 hours on whether to extend the 31 August withdrawal deadline – but warned that some White House advisers are arguing against an extension.

Speaking ahead of the summit Mr Johnson said: “Our first priority is to complete the evacuation of our citizens and those Afghans who have assisted our efforts over the last 20 years.

“But as we look ahead to the next phase, it’s vital we come together as an international community and agree a joint approach for the longer term.

“That’s why I’ve called an emergency meeting of the G7 – to coordinate our response to the immediate crisis, to reaffirm our commitment to the Afghan people and to ask our international partners to match the UK’s commitments to support those in need.

“Together with our partners and allies, we will continue to use every humanitarian and diplomatic lever to safeguard human rights and protect the gains made over the last two decades.”

And after the Taliban told Sky News delaying the withdrawal of US troops beyond 31 August would “provoke a reaction”, Mr Johnson added: “The Taliban will be judged by their deeds and not their words.”

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US wants Afghan withdrawal done ‘as fast as possible’

In a Sky News interview earlier, Taliban spokesman Dr Suhail Shaheen said: “It’s a red line. If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations, the answer is no. Or there would be consequences.”

As the evacuation continues, Conservative MP and chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee Tom Tugendhat, tweeted: “Tonight a friend is travelling at night with his family in the hope of saving himself, his wife and his children from the Taliban. They’re trying to find safety. The danger they’re facing is huge. I am thinking of them tonight. I hope they will be safe soon.”

According to the Ministry of Defence, the UK has now evacuated more than 7,000 people from Afghanistan.

The total of 7,109 includes embassy staff, British nationals, those eligible under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) programme, and a number of nationals from partner nations.

After chairing a meeting of COBRA on Monday afternoon, at which ministers discussed the latest situation on the ground, the prime minister spoke again to the president ahead of the G7 summit.

Downing Street said they spoke of co-ordinating the “rapid and safe evacuation” from Kabul International Airport of UK and US nationals and those who worked with the two governments.

And in a signal that the 31 August deadline will not be extended, they spoke about continuing to work together to ensures those eligible to leave are able to, “including after the initial phase of the evacuation has ended”.

Downing Street also said the PM will urge G7 leaders to match the UK’s commitments on aid and the resettlement of those most in need, in order to protect human rights and contribute to the stability of the region.

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Evacuation ‘down to hours, not weeks’

Number 10 said the leaders will reiterate their commitment to safeguarding the gains made in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, in particular on girls’ education and the rights of women and minorities.

As well as evacuation, the agenda will also include longer-term work to secure a more stable future for Afghanistan and ensure any new government is inclusive and abides by its international obligations, No 10 added.

As well as the leaders of the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan, the NATO and UN secretaries-general have also been invited to join the discussion, Downing Street said.

The prime minister has already set out a five point plan for addressing the risk of humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan:

• Immediately helping those to whom the UK has direct obligations
• Protecting ourselves against any threat from terrorism
• Supporting Afghan people in the region through humanitarian and development assistance
• Creating safe and legal routes to resettle Afghans in need
• Developing a clear plan for dealing with the new Afghan regime in a unified and concerted way

Meanwhile, Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, the minister of state directly responsible for South Asia, will virtually address the UN Human Rights Council and will hold talks with humanitarian partners about Afghanistan.

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Afghan interpreters urge UK government to save families

But Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said ahead of the meeting: “This virtual G7 meeting is a make or break test of the prime minister’s ability to bring together international partners, rise to the occasion and show leadership.

“The UK must step up and demand three crucial outcomes. First, that as many people as possible have safe passage out of Afghanistan by prioritising efforts to extend the air bridge out of Kabul beyond 31 August.

“Second, global agreement to deal with the unfolding refugee crisis by working with neighbouring countries to keep land borders open.

“And third, a strategy for supporting those who will be left behind.

“The G7 must agree a joint strategy to safeguard our collective security and guarantee Afghanistan does not become a safe haven for terrorist organisations that pose a threat to the UK.

“The prime minister has had eighteen months to plan for this – the world’s eyes are on tomorrow’s meeting to make the next seven days count.”

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Donations for refugees flood in across the UK

The Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: “Our brave soldiers at Kabul airport are protecting Afghans and UK nationals from not just the Taliban, but the threat of terrorist attacks too.

“So at the G7, the challenge for the prime minister is this: will the United Kingdom be at the forefront of a concerted global effort to keep our citizens safe and stop a new terror threat from reaching our shores?

“It is also vital that those Afghans who cannot make it to Kabul airport are nonetheless supported in their attempts to leave the country.

“The prime minister has the opportunity to put safe passage for refugees on the global agenda.

“If we cannot evacuate Afghans, the least we can do is work with the international community – especially neighbouring countries such as Pakistan – and use every diplomatic lever possible to try and secure a safe route out of the country for those who wish to flee the Taliban.”

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