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US between a rock and a hard place, as Afghan evacuation deadline looms

Biden decides not to extend deadline — complying with Taliban demands

By Ricky Browne

US President Joe Biden has agreed to stick to the August 31 deadline for the withdrawal of its troops according to reports from Reuters.

The move extinguishes  the hopes of other G7 countries that there would be an extension – and possibly shows that the Taliban holds more sway over the US decision making process than its G7 allies.

US Troops will evacuate on August 31 as planned Photo: Reuters

While G7 countries tried to pressure the United States to extend their Afghanistan evacuation deadline of August 31, the Taliban had restated that they will not be allowing any such extension.

“The deadline of August 31 remains, with the evacuation ending on that day,” the Taliban said again today.

The Taliban restated their position clear in another news conference today to reassure Afghans that life is returning to normal, and that rights for women will be maintained with Zabihullah Mujahid – the friendly face of the Taliban.

Zabihullah Mujahid the friendly face of the Taliban Photo: Reuters

After his opening statement, the first question was asked by a woman journalist, suggesting that women can remain in employment – if only for now.

The second question was on whether there a list of people that the Taliban want to arrest.

“I assure you that there is no follow up of anybody. We want them to have mental peace. Peace of mind. There is no list. We aren’t following anybody. We have announced amnesty. We want everybody. Our aim is to build our country.

It was a question from the BBC that brought up the possible extension of the evacuation date beyond August 31.

A photo of people trying to access flights out of Kabul earlier this week

“No. I don’t think we will extend the deadline. The31st was their plan the American plan. They have an opportunity and all the resources to take all the people that belong to them. We aren’t going to extend the deadline. We aren’t in favour of allowing Afghans to leave.”

He said it would be a “clear violation” if foreign forces don’t withdraw by the deadline, he said.

“The national army is a very important part of the country. Our fighters will be recruited into the army. We are going to make the army force again. When our next government is announced we will be deciding about that.”

“We have forgotten everything”.

The Taliban have taken over the Presidential Palace

He said women are allowed to go to work, but not yet due to concerns over their security. He also expressed that the Taliban wanted talented people to stay to help develop the country.

A question came from a female journalist about women in the media, and how women from a particular media organisation fled when the Taliban came to their office.

“We will look into the issues of media organisations including your TV station. – maybe there are small incidents. I will definitely be following this up.”

He said that the Americans should not encourage people to leave, particularly people with skills, saying that there was no treat to anyone remaining.

US ATTEMPT TO DETRACT ATTENTION

While the Taliban is addressing the situation directly, the US government seems to be trying to use a magician’s trick of diverting attention to other topics – at least for the local American audience.

President Biden flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a recent news conference Photo: Bloomberg

Yesterday, President Joe Biden spoke about how the Pfizer vaccine was now approved, and expressed that he hoped that would encourage companies to force their workers to take the vaccine if they wanted to keep their jobs. Meanwhile, Vice President Kamala Harris was trying to detract attention with her trip in Singapore and Vietnam – with strong words for China.

G7 ViIRTUAL MEETING

Biden was not pressured today by the G7 to lengthen the withdrawal date to allow Nato countries to extract their citizens as well as Afghans who worked with them.

The virtual meeting was chaired by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The G7 seemed to be all on side in Cornwall — not so much now

The UK, Germany and France are all expected to pressure the US to extend its August 31 deadline to allow a safe evacuation process. Meanwhile, Japan, Italy and Canada appear to be taking a less confrontational approach.

It was hard for the US government to come out shining from this. If it had extended the deadline, it was possible that the Taliban would retaliate in some fashion, that could result in deaths.

 Now that it has apparently decided not to extend the deadline, many American and Nato citizens, plus Afghans who should be able to leave, may have to remain in Afghanistan for an unknown period and at great personal risk.

The decision by Biden shows up the weakness of Nato, and the renewed strength of the ‘America First’ policy of the United States — perhaps trumped now by an even more isolationist ‘America Alone’ policy.

Johnson tried to put a positive spin on Biden’s refusal to extend the deadline

A solemn-looking Johnson tried to put a positive spin on Biden’s decision, but it wasn’t easy. Its hard on the Afghans trying to leave and “Its tough for our military as well,” Johnson said.

But he said the Taliban need to ensure ‘safe passage’ for all the people who want to leave, he said.

And he pointed out that the evacuation numbers so far were remarkable, with the UK evcuating some 9000 UK nationals plus some Afghans.

“I think we can be very proud of what we are achieveing,” he said.

“The G7 has huge leverage and today the G7 agreed a road map for future engagement with the Taliban” — including conditions that the Taliban must meet before having access to their funds abroad or international aid– including not becoming a narco state and ensuring women’s rights.

“The number one condition that we are insisting on is safe passage beyond August 31 for those who want to leave Afghanistan” he said.

But questions remained over how the UK could ensure “safe passage” without input or support from the US.

PENTAGON BREIFING

Earlier today Army Major General William Hank Taylor in a Pentagon news briefing briefly said that 1000 evacuees had arrived safely in the US and then went onto talk about operations in Haiti with its earthquake victims – a possible attempt at distracting attention away from the most important story.

UK and US soldiers at the Kabul airport Photo: MOD

“There has been no change to the timeline of the deadline which remains at the end of the month,” said Press Secretary John Kirby, in answer to a question – having first tried to divert attention on the birth of three babies during the evacuation process.

“Several thousand Americans have been safely evacuated from Afghanistan” he said. “Every day we are moving out Americans from the country.”

 “We plan to continue this pace as aggressively as possible”.

“We are trying to get out as many as we can.”

RESTRICTIONS ON EVACUATIONS

Meanwhile the US seems to be closing down opportunities for non-citizens to evacuate – especially those who have not received a “verified invitation.”

The following advice was released by the US Embassy in Kabul two days ago:

The US embassy in Kabul

“If you are a U.S. citizen, U.S. lawful permanent resident, immigrant visa applicant, or are affiliated with the U.S. government and have received specific instructions to travel to the Hamid Karzai International Airport, follow the instructions you have been given.

“If you have begun the SIV or the P1/P2 process, you will be given instructions on next steps.  Please understand, however, that this process may take an extended period.

If you are not a part of the above groups, but are seeking to leave Afghanistan and are part of an organized private effort to evacuate, please do not come to the airport until you have received specific instructions to travel to the Hamid Karzai International Airport from our flight organizer.

“If you have questions or need to submit additional information, please visit the State Department website or the U.S. Embassy Kabul website  for additional details.

“If you do not have a verified invitation, you will not be allowed into the airport or on to an evacuation flight.”

That last line also seems to be in line with Taliban desires to limit the evacuation of Afghans.

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