POLITICS
23/08/2021 10:20 BST

Kabul Evacuation Must End When US Forces Leave, Says Defence Minister

James Heappey says there is not enough time for other Nato countries to replace the Americans.

US MARINES via Reuters
A U.S. Marine provides assistance during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, August 21, 2021.

There is not enough time to replace US forces at Kabul airport to keep the evacuation going once the Americans leave, a UK defence minister has sad.

James Heappey said on Monday “when the US go, the mission has to come to an end”.

“I think in all reality given what Nato allies have in country at the moment, the period of time it would take to get in place a replacement force is not realistic,” he told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme.

“I think the reality is that the die is cast, the United States air force is operating Kabul airport, it is entirely a military airport.”

Heappey acknowledged not everybody will be able to be evacuated, as he said there are still “thousands more” people the UK wishes to evacuate, including British nationals.

He was speaking as it was reported that a firefight at one of the gates of Kabul’s international airport killed at least one Afghan soldier on Monday.

Boris Johnson is expected to urge Joe Biden to extend the Kabul evacuation deadline as ministers conceded that the Taliban would also have to agree to more time for people to flee.

The leaders will speak during an emergency G7 summit on Tuesday as the Government presses for American troops to remain beyond August 31 to secure the capital’s airport for rescue flights.

Ministers still want to evacuate thousands more people including UK passport holders and those under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap) scheme.

Biden signalled on Sunday that he did not want US armed forces to stay in the central Asian country beyond August.

Asked about delaying the withdrawal of American troops during a press conference, the president said: “Our hope is that we don’t have to extend but there are discussions going on about how far we are.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer has written to Johnson calling for more information on how the UK is planning for the next stages of the rescue mission.

Starmer asked whether Johnson had “spoken personally” to Biden to “ask him to extend the evacuation period beyond the end of August”, and whether the UK was working on a contingency plan with Nato allies to “hold Kabul airport without US troops”.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that 5,725 people have been repatriated since rescue efforts began on August 13, with 3,100 of them Afghan individuals and their families.

On Sunday, 1,721 people were airlifted from Kabul by the Royal Air Force across eight flights.