Boris Johnson Vows UK Will Continue Evacuations ‘Until The Last Moment’ Despite Deadly Kabul Attack
05:55 GMT 27.08.2021 (Updated: 06:29 GMT 27.08.2021)
© REUTERS / Ben Shread/UK MOD Crown copyright 2021/HandoutMembers of the UK Armed Forces continue to take part in the evacuation of entitled personnel from Kabul airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, 19-22 August 2021, in this handout picture obtained by Reuters on August 23, 2021. LPhot Ben Shread/UK MOD Crown copyright 2021/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
A massive evacuation effort from Kabul airport has been underway since Taliban* seized the Afghan capital on 15 August on the heels of a weeks-long offensive launched after the US started withdrawing forces from the country. Thusday’s deadly blasts around Kabul airport followed warnings that such a threat was imminent.
Boris Johnson has said that UK forces in Afghanistan will follow through with the final stages of the massive airlift from Kabul despite the “despicable" attack outside the city’s airport. The Daesh-Khorasan* terrorist group reportedly claimed responsibility for the blasts that reportedly killed at least 103 people – 90 Afghan civilians and 13 US servicemen – amid the evacuation of the Western military contingent.
“We’re going to keep going up until the last moment. The conclusion is that we’re able to continue with the programme in the way that we’ve been running it, according to the timetable that we’ve got,” the Prime Minister, who chaired a meeting of the government’s emergency Cobra committee on Thursday, was cited as saying.
© REUTERS / UK MOD Crown copyright 2021British citizens and dual nationals residing in Afghanistan board a military plane for evacuation from Kabul airport, Afghanistan August 16, 2021, in this handout picture obtained by Reuters on August 17, 2021.
British citizens and dual nationals residing in Afghanistan board a military plane for evacuation from Kabul airport, Afghanistan August 16, 2021, in this handout picture obtained by Reuters on August 17, 2021.
To date, over 13,146 people have been airlifted by the UK military since the mission began on 13 August judging by government figures released on Thursday. Evacuations got underway after the onslaught by Taliban* militant group against Afghan government forces ended with their capture of the capital, Kabul.
“We’re now coming towards the very end of it in any event, and we’ve already extracted the overwhelming majority of those under both the schemes – the eligible persons, UK nationals, the Afghan interpreters and others. And it’s been totally phenomenal effort by the UK. There’s been nothing like it for decades and decades,” said Johnson.
Among those evacuated from Kabul by UK forces were embassy personnel and British nationals; current and former locally employed staff in Afghanistan eligible under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (Arap) programme and some nationals from ally states. The UK Foreign Office, Home Office and Border Force teams were "going to work flat out" to evacuate people "as fast as they can", said Johnson.
‘Dereliction of Duty’
However, amid the PM’s assertions that British forces had extracted an “overwhelming majority” of UK nationals and Afghans eligible for relocation, some MPs warned that large numbers faced being stranded.
According to them, hundreds of constituents’ family members, albeit in possession of UK passports, were unable to reach Hamid Karzai International Airport. Meanwhile, their concerned relatives were reportedly being instructed to email advice services that failed to respond.
An “infuriated” Labour MP Lyn Brown, whose office has been trying to help 356 individuals reach Britain, slammed the response she received from the government as “a complete dereliction of duty”.
Brown cited the case of a British school age girl needing a passport to leave. According to the Labour politician, it took days to get a response from the Home Office. The girl was finally instructed to go to the Baron hotel for processing as the airlift mission was wrapping up.
© REUTERS / US MARINESUK coalition forces, Turkish coalition forces, and U.S. Marines assist a child during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, in this photo taken on August 20, 2021
UK coalition forces, Turkish coalition forces, and U.S. Marines assist a child during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, in this photo taken on August 20, 2021
On Thursday afternoon the girl had been left stranded, after the bus she was on, together with others without a passport, had been turned away by a solider.
Another Labour MP, Harriet Harman, also narrated harrowing accounts of 228 family members of her 34 constituents, including UK nationals, joint UK-Afghan nationals, and relatives of UK nationals that had failed to leave Kabul.
Harman said that relatives back in the UK were being given email addresses to receive updates, while no other feedback or clarity is provided on individual cases. The MP said there was a “sense of mounting desperation.”
As other MPs spoke of similar concerns, they all emphasized that they were conscious that they were “running out of time.” Boris Johnson attempted to allay concerns, saying that while some people eligible to relocate to Britain might not make it in time for final stages of the airlift, the UK authorities would pressure the Taliban* Islamist group, now controlling the country, to let them out.
"Even beyond the US deadline of 31 of this month, we hope to be able to continue to say to people, well you can come out," said Johnson.
At least four blasts reportedly occurred near the Kabul airport amid the evacuation effort on Thursday, with as many as 1,338 people injured, according to a source in the Afghan Ministry of Health. The source also said that the death toll stood at 60 people. According to other estimates, some 85 people died in the attacks. The Daesh-Khorasan terrorist group (banned in Russia) reportedly claimed responsibility for the explosions.
The first twin blasts took place near the airport's Abbey gate and near the Baron Hotel. Attacks came just hours after UK and US officials warned their nationals and allies to stay away from the airport in light of reports suggesting that a "high threat of terrorist attack" was imminent. Latest reports have also indicated that new rounds of explosions have emerged along the airport.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said there had been "no reported UK military or UK government casualties". In a statement, the MoD said:
"Our primary concern remains the safety of our personnel, British citizens and the citizens of Afghanistan. We are in close contact with our US and other NATO allies at an operational level on the immediate response to this incident."
US President Joe Biden similarly pledged to continue with the evacuation, set to end on 31 August. In an address on Thursday night he also underscored that the US would "not forgive" and "not forget" the attack, promising to “hunt down” the perpetrators and “make them pay”.
Currently, Kabul airport is being run by the US, with some 5,800 troops on the ground, and aided by over 1,000 UK troops. The western forces have emphasized that they are on alert for more attacks by Daesh, including possible rockets or vehicle-borne bombs targeting Kabul airport.
Meanwhile, Taliban has underscored that it fully condemns such attacks against its people. Suhail Shaheen, a spokesperson for the group, addressed the incidents via Twitter and stated that Taliban forces are "paying close attention to the security and protection of its people, and evil circles will be strictly stopped."
* A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.