More than 9,000 Afghans eligible to escape with UK’s help may have been left behind – reports
On the subject of UK evacuations of Afghans: thousands of emails to the Foreign Office from MPs and charities detailing urgent cases of Afghans trying to escape from Kabul have not been read, including cases flagged by government ministers, the Observer has been told.
The UK’s Afghanistan evacuation concluded on Saturday night with the departure of Britain’s final military and diplomatic personnel, bringing a sudden end to the 20-year deployment. More than 15,000 people have been brought out of the country in the last fortnight, in what ministers described as the largest UK military evacuation since the second world war.
However, amid accusations of government incompetence over elements of the evacuation effort, the Observer has seen evidence that an official email address used to collate potential Afghan cases from MPs and others regularly contained 5,000 unread emails throughout the week.
In the UK, Labour has accused Government ministers of being “missing in action” during the Afghanistan crisis as the blame game over the handling of the withdrawal after a 20-year campaign in the country began.
The Sunday Times reported that fingers were being pointed at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office over a lack of escape routes from the country, with claims that up to 9,000 people who may have been eligible to escape – such as women, journalists, and aid workers – were left behind.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace previously said he believed there were between 800 and 1,100 Afghans eligible under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (Arap) scheme who would be left behind, while around 100 and 150 UK nationals will remain in Afghanistan, although Mr Wallace said some of those were staying willingly.
But MPs have said that judging by their correspondence, they thought the true numbers were far higher.
Citing an unnamed Western security official, AP reports that the crowd waiting outside Kabul airport’s gates has thinned out following the warning of a “specific, credible” threat issued by the US embassy in the early hours of Sunday morning.
The official said that evacuations have entered their final phase, with 1,000 people – the AP alerts do not specify which nationalities – currently inside the airport and awaiting flights.
Croatian police say 19 Afghan citizens evacuated from their country because of the threat from the Taliban have landed in Croatia, AP reports.
A police statement says the group arriving Saturday evening included three families with 10 children and a single man.
Police say the evacuees are people with links to the European Union delegation in Kabul and their families and have expressed intent to seek asylum in Croatia.
They will be housed in a camp for vulnerable groups since they include minors. No other details are immediately available.
It is difficult to determine how many Afghans remain in the country and want to leave.
US forces say that more than 113,500 people have been evacuated by all allied forces since the withdrawal began – but many of them are Americans or other western nationals.
But New York Times tried to pin down a figure a few days ago, and came up with the following numbers – but the figures are mostly for Afghans who worked with Americans, specifically.
Tens of thousands of Afghans who worked for the US government over the last 20 years, and are eligible for special visas, are desperate to leave.
And refugee and resettlement experts estimate that at least 300,000 Afghans are in imminent danger of being targeted by the Taliban for associating with Americans and US efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.
One congressional aide said the Biden administration had identified about 50,000 special visa applicants, and their families, to be evacuated. But the aide said far more were eligible.
Following the IS attack on the airport, the International Rescue Committee said in a statement:
With more than 500,000 people displaced this year, including at least 230,000 over the last two months, it is imperative that all Afghans who wish to do so are granted safe passage out of the country. Those who remain will require extensive humanitarian support.”
So it seems that the figure, albeit frustratingly vague, is likely in the low hundreds of thousands.
Here is where things stand at the airport at the moment, where it is currently nearing 6am on Sunday 29 August.
Taliban forces have sealed off the airport to most Afghans hoping for evacuation.
Although most of its allies have finished their evacuation flights, the US still plans to keep its round-the-clock flights going until the deadline. The Pentagon said on Saturday that the remaining contingent of US forces at the airport, now numbering fewer than 4,000, had begun their final withdrawal ahead of Biden’s deadline for ending the evacuation on Tuesday.
Most NATO troops have now left the country.
Yesterday’s embassy warning read:
Because of security threats at the Kabul airport, we continue to advise US citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates.
US citizens who are at the Abbey gate, East gate, North gate or the New Ministry of Interior gate now should leave immediately.
Following its warning yesterday that US citizens should “immediately” leave areas outside the Kabul airport gates, the US Embassy in Kabul issued another warning moments ago, saying:
Due to a specific, credible threat, all US citizens in the vicinity of Kabul airport (HKIA), including the South (Airport Circle) gate, the new Ministry of the Interior, and the gate near the Panjshir Petrol station on the northwest side of the airport, should leave the airport area immediately.
Some of the gates mentioned in today’s warnings differ from yesterday – which is to say, this warning is not simply a repetition of yesterday’s.
The warning also urges US citizens to avoid travelling to the airport.
The warning comes hours after Biden warned that another terror attack at the airport was “highly likely” in the next 24-36 hours.
This is breaking news – we will have more information shortly.
The UK government last night unveiled “operation warm welcome” for the thousands of arriving Afghans, but campaigners immediately expressed concerns about the accommodation many will be offered.
As a new position – a minister for Afghan resettlement – was announced, doctors also warned that healthcare provision would have to be improved if, as expected, many of the arrivals are housed in hotels for at least the first few months.
The government also said it would be taking up the many offers of support that have flooded in from charities, businesses and members of the public. Critics warned that ministers must avoid relying on the goodwill of the British people to deliver vital support to the new arrivals.
US military and coalition flights took approximately 2,000 people from Kabul, Afghanistan, from 3am Eastern time to 3pm on Saturday, Reuters reports, citing a White House official.
Biden plans to withdraw all US diplomatic staff, including the ambassador, by Tuesday the Washington Post reports. It remains unclear whether or when they might return, the Post reports, citing two US officials:
Despite the Taliban’s expressed interest in having the United States maintain a diplomatic mission in Kabul, the Biden administration has not made a final decision about what a future presence might look like. On Friday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the Biden administration is “actively discussing” the Taliban’s request with US allies and partners in the region – but the United States has not yet engaged directly with the Taliban to discuss what form a diplomatic mission might take, according to one US official who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive policy deliberations.
The lack of a set plan all but ensures that the United States’ diplomatic presence in Kabul will lapse for weeks, months or even longer — potentially complicating the Biden administration’s ability to make good on recent assurances that although the US military is departing the country by 31 August, the United States will continue to help Americans and Afghans who want to leave after they are gone.
Two decades of engagement in Afghanistan by British troops has come to an end as the final members of UK military and diplomatic personnel left Kabul airport on Saturday night, ending the largest evacuation mission since the second world war.
Operation Pitting – where more than 1,000 troops, diplomats, and officials were dispatched to Afghanistan to rescue UK nationals and Afghan allies after the seizure of the country’s capital by the Taliban – airlifted more than 15,000 people to safety across just over a fortnight.
British prime minister Boris Johnson said now was “a moment to reflect on everything we have sacrificed and everything we have achieved in the last two decades”.
On Saturday afternoon in Washington, US President Joe Biden vowed to keep up airstrikes against the Islamic extremist group whose suicide bombing at the Kabul airport killed scores of Afghans and 13 American service members. Another terror attack, he said, is “highly likely” this weekend as the US winds down its evacuation.
AP: The Pentagon said the remaining contingent of US forces at the airport, now numbering fewer than 4,000, had begun their final withdrawal ahead of Biden’s deadline for ending the evacuation on Tuesday.
After getting briefed on a US drone mission in eastern Afghanistan that the Pentagon said killed two members of the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate early Saturday, Biden said the extremists can expect more.
“This strike was not the last,” Biden said in a statement. “We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay.”
The evacuation proceeded as tensions rose over the prospect of another IS attack.
“Our commanders informed me that an attack is highly likely in the next 24-36 hours,” Biden said, adding that he has instructed them to take all possible measures to protect their troops, who are securing the airport and helping bring onto the airfield Americans and others desperate to escape Taliban rule.
The remains of the 13 American troops killed in the attack were on their way to the United States, the Pentagon said.
Hi, I’m Helen Sullivan and I’ll be bringing you the latest developments from Afghanistan as they happen.
As always, if you see news you think we should know, you can get in touch on Twitter @helenrsullivan.
Here is a recap of the key news from the last while: