By Henry Ridgwell
U.S. allies say they have no choice but to follow the American timetable and withdraw their troops from Afghanistan by August 31, despite fears that not everyone will get out in time.
Several NATO allies are evacuating their citizens from Kabul airport, including eligible Afghans who worked alongside them and who are now desperate to flee.
Britain, which holds the rotating presidency of the G-7 group of advanced economies, called an emergency virtual summit of the group Tuesday to discuss the crisis. Many G-7 leaders implored U.S. President Joe Biden to extend the August 31 deadline for the withdrawal of American troops.
However, in a televised address Tuesday after the G-7 summit, the president made it clear that the U.S. is sticking to the timetable “The sooner we can finish the better. Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops,” Biden said.
“The completion by August 31st depends upon the Taliban continuing to cooperate and allow access to the airport for those who were transferred, who were transported out and no disruption to our operations. In addition, I’ve asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timetable should that become necessary,” Biden added.
Professor Andrew Bell of the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies at Indiana University, who served with the U.S. military in Afghanistan, said U.S. firepower is vital for the evacuation operations.
“They provide important security capabilities that certainly in small components can be provided by some of the NATO allies, but really, the backbone has been formed by the U.S. military and for the mission to continue, really would rely on the capabilities brought by the American military,” Bell told VOA.
The Taliban also said it will not allow any extension of the August 31 deadline. Therefore, U.S. allies say they are left with no choice but to follow that timetable.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said U.K. forces had already evacuated 9,000 people as of Tuesday.
“We will go on right up until the last moment that we can. But you have heard what the president of the United States has had to say, you have heard what the Taliban have said. I think you have got to understand the context in which we’re doing this,” he told reporters after the summit. “We’re confident we can get thousands more out. But the situation at the airport is not getting any better, there are public order issues, it’s harrowing scenes for those who are trying to get out, and it’s tough for our military as well.”
Johnson said G-7 leaders had agreed a common future approach. “We’ve got together, the leading Western powers, and agreed not just a joint approach to dealing with the evacuation, but also a road map for the way in which we’re going to engage with the Taliban, as it probably will be a Taliban government in Kabul.”
The G-7 has set conditions with safe passage for those who want to leave as the number one priority, Johnson told reporters. “Now, some of them will say that they don’t accept that and some of them, I hope, will see the sense of that because the G-7 has very considerable leverage, economic, diplomatic and political.”
Several G-7 nations pledged for an increase in humanitarian aid and financial assistance for Afghanistan and its neighbors. In a press conference Tuesday, the European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc has conditionally set aside $1.2 billion for Afghanistan for the coming seven years for development aid.
“I and many others stressed that the future development assistance has to be condition-based. It always is condition-based, linked to fundamental values, human rights, of course, women’s rights,” von der Leyen said. “This aid ($1.2 billion) is now frozen. And it is frozen until we have solid guarantees and credible actions on the ground that the conditions are being met.”
There are European concerns over the longer-term consequences of the Western withdrawal. Charles Michel, the European Council President, said the EU would not allow another migrant crisis.
“We will work with the countries in the region, especially Iran, Pakistan and Central Asia, to address the different needs. International protection will be needed for those facing persecution and for other vulnerable Afghans. And EU member states will contribute to this international effort,” Michel told reporters. “Let’s be clear, let us not allow the creation of a new market for smugglers and human traffickers. And we are determined to keep the migratory flows under control and the EU’s borders protected.”
The focus of the U.S. and its allies currently remains on the difficult and dangerous days ahead, as the evacuations continue amid the chaos at Kabul airport. But analysts say the abruptness of the U.S. withdrawal has also tested transatlantic alliances.
“In the short term, certainly this will continue to add some of the friction. There are bridges that continually need to be rebuilt in the post-Trump era,” Indiana University’s Bell said. “But I think in the long term this won’t do much to significantly damage our (U.S.) relationship with our with our allies.”