British Paratroopers desperately tried to hold the line at Kabul airport last night amid fears the rescue mission could collapse in days, leaving thousands behind.
As dramatic pictures showed the airport being surrounded by scenes of anarchy and anguish, the Paras mounted a frantic last stand to prevent the operation descending into chaos.
Women and children were crushed in a stampede as huge crowds tried to escape the Afghan capital and reach the sanctuary of an evacuation flight.
US President Joe Biden said last night it was one of the ‘most difficult’ airlifts in history and admitted he could not guarantee what the ‘final outcome’ would be.
He said he wanted all Americans out of Afghanistan by August 31 – a move that appears to set a deadline for the evacuation of all Westerners and their allies. Boris Johnson said Britain was having to ‘manage the consequences’ of the ‘emphatic’ decision by the US to withdraw its troops from the country. He admitted the rescue effort faced ‘formidable’ challenges and the situation in Afghanistan was ‘precarious’.
Chaotic scenes are seen in Kabul as people try to reach the airport via the entrance controlled by British and American soldiers. Women and children were crushed in a stampede as huge crowds tried to escape the Afghan capital and reach the sanctuary of an evacuation flight
Flashpoint: A pistol is raised as British forces contain the crowds outside Kabul Airport on Friday. Some of the Afghans in the crowd can also be seen holding up British passports
Members of the UK Armed Forces take part in the evacuation of entitled personnel from Kabul airport. Boris Johnson said Britain was having to ‘manage the consequences’ of the ‘emphatic’ decision by the US to withdraw its troops from the country
Armed Forces minister James Heappey conceded the UK would not be able to rescue everyone who has been promised sanctuary here and the operation at Kabul airport may remain open for only two more days.
Britain has promised to evacuate 7,000 UK citizens and Afghan staff from the country, but Mr Heappey said the ‘sad truth’ was that ‘we don’t have it in our gift to stay there until absolutely everyone is out’.
Mr Heappey’s admission and the astonishing scenes in Kabul raised fears last night that many Afghan translators and their families could get left behind. The Taliban have already started going door to door in the country, hunting down those who worked for the West.
Yesterday, Nato begged Mr Biden not to leave Kabul and urged the US troops to stay at the airport to get as many people out as possible.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: ‘The US has stated that the timeline ends on August 31, but several of our allies raised … the need to potentially extend that to be able to get more people out.’
It is thought that British and European Special Forces troops are trying to mount rescue missions in Kabul city to retrieve the vulnerable, but that US troops have been ordered to remain at the airfield.
A baby is handed over to the American army over the perimeter wall of the airport to be evacuated in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday in an image taken from a video obtained from social media
Members of the UK Armed Forces continue to take part in the evacuation of entitled personnel from Kabul airport. Yesterday, Nato begged Mr Biden not to leave Kabul and urged the US troops to stay at the airport to get as many people out as possible.
West’s empty promises: How many people have we actually evacuated?
The promise: At least 22,000 evacuees including US citizens and those holding visas
Aid groups said 80,000 visas may need to be issued to keep Biden’s pledge to help all those who aided US forces, but that promise has almost certainly been broken
The reality: Just 7,000 people have been airlifted out of Kabul in the last five days, the Pentagon said Thursday, despite there being capacity for up to 9,000 per day
Since the end of July, some 12,000 people have been airlifted out, including Embassy staff, citizens of NATO countries, at-risk Afghan nationals as well as Afghans with special visas
Who’s left? That means to keep even its most-modest promises, the US has at least 10,000 more people to evacuate before the air bridge closes
The promise: The UK said it wants to evacuate 7,000 UK citizens and Afghan staff from the country
Prime Minister Boris Johnson then promised to take another 5,000 refugees this year as part of a scheme that will allow 20,000 to settle over five years
The reality: Britain evacuated 2,163 people from Kabul between Sunday night and Friday morning, and is aiming to take out another 1,000 per day as long as flights can keep operating
In total, the UK has now taken some 3,800 people out of Afghanistan in recent weeks, including more than 600 UK citizens and thousands of Afghans covered by the resettlement scheme
Who’s left? To keep its most-modest promises, the UK must evacuate some 3,200 people – but up to 8,200 if the prime minister’s pledge to take refugees is to be met
At one point yesterday, a crowd of desperate Afghans surged forwards in an attempt to access the airport, forcing the Paras to link arms and push them back. In the frightening melee, a British soldier had his helmet ripped off and appeared in danger of being crushed by the angry crowd.
Behind the Paras, an unidentified man who was part of their security team, raised a Special Forces-issue Glock handgun above his head and motioned as if to open fire.
Troops from the Parachute Regiment’s Second Battalion (2 Para) then screamed ‘Get back, get back!’ at Afghans attempting to reach the airfield through a gate which had been opened so a security vehicle could drive out.
On another extraordinary day:
- Mr Biden issued another extraordinary defence of his handling of the crisis, claiming every Nato member, including Britain, agreed with his decision to pull troops out;
- There were claims of Western evacuation flights leaving Kabul half empty, but British officials said they had airlifted 1,000 people out in 24 hours;
- Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab refused to apologise for failing to make a crucial phone call while on holiday to seek urgent help for Afghan translators;
- Mr Johnson insisted he ‘absolutely’ had full confidence in Mr Raab as the Government mounted a frantic operation to shore up his precarious position;
- The Taliban’s early rule in Afghanistan was turning increasingly bloody as it machine-gunned a police chief, sliced off villagers’ muscles and shot dead a journalist’s family;
- It was also reported that women had been set on fire by Taliban fighters for ‘bad cooking’;
- Yama, a former frontline interpreter for UK forces, was in tears when he spoke to the Mail from a secret location in Kabul as he told of his anger at being denied sanctuary in Britain.
Last night, the Prime Minister claimed the situation at the airport was getting ‘slightly better’. He added: ‘Yesterday we were able to get out about a thousand people, today another thousand people, and a lot of those are obviously UK-eligible persons coming back to this country. So a lot of them are coming back under the Afghanistan resettlement and assistance programme.’
Mr Johnson said he would work with the Taliban to ‘find a solution’, adding: ‘It is worth repeating that at the end of a 20-year cycle of engagement there is a huge record to be proud of in Afghanistan.
‘It bears repeating that the UK Armed Forces, UK diplomats, aid workers, did help to change the lives of literally millions of people in Afghanistan, to help educate millions of women and young girls who would otherwise not have been educated and to stop terrorism from coming to this country.
‘And what I want to assure people is that our political and diplomatic efforts to find a solution for Afghanistan – working with the Taliban, of course, if necessary – will go on.
‘Our commitment to Afghanistan is lasting.’
President Joe Biden vowed Friday to get all Americans and Afghan allies out of Afghanistan and took questions from White House reporters – on a pre-approved list – for the first time in nine days. ‘Let me be clear, any American who wants to come home, we will get you home,’ Biden pledged during the speech he started 50 minutes late where he stumbled over answers.
But his words contrasted with dramatic images of the thousands massing around Kabul airport in a bid to board one of the mercy flights, the last route out of Afghanistan.
Some were UK nationals who had to resort to frantically waving their passports to attract the attention of British soldiers.
Panic set in amid the scene of towering concrete blast walls and fencing topped with razor wire, and desperate parents held terrified crying babies aloft for Coalition troops above them to pluck them to safety.
Time appears to be running out for many of the interpreters who had been promised a new life in Britain after they stood shoulder to shoulder with troops in Helmand province in the fighting there which cost 457 British lives.
Afghans gather on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on Friday. It is thought that British and European Special Forces troops are trying to mount rescue missions in the city to retrieve the vulnerable, but that US troops have been ordered to remain at the airfield
UK coalition forces, Turkish coalition forces, and US Marines assist a child during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Friday
Mr Heappey’s warning yesterday raised further alarm over how many of these Afghans, who likely face death sentences under Taliban rule, will be left behind. The minister said: ‘The air bridge has two more days, five more days, ten days.
‘It keeps absolutely everyone here at the Ministry of Defence awake at night – that reality that we won’t get absolutely everyone out.
‘At the moment the large majority are getting to us. Now of course, some will not be able to get to us.
‘There are people who are in deep fear and quite rightly feel that they can’t risk it. There are others who are much further afield in Afghanistan and will have a real challenge to get [to the airport].’
Biden: Nato agreed with US withdrawal
By Mail Foreign Service for the Daily Mail
Joe Biden issued another extraordinary defence of his handling of the crisis in Afghanistan, claiming every Nato member, including Britain, agreed with his decision to pull troops out.
The US President said he spoke to world leaders at the G7 summit in Cornwall in June telling them of his plans and was given full backing.
Ignoring a cascade of criticism that has come America’s way this week as the Taliban took over the capital Kabul, Mr Biden said: ‘I’ve seen no questioning of our credibility from our allies around the world. In fact I’ve seen the exact opposite.’
Joe Biden (pictured on Friday) issued another extraordinary defence of his handling of the crisis in Afghanistan, claiming every Nato member, including Britain, agreed with his decision to pull troops out
Bin Laden wanted ‘incompetent’ Joe kept alive
Osama Bin Laden once told his fighters not to bother targeting Joe Biden because he would be an incompetent president and ‘lead the US into crisis’.
According to diary entries found after the Al Qaeda leader, right, was killed by a US strike force in Pakistan in 2011, he had been plotting attacks on then-US president Barack Obama and General David Petraeus, US commander in Afghanistan at the time. But Bin Laden told his followers to ignore then Vice President Biden, left.
The Washington Post reported that Bin Laden wrote: ‘Obama is the head of infidelity, and killing him automatically will make Biden take over the presidency. Biden is totally unprepared for that post, which will lead the US into a crisis.’
‘Our Nato allies are standing strongly with us,’ he added.
His claim came just hours after Boris Johnson appeared to issue a coded criticism of the President, saying allies would have to ‘manage the consequences’ of the US decision to withdraw and two days after a Commons debate poured scorn on the President. Mr Johnson said: ‘We went in to Afghanistan to support and help protect the United States. So when the United States decides emphatically to withdraw in the way that they have, clearly, we’re going to have to manage the consequences.’
The US leader said he had spoken to Mr Johnson this week, along with German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron and said they would speak again at a special G7 meeting next week. As scenes on the ground continued to descend into mayhem, Mr Biden said: ‘I cannot promise what the final outcome will be, that it will be without risk of loss.
‘There will be time to criticise and second guess when this is over, for now, I’m focused on getting the job done.’
His comments at a White House news conference came as the US government struggled to ramp up a massive airlift clearing Americans, other foreigners and vulnerable Afghans out of Kabul airport.
Mr Biden is facing criticism for chaotic and often violent scenes outside the airport with crowds struggling to reach safety inside.
In his third attempt in five days to show he has command of the situation, following a previous speech and a TV interview, Mr Biden promised he would get every American home. But the President warned: ‘This is one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history. Make no mistake – this evacuation mission is dangerous.’
Addressing harrowing footage from Kabul airport, he said: ‘I don’t think of any us can see these pictures and not feel pain at a human level.’
US flights out of the airport were paused for more than eight hours yesterday because the American air base in Qatar where evacuees were being taken was full, leaving many crushed outside the airport.
‘We paused flights out of Kabul this morning to make sure we could progress evacuees at their transit points,’ Mr Biden said, adding that flights had resumed last night.
It emerged yesterday that around two dozen US diplomats in Afghanistan sent an internal cable last month warning secretary of state Antony Blinken of the potential fall of Kabul to the Taliban as US troops withdrew.
The Wall Street Journal said the confidential cable sent through a so-called ‘dissent channel’ was signed on July 13 and offered recommendations on ways to mitigate the crisis and accelerate an evacuation.