BEN WALLACE: We have no time to lose to get people out of Afghanistan

DEFENCE SECRETARY BEN WALLACE: The American deadline is looming… we have no time to lose to get people out

For everyone involved, the last few months have been an exhausting, worrying and demanding time.

The unedifying exit of the West from Afghanistan will have consequences for us all for years to come.

As Defence Secretary I have been incredibly proud of the work done by my civil servants and military personnel.

From before the collapse of the Afghan government to the present, four Ministry of Defence civil servants alone have handled the process and faced thousands of fearful Afghans.

They did so often at risk to themselves. Alongside them a small band of 150 military secured their part of the airport.

We are able to do what we are doing today because of them and because of the immense effort and support of our closest allies, the United States.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace says he is ‘incredibly proud of the work done by my civil servants and military personnel’

Our force has now grown to over 1,000 troops, Home Office border officials and embassy staff.

The US has surged to close to 6,000 military personnel. Only last week, as the crisis deepened, I had departmental civil servants volunteering to deploy.

The Parachute Regiment at the airport are dealing with unimaginable challenges. Public order, overcrowding, searing heat and desperate people. Soldiers trained for war are instead holding babies and co-ordinating crowds.

Despite all this we are getting people out – more than 1,000 in the past 24 hours alone.

But be under no illusion, as one problem is solved a new one appears. At first we worried whether the airport would remain open, then if those coming to Britain would able to get to the airport. Next came overcrowding.

One by one, our commanders, Brigadier Dan Blanchard and Vice Admiral Ben Key, removed the problems.

Today’s problem is different. Too many people in the airport has meant a suspension of access. I am confident that, too, will be fixed or mitigated, but until it is the crowds will get bigger.

And ticking along, impossible to stop, is time. I have said all along that no nation will be able to get everyone out.

It is a source of deep sadness for many of us across Nato, and no one wanted 20 years of sacrifice to end this way. We will do our best to the very last moment.

But it isn’t the end. The Home Secretary and I have been planning the next stage.

Firstly, it is important to note that the scheme is not time- limited. We shall stand by our obligations and are investigating now how to process people from third countries and refugee camps.

Pictured: Afghan people gather along a road as they wait to board an evacuation aircraft to leave the country

We will establish a series of processing hubs across the region outside Afghanistan for those Afghans we have an obligation to bring to this country.

As far back as April, we relocated an Afghan family from a Greek refugee camp. People must not despair.

As I write, we are exploring ways to keep a presence in the country after the military are gone. There is much work to do to ensure conditions are right.

If the US timetable remains, we have no time to lose to get the majority of the people waiting out. We have the planes – we just need the flow.

Perhaps the Americans will be permitted to stay longer, and they will have our complete support if they do.

Soldiers often witness the worst of humanity and the best of humanity. I know I did on my operational tours.

Right now, the best resides in the men and women of the Army, RAF and Royal Navy risking their lives to save others.

‘No nation will be able to get everyone out’: Defence Secretary admits desperate Afghans trying to escape to the UK will have to make their own way past the Taliban after August 31 – as four women are crushed to death in Kabul airport stampede

By Glen Owen and Ian Gallagher for the Mail on Sunday

Afghans trying to flee to Britain to escape the Taliban will have to make their own way to the borders if the Americans do not delay the date for leaving the country, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace declares today.

In a powerfully emotive article for The Mail on Sunday, Mr Wallace warns that time is ‘ticking along, impossible to stop’ towards the imminent end of the UK’s mission to rescue thousands of Afghans entitled to come to the UK.

While acknowledging that ‘no nation will be able to get everyone out’, Mr Wallace also announces that a series of ‘processing hubs’ will be set up in countries neighbouring Afghanistan for refugees who manage to escape. If they can establish their right to come to the UK, they will be flown to Britain.

The MoD is looking at establishing hubs in countries such as Pakistan and Turkey – but, startlingly, is also exploring whether the Taliban might allow the UK to retain a ‘presence’ in Kabul after the Americans have gone.

Mr Wallace makes a veiled plea for Washington to delay the US leaving date beyond August 31, writing: ‘Perhaps the Americans will be permitted to stay longer and they will have our complete support if they do.’

The 900 British troops cannot remain without the logistical support of the 6,000 US soldiers in Kabul and will have to finish the evacuation before that point to allow enough time to secure their own safe exit.

Mr Wallace’s announcement coincided with scenes of carnage at Kabul airport yesterday, with reports of at least four women crushed to death in a stampede.

US citizens were yesterday warned not to go to the airport amid fears that they might be hijacked en route by militants. The State Department said the US side of the airport would close for 48 hours. The British section remained open.

According to the MoD, 3,821 British and Afghan nationals have been evacuated from Kabul, where 1,000 British troops are based. About 3,500 people are still waiting to be airlifted.

Last night, an MoD source said the announcement about the refugee centres was intended to display ‘honesty’ about the thousands of British allies likely to be left behind. 

In a separate announcement last night, under-fire Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britain had ‘stepped up to the plate’ after he secured 200 visa waivers for Afghan journalists to flee.

In other dramatic developments:

  • Mr Raab was accused of defying an order from No 10 to return early from his holiday as the crisis escalated. However, allies of Mr Raab said Boris Johnson had given him permission to remain; 
  • Tony Blair branded the ‘abandonment of Afghanistan and its people’ as ‘tragic and dangerous’; Sources claimed that the Prime Minister felt ‘betrayed’ by Joe Biden over the Afghan withdrawal – although No 10 denied there are any tensions between the two;
  • One source even claimed the President, 78, was ‘a bit doolally’;
  • Taliban leaders Mullah Baradar and Siraj Haqqani arrived in Kabul to form a new government;
  • UK hate preacher Anjem Choudary urged the Taliban to restore full Islamic justice, including stoning adulterers;
  • The Home Office was scrambling to make the Taliban a proscribed group in an attempt to dissuade British jihadis from heading to Afghanistan;
  • Britons in Kabul said the city was running out of food and money; Britain’s heroic ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, called the crisis the ‘greatest challenge’ of his 30-year career. Thousands rallied in London in protest at the Government’s handling of the crisis;
  • The Minister with responsibility for Afghanistan, Lord Ahmad, was reported to be on holiday when the Taliban seized Kabul.

Afghans trying to flee (pictured: Chaos at Kabul airport yesterday) to Britain to escape the Taliban will have to make their own way to the borders if the Americans do not delay the date for leaving the country, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace declares today

In a powerfully emotive article for The Mail on Sunday, Mr Wallace warns that time is ‘ticking along, impossible to stop’ towards the imminent end of the UK’s mission to rescue thousands of Afghans entitled to come to the UK. Pictured: Afghans attempt to get into Kabul airport yesterday

Mr Wallace (pictured) makes a veiled plea for Washington to delay the US leaving date beyond August 31, writing: ‘Perhaps the Americans will be permitted to stay longer and they will have our complete support if they do’

In his article today, Mr Wallace says that the collapse of Afghanistan has been ‘an exhausting, worrying and demanding time’, and warns that ‘the distressing exit of the West will have consequences for us all for years to come’.

He says: ‘The Parachute Regiment at the airport are dealing with unimaginable challenges. Public order, overcrowding, searing heat and desperate people. Soldiers trained for war are instead holding babies and co-ordinating crowds.’

The Minister adds: ‘Too many people in the airport has meant a suspension of access. I am confident that too will be fixed or mitigated but until it is, the crowds will get bigger. 

‘And ticking along, impossible to stop, is time. I have said all along that no nation will be able to get everyone out.

‘It is a source of deep sadness for many of us across Nato and no one wanted 20 years of sacrifice to end this way. We will do our best to the very last moment. But it isn’t the end. 

‘The Home Secretary and I have been planning the next stage… we will establish a series of processing hubs across the region outside of Afghanistan for those Afghans we have an obligation to bring to this country.’ 

While acknowledging that ‘no nation will be able to get everyone out’, Mr Wallace also announces that a series of ‘processing hubs’ will be set up in countries neighbouring Afghanistan for refugees who manage to escape. If they can establish their right to come to the UK, they will be flown to Britain. Pictured: British and US troops help Afghans in Kabul

The MoD is looking at establishing hubs in countries such as Pakistan and Turkey – but, startlingly, is also exploring whether the Taliban might allow the UK to retain a ‘presence’ in Kabul after the Americans have gone. Pictured: A British evacuation flight with 265 people on board

Meanwhile, The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Home Secretary Priti Patel is scrambling to proscribe the Taliban as a terrorist group amid fears that hundreds of British jihadis will head to Afghanistan to join and live under the Islamist regime.

The Home Office is now looking urgently to ban the group which has avoided proscription so far, even though the Taliban has harboured terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and killed 456 British troops in Afghanistan over the past two decades.

If an organisation is on the Government’s list of proscribed groups, it becomes a criminal offence for anyone in Britain to join or even support it, punishable by up to 14 years in jail.

If the situation remains as it is, Ministers fear that British jihadis could join and train under the regime then escape prosecution on their return to Britain.

Sources have told the MoS that Ms Patel is ‘livid’ that the Taliban in Afghanistan has not been banned already. A source said last night: ‘The fault doesn’t lie with Priti. It goes far back, as no previous Home Secretary has bothered to ban it.’

In a separate announcement last night, under-fire Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (pictured) said Britain had ‘stepped up to the plate’ after he secured 200 visa waivers for Afghan journalists to flee

A Government source told the MoS that MI5 and counter-terrorism units are preparing for the possibility of British jihadis travelling to Afghanistan. 

‘Some will go and train under the Taliban and may come back to launch attacks,’ said the source. 

‘Others may take their families with them and live under the Taliban’s Islamic government.’

Britain has promised to evacuate about 6,000 UK citizens and Afghan staff from the country, but that is looking increasingly unlikely.

Yesterday, amid chaotic scenes, Britons were told to either go to Kabul airport or the nearby Baron Hotel, where their papers could be processed.

 But some found their path blocked by makeshift Taliban checkpoints.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy wrote to Mr Raab saying that hundreds of her Afghan constituents had contacted her to say that their relatives – some with young children – were stranded or beaten at checkpoints.

Last night, a Briton and his wife told how they came under fire from Taliban militants at a checkpoint as they headed to the hotel. Their driver was injured in the shooting.

As the British man tried to explain to the militants that he was a foreign national he was beaten and threatened.

He told ITV News: ‘My wife came out of the car, she was trying to save me and then they start beating my wife as well. They are warning me that if they see me next to that checkpoint they will kill us.’

Crushed to death in stampede: At least four women are killed in front of terrified children as thousands desperate to flee the Taliban descend on Kabul airport after discovering mercy flights could end in just 48 hours

By Ian Gallagher and Abul Taher for the Mail on Sunday and James Robinson and Tom Pyman for MailOnline

For thousands upon thousands, the litter-strewn road outside Kabul airport will be forever synonymous with dashed hopes of freedom.

But for once, the masses turned away were the lucky ones. Because for some, it was here on this dusty road yesterday that their lives ended, crushed beneath the feet of stampeding families who, like them, were desperately seeking a way out of their benighted country. 

At least four women are thought to have died in what witnesses called a ‘horrendous crush’. Each day brings ever more pitiful scenes in Afghanistan: men clinging to and falling from moving planes, mothers pressing their babies into the arms of soldiers. Yet nothing so unbearable as yesterday.

Beneath a fierce late-morning sun, crowds parted to reveal women’s lifeless bodies and then, rising above the chaotic hubbub, the piercing screams of their children. 

Precious few, if any, of the wretched souls who descended on the airport qualified for evacuation. But they were in a race against time, spurred into one futile final act by warnings from London and Washington that the clock was ticking, that the mercy flights out of Kabul would soon cease. 

Beneath a fierce late-morning sun, crowds parted to reveal women’s lifeless bodies and then, rising above the chaotic hubbub, the piercing screams of their children

Paratroopers tried to pull people from the chaos, and stood atop compound walls, spraying the crowd with hoses to try and cool them down, as medics dashed between casualties

At least four women are thought to have died in what witnesses called a ‘horrendous crush’. Pictured: Soldiers cover up the bodies of those who died yesterday

For some, it was here on this dusty road yesterday that their lives ended, crushed beneath the feet of stampeding families who, like them, were desperately seeking a way out of their benighted country

A soldier gives one of the locals at the airport a bottle of water, as many struggled in chaotic scenes at the airport today

Some Afghans had planned to try their luck today or tomorrow. Suddenly nobody was prepared to wait. The deadline brought their haphazard plans forward, triggering an overwhelming scramble.

Two shipping containers blocked the road alongside the airport, funnelling people into narrow gaps either side in a vain attempt to ensure some kind of order.

Instead, it produced only more chaos. Scarcely a minute passed without a cry for medical assistance or a hopeless plea for a stretcher. 

British Paratroopers did all that was humanly possible, pulling the most badly hurt to safety, cradling gasping children, administering first aid and dousing those collapsing with dehydration with water from a hose.

‘It was pretty impressive stuff,’ said Sky News reporter Stuart Ramsay at the scene. ‘They were yanking people out as soon as they could… that was on the British side, further up the road. On the American side, people were just penned in, they had been there all day with no shade whatsoever and a limited amount of water.’

Elsewhere at the airport, a Taliban militant hit an old man with his rifle butt to stop him pushing on a gate. Nearby women were beaten with sticks.

A man who gave his name as Abdullah told The Mail on Sunday: ‘All human rights and dignity have been buried here. No one behaves like human beings.

‘The foreigners have created this situation, they cannot manage this situation and this is their last attempt to humiliate us.’

It is thought about 3,500 British nationals and Afghan locals are awaiting evacuation. Latest reports show that 3,821 people have been airlifted out. In Kabul itself, food is running out and prices are rising fast.

Only a small number of British embassy staff remain in Kabul, led by ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow (pictured), who has won plaudits for staying to help process visas

Former Royal Marine Pen Farthing, who founded an animal welfare charity in Kabul, said: ‘I can’t draw out any money – the banks are running out.

‘I can’t pay my staff salaries, nobody can buy food. This is just turning into a disaster upon a disaster. The humanitarian crisis here is getting out of control.’

He added: ‘I’m past angry, I’m past everything. I’m just completely numb at the incompetence of this operation.’

Gul Ali, 55, clutching a British passport, had camped outside the airport for six days. He has lived in Britain for six years, and only went back to Kabul to visit relatives. Now he is stranded.

He said: ‘I cannot get out. Nobody gives me permission. It’s like doomsday, what is going on? What are these security men doing, it’s an uncontrolled situation, it’s uncertain, the US and UK forces are unable to manage the situation.’

Joy and hope were scarce but an interpreter called Waheed, who had worked with British forces, was one of the few who made it through the airport. 

Waheed, with his wife and children, spoke of his relief that he was finally UK-bound, saying: ‘It’s a very happy day in my life.’

Describing the crush outside the airport, he added: ‘It was very scary… like a zombie land.’

Only a small number of British embassy staff remain in Kabul, led by ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow, who has won plaudits for staying to help process visas.

He said the evacuation effort was ‘without a doubt’ the greatest challenge of his 30-year career.

Speaking for the first time since the Taliban takeover, Sir Laurie said: ‘The scale of this effort is enormous. Lives are at stake and I am incredibly proud of the tenacious efforts of my team during these challenging times, with military and civilian staff working together to successfully evacuate thousands of people in the last week.

‘We will continue to work tirelessly to get British nationals, Afghan staff and others at risk out of the country as quickly as possible as we also support Afghanistan’s long-term future.’ 

His comments come as thousands of Afghans fear they could be left behind in Kabul as ministers push to extend the deadline for the last British evacuation flight beyond Tuesday. 

Efforts have been ramped up, however, with the Ministry of Defence today confirming that the UK repatriated 1000 people in the last 24 hours – the most in a single day so far.   

Meanwhile Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has been plunged into a fresh row over his holiday after sources told the Mail on Sunday that he had refused an order by No.10 to return from the Mediterranean to deal with the Afghanistan crisis. 

The sources said Mr Raab had been told by a senior Downing Street official on Friday, August 13, that he should return to London immediately as the situation in Kabul deteriorated, and that there had been ‘much gnashing of teeth’ when he delayed his homecoming until the early hours of Monday morning.

The claim is strongly denied by friends of Mr Raab, who insist that he was assured by Boris Johnson that he could stay with his family until the end of the weekend.

Meanwhile, the Taliban are making progress in forming a government and ensuring security across the country, an official said today, adding that the Taliban are ‘aiming to improve the situation and provide a smooth exit’ at the airport over the weekend.

A soldier carries someone amid the chaos at Kabul airport in Afghanistan today, with thousands desperate to flee the country

There were also scenes of people left injured and bloodied, sat amongst piles of papers and discarded clothes near the site, while others stood shoulder to shoulder, amid sounds of screams and gunshots

Shocking footage shows injured Afghans bleeding as they desperately try and make their way into the airport

British soldiers desperately shouted for medics and stretchers, as unconscious people were carried away, many being pronounced dead and covered in white sheets

The mayhem followed more violence in the capital last night, with footage emerging of people in crowds being beaten with sticks

A U.S. Navy Corpsman with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command, hands out water to children during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport

An evacuee holds up a peace sign after being manifested for a flight at Hamid Karzai International Airport

A U.S. Airman with the Joint Task Force-Crisis Response speaks with families who await processing during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport

How many people have the West actually evacuated? 

America

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 17,000 people have been airlifted out of Kabul in the last seven days, the Pentagon said on Saturday, despite there being capacity for up to 9,000 per day

Since the end of July, some 22,000 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

Britain

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. This target was met on Saturday, the Ministry of Defence said.

In total, the UK has now taken some 4,800 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 2,200 people – but up to 8,200 if the prime minister’s pledge to take refugees is to be met

 

The UK is urging President Joe Biden to delay withdrawing US forces from the airport to help with the airlifting of as many as 6,000 British nationals and locals from the Taliban-controlled city.

Government sources stressed it was unlikely Britons would be left behind but said as many as 2,000 Afghan citizens could miss out.

So far 12,000 foreigners and Afghans working for embassies and international aid groups have been evacuated from Kabul while a number have died at the airport.

In a new security warning today, however, the US Embassy told citizens not to travel to the Kabul airport without ‘individual instructions from a US government representative,’ citing potential security threats outside its gates. 

And yet crowds remained outside its concrete barriers, clutching documents and sometimes stunned-looking children, blocked from flight by coils of razor wire. 

Footage has since emerged of pandemonium and violence outside the airport, with US officials reporting that Americans have been beaten by the Taliban as they’ve tried to reach safety. The White House earlier confirmed that three military helicopters were used to rescue 169 Americans who were trapped at a hotel near the airport.

It comes as Taliban co-founder Mullah Baradar arrived in the Afghan capital today for talks with militant commanders, former government leaders and religious scholars.

Nato yesterday 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.’

Meanwhile, pressure continues to grow on Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab after new claims emerged accusing him of failing to engage with foreign counterparts on the Afghanistan situation until the Taliban had reached Kabul.

Witnesses told the Times that the Cabinet minister was swimming and using a paddleboard on the last day of his break, which was spent at a beach at a five-star hotel on the Greek island of Crete, as the crisis began to unfold.

Mr Raab was already in the firing line after it emerged he delegated a call about repatriating Afghan interpreters, while away on August 13, to a junior minister, a decision that resulted in the phone conversation with the Afghan foreign minister not taking place and possibly delaying taking them to safety.

And tonight he was plunged into a fresh row over his holiday after sources told the Mail on Sunday that he had refused an order by No.10 to return from the Mediterranean to deal with the Afghanistan crisis.

The sources said Mr Raab had been told by a senior Downing Street official on Friday 13th August that he should return to London immediately as the situation in Kabul deteriorated, and that there had been ‘much gnashing of teeth’ when he delayed his homecoming until the early hours of Monday morning.

Tonight Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was plunged into a fresh row over his holiday after sources told the Mail on Sunday that he had refused an order by No.10 to return from the Mediterranean to deal with the Afghanistan crisis

The claim is strongly denied by friends of Mr Raab, who insist that he was assured by Boris Johnson that he could stay with his family until the end of the weekend.

A source said: ‘There is no doubt that Raab was told to come back on that Friday. There was then a significant amount of surprise when he appeared on the Cobra on the Sunday down the line from Crete. He must have nobbled Boris and asked for permission to finish his holiday’.

Last night, Mr Raab told the Mail on Sunday that he had enjoyed a ‘wave of support’, and denied that there was pressure from within his party to resign.

Mr Raab said: ‘I’ve not heard any of my Conservative colleagues call for me to resign, but I have had a wave of support. There is no doubt that, like all countries, there is a measure of surprise at the rapidity of the Taliban takeover.

‘But as the Foreign Secretary travelling around the world, whether I am on leave or I’m travelling for work purposes, I am always set up to be able to grip things’.

A close ally of Mr Raab insisted that No.10 had not ‘ordered’ him to return on the Friday.

The ally said: ‘The suggestion was that he should make plans to come back. They said that if things get worse then he needed to be ready to come back at a moment’s notice. He then talked it through with the PM and it was agreed that he would came back on Sunday’. 

A Pakistani paramilitary soldier, right, and Taliban fighters stand guard on their respective sides at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Torkham, in Khyber district, Pakistan

A Pakistani paramilitary soldier indicates direction to Afghan nationals at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan

A Pakistani paramilitary soldier, front, and Taliban fighters, stand guard on their respective sides while a truck moves to cross at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan

Taliban fighters stand guard on their side at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Torkham, in Khyber district, Pakistan

A Pakistani paramilitary soldier, right, and Taliban fighter stand guard on their respective sides at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan

U.S. Embassy tells Americans NOT to go to Kabul airport due to security threats

The U.S. Embassy issued a stern warning to Americans on Saturday not to go to Kabul airport – which is the only way out of the country – because of ‘security threats’ outside its gates a day after President Biden vowed to bring citizens and Afghan allies home. 

‘Because of potential security threats outside the gates at the Kabul airport, we are advising U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates at this time unless you receive individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do so,’ the Embassy warning says. 

The warning was issued less than 24 hours after Biden said there was ‘no indication’ that the Taliban was stopping Americans and their allies from reaching the airport and promised to get everyone home. 

It was the first time Biden took questions from White House reporters – on a pre-approved list – in nine days since the chaos started unfolding in Afghanistan. 

‘Let me be clear, any American who wants to come home, we will get you home,’ Biden pledged during the speech that he started 50 minutes late where he stumbled over answers. 

The president made the promise to ‘mobilize every force necessary’ despite admitting he doesn’t know how many Americans were left and he ‘cannot promise what the final outcome will be’.

He also said allies around the world have not questioned US credibility over the chaotic Kabul evacuation, insisted Al Qaeda is gone from Afghanistan and claimed there has been ‘no indication’ the Taliban has blocked Americans from reaching the airport.

Minutes after Biden said the mission to destroy Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was a success and that he knew of no circumstances where Americans had been unable to reach Kabul airport, he was flatly contradicted by the Pentagon.

Yes, Al Qaeda remains present in Afghanistan, said Department of Defense spokesman John Kirby during a briefing, and yes, he was aware of reports of Americans being beaten by the Taliban as they tried to reach safety.

The contradiction will raise further doubt about whether Biden is in control of the White House messaging operation, let alone the chaotic effort to bring Americans home.  

Over the last 12 hours, videos started emerging showing the pandemonium and occasional violence outside the airport. Kabul airport is the only way out of the country after the Taliban started seizing the country’s major cities.  

Abdul Ghani Baradar – one of the Taliban’s top leaders who negotiated the exit of US troops with former President Donald Trump in Qatar – arrived in Kabul on Saturday.  

The world’s eyes are on him as he leads discussions with other Taliban leaders who will construct the framework for how they govern the country over the next week few weeks – a stark difference to the shadowy presence they maintained for years pre-9/11 when they ruled by harsh, draconian Sunni law.  

A Taliban official told Reuters that the framework ‘will protect everyone’s rights’ but would not be a democracy by Western standards. 

It’s unclear exactly how many U.S. citizens remain in Afghanistan, but estimates have ranged as high as 15,000.  

Senior Tories piled pressure on the US and security services today, with one cabinet minister telling the Times: ‘Why do the CIA and MI6 get such large budgets if they can’t tell us what is happening? It’s an intelligence failure.’ 

Dominic Grieve, a former Conservative MP and attorney general, told Sky News: ‘I think if they had known this was going to happen, would the US withdrawal have proceeded in the way it did?

‘It must be an intelligence failure that one should end up with thousands of people crowding into an airport seeking to leave a country when it has been triggered by military decisions by the United States as to how it was going to conduct its withdrawal.’

Ministers have reportedly been told the last British evacuation flight out of Kabul could be on Tuesday – to establish an ‘orderly withdrawal’ and allow soldiers to get out – but a final decision had not been taken.

A senior government source told the Times: ‘People are going to get left behind. It’s a question of how many. It could be thousands. I don’t think people have realised the extent of the risk.’

Another insider pointed out if the flights are ground to a halt on Tuesday there is the potential for as many as 2,000 Afghans to be left to the Taliban. 

The source added to the paper: ‘There’s a risk that thousands could be left behind but it’s unlikely to be British nationals.’

Meanwhile, the European Union’s top officials have warned the Taliban that current conversations being held to secure the departures of as many Afghan evacuees as possible do not mean the 27-nation bloc is prepared to recognise the new regime.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen acknowledged the necessity of continuing to engage with the Taliban during her visit, with EU Council president Charles Michel, to a reception centre for evacuees near Madrid, in Spain.

But she said this was ‘separate’ from ‘political talks’.

‘We do have operational contacts with the Taliban in this moment of crisis, because we need to discuss in these difficult times how we can facilitate it for people in Kabul to come to the airport,’ she said.

‘But this is completely distinct and separated from political talks. There are no political talks with the Taliban and there is no recognition of the Taliban.’

It comes as a former British Marine turned animal charity manager in Kabul painted a desperate picture of life under the new regime.

Pen Farthing, who has been an outspoken critic of the Nato response to the crisis, revealed he and his ‘terrified’ staff are plotting a daring effort to break through the Taliban ranks and into the city’s airport.

He said insurgents had set up shop next door to where they are staying – but were leaving them alone – while people go hungry because they cannot buy food.

The Islamist militants said today the group have not kidnapped any foreigner, although some of them are being questioned before being allowed to leave.

An official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters: ‘Our fighters will continue to demonstrate restraint.’

It was reported that Mr Biden would leave Washington DC for his holiday home in Delaware today – exiting the White House amid the biggest crisis of his presidency – but it later emerged that he had changed plans.

He will have spent only four days in the last 15 in the White House since the Taliban took their first regional capital, with the rest of the time at Camp David or in Delaware.

One of those still on the ground is former British Marine Mr Farthing who unveiled his team’s plan to break through the Taliban ranks surrounding the airport and try to catch a flight.

He told the Today programme: ‘We are literally trying to plan how we are going to break into Kabul airport. Can you believe I’m saying that? We are trying to plan how we can break into Kabul airport.

‘Somebody somewhere needs to get a grip of this. It’s not a joke, it’s not anything, that is genuinely what we are trying to do. With our team here I am going to try to plan to break into Kabul airport. I’m lost for words.’

He said he would ‘absolutely not’ be prepared to leave without his staff. ‘I’ve got women and children I’m not leaving without them. They’re coming with me.

‘Right now they’re terrified, absolutely terrified. There are no assurances that they will be okay if they were to stay here.’

The UK Armed Forces are pictured taking part in the evacuation of entitled personnel from Kabul airport in Afghanistan yesterday

Thousands of Afghans could be left behind in Kabul as ministers push to extend the deadline for the last British evacuation flight beyond Tuesday. Pictured: British citizens catching a flight earlier this week

A defense official said about 5,7000 people, including about 250 Americans, were flown out of Kabul in 16 C-17 transport planes. The previous two days, about 2,000 people were airlifted. Pictured: Members of the United Services Organizations carry food for Afghan evacuees aboard a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at Ramstein Air Base, Germany,

An Afghan family arrives in Islamabad Airport after their evacuation from Kabul by Belgian forces called Red Kite mission, in Islamabad, Pakistan

Afghans continue to wait around the Hamid Karzai International Airport as they try to flee the Afghan capital of Kabul today

The UK is urging President Joe Biden to delay withdrawing US forces from the airport to help with the airlifting of as many as 6,000 British nationals and locals from the Taliban-controlled city. Pictured: The airport today

An insider pointed out that if the flights are ground to a halt on Tuesday, then there is the potential for as many as 2,000 Afghans (pictured at the airport today) to be left in the hands of the Taliban

Ministers have reportedly been told the last British evacuation flight out of Kabul (pictured, the airport today) could be on Tuesday – to establish an ‘orderly withdrawal’ and allow soldiers to get out – but a final decision had not been taken

Pentagon contradicts Biden MINUTES after his fumbling speech

Minutes after President Biden on Friday said the mission to destroy Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was a success and that he knew of no circumstances where Americans had been unable to reach Kabul airport, he was flatly contradicted by the Pentagon.

Al Qaeda remains present in Afghanistan, said Department of Defense spokesman John Kirby during a briefing, and yes, he was aware of reports of Americans being beaten by the Taliban as they tried to reach safety.

The contradiction will raise further doubt about whether Biden is in control of the White House messaging operation, let alone the chaotic effort to bring Americans home.

He cancelled plans to return home to Wilmington on Friday evening as officials scrambled to give off an air of urgency.

He even answered questions about Afghanistan for the first time in 10 days after delivering a speech in the East Room of the White House.

Would he send troops out of their base in Hamid Karzai International Airport to help stranded Americans reach safety, he was asked. 

‘We have no indication that they haven’t been able to get in Kabul through the airport,’ he said.

‘We’ve made an agreement with the Taliban thus far, they’ve allowed them to go through, it’s in their interest for them to through.’

But a different view emerged in reports of a briefing call that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin held with lawmakers, telling them that Americans had been beaten as they tried to reach the airport. 

And officials at the Pentagon confirmed they were aware of Americans reporting being attacked.

‘We’re certainly mindful of these reports and they’re deeply troubling and we have communicated to the Taliban that that’s absolutely unacceptable, that we want free passage through their checkpoints for documented Americans and – by and large – that’s happening,’ said Kirby.

He also slammed the IMF and President Biden for stopping money flowing into Afghanistan, saying the Taliban do not need it because they have the opium trade but the locals do to buy food and pay their staff.

He said: ‘This is just turning into a disaster upon a disaster. The humanitarian crisis here is getting out of control and I don’t see any politicians doing anything about it.

‘We can’t leave the country because we can’t get into the airport without putting our lives at risk. I’ve got 71 staff members and women to get into that airport.

‘We’ve all seen the scenes, it’s no different today than it was at any other time. It’s just getting worse.’

He said he had an email from the embassy this morning telling him to get an evacuation flight – but he would have had to leave his workers behind.

He said: ‘How? How would you like me to get into the airport? It’s ridiculous. I’m past angry, I’m past everything. I’m just completely numb at the incompetence of this operation.’

And he revealed that Taliban forces had moved in next door to where he is but were leaving them to themselves for now.

‘We see them. They’ve left us alone. The issue here in Kabul is not the Taliban at the moment, it’s the fact we can’t get money out… no one can buy food… and obviously you can’t get to the airport because you can’t get into it.

‘It’s the most dire situation, a humanitarian crisis on a humanitarian crisis.’ He added it was not feasible for paratroopers to go and fetch him because they would just ‘be putting their lives in danger’.

But in a ray of hope for the former soldier and his entourage, his campaigner said progress is being made in the operation to evacuate them.

Dominic Dyer said all 68 people should have visas ‘within the next 24 hours’ and that an aeroplane with ‘significant capacity’ for them and the animals is being deployed in the coming days.

About 12,000 foreigners and Afghans working for embassies and international aid groups have been evacuated from Kabul airport in the last week – but 12 have died around the site.

Mr Dyer said he is seeing ‘a lot more co-operation from the British Government’ including ‘direct involvement’ from Environment Secretary George Eustice.

Speaking from Milton Keynes, he said a ‘wealthy investor in the United States’ is now helping fund the mission. He said the ‘main obstacle’ is ‘getting through the airport’ where thousands of desperate people are trying to escape.

He said: ‘Defra are helping us now in terms of all the issues around the dogs coming – the rabies control and quarantine rules. We have an aeroplane, an A340 airbus, with significant capacity for the people and the animals.

‘We are hopeful that all 68 people will be approved for visas, we can’t leave anybody out, so we need that completely.’

He added: ‘The one thing that we’ve begun to see is that the Americans began to deploy Chinooks, and the French and Germans have smaller capacity helicopters.

‘We don’t have any helicopters in that theatre at all because we removed them all weeks before this operation started, which sounds absolutely ridiculous.’

Afghans (pictured today) are continuing to wait around the Hamid Karzai International Airport as they try to flee the Taliban

Cars line the road on the way to the city’s airport as thousands are still trying to escape the Taliban and catch a flight to the West

Pakistani soldiers stand guard as Afghan and Pakistani nationals queue to cross into Afghanistan at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing point in Chaman today

Meanwhile a head teacher in Nottingham said two of her school children are expected home from Afghanistan in the ‘next couple of days’ after successfully making it to Kabul airport.

Nargas Ziahe flew out to Afghanistan more than six weeks ago following the death of an uncle but got trapped in Parwan province with her brother Omar, five, and sister Asma, nine, following the lightning Taliban advance.

Amanda Dawson, head of Mellers Primary School which Omar and Asma usually attend, told the Today programme: ‘We’re absolutely frantic about their situation.

‘They are still at the airport waiting for their repatriation flights, firstly to Dubai – I think there is a military flight to Dubai and then a connecting commercial flight back to the UK.

Son of exiled Afghan president Ashraf Ghani REFUSES to comment on unfolding crisis 

His Afghan government leader father reportedly fled Kabul in a helicopter stuffed with $169million in cash and four cars – but Tarek Ghani leads an altogether different existence as an economics professor residing in one of America’s most genteel neighborhoods, DailyMail.com can reveal. Life for the 39-year-old son of exiled Ashraf Ghani could not be more different to the horror unfolding on the streets of the Afghan capital where the Taliban are beginning to exert their rule of terror and killing.

Tarek Ghani (pictured) is the son of exiled Afghan president Ashraf Ghani

He and wife Elizabeth Pearson own an immaculate $1.2million red-painted town house just a mile from the Capitol building in a charming Washington DC enclave, its patchwork of streets lined with trees and other similar upscale properties. The power couple bought their three-bedroom, three-bathroom home for $959,000 in 2018 and it has rocketed in value since the Covid pandemic. The area’s average real estate prices are in the country’s top seven percent. Yet despite his proud heritage, expertise and background fighting to prevent war, he bluntly refused to discuss the unfolding situation in Afghanistan when DailyMail.com turned up at his home to ask him about it. He said ‘no’, and closed the front door. 

‘But they are safe, they are in the airport and, unless the airport falls of course, they are safe and we are expecting them to be home in the next couple of days.’

Ms Dawson said the videos and voice messages sent to her of the children by their older sister during their time stuck in Afghanistan were ‘absolutely heart breaking’.

She added: ‘They were terrified: watching shooting, watching people being assaulted and just the chaos outside that airport compound was really traumatising for anybody but particularly for young children.’

Meanwhile, former Afghan diplomat Zubair Juenda has described his ‘mission impossible’ journey out of Afghanistan with his wife and two children, aged nine and 10, amid the Taliban takeover.

He told Channel 4 News: ‘It was horrendous. Everybody has the fear to be stopped by the Taliban at the checkpoints and the sense of uncertainty over what the reaction of the Taliban would be.

‘It was difficult and we had to drive many checkpoints controlled by the Taliban to actually get to the place where we were met by the British army officers, but getting to it was a mission impossible.

‘But we managed to get through. Thousands of people were standing trying to get in to the camp, so we had to push through. I had my two children and my wife with me, and we had to get through this gate which I now call the gate out of hell.’

He added: ‘I was very worried, being a father with children of that age and a wife it is of course worrying, it felt like a nightmare.

‘Adults have been crushed by people… I passed out myself after being crushed, but six people died outside the camp.’ 

It comes as the US Embassy told Americans today not to go to Kabul airport – which is the only way out of the country – because of ‘security threats’ outside its gates.

The warning was issued less than 24 hours after President Biden said there was ‘no indication’ that the Taliban was stopping Americans and their allies from reaching the airport and promised to get everyone home.  

That was part of Biden’s 50-minute speech on Friday, which was the first time in nine days the president answered any questions about the chaos in Afghanistan. 

During the speech, he was contradicted by Department of Defense spokesman John Kirby who said he was aware of reports of Americans being beaten by the Taliban as they tried to reach safety. 

The point was furthered over the last 12 hours as videos depicting pandemonium and occasional violence outside the airport have surfaced. 

Vulnerable Afghans who fear the Taliban’s retaliation sent desperate pleas not to be left behind. 

But some outgoing flights have been far from full because of Taliban checkpoints and bureaucratic challenges.  

A Taliban fighter stands guard on Afghan side while people wait to cross at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Torkham, in Khyber district, Pakistan

Pedestrian movement has limited in Torkham border, only stranded people in both sides and trucks taking goods to Afghanistan can passes through this border point. Pictured: Taliban fighters stand guard at the border

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen says there is ‘no recognition’ of Taliban from bloc 

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen acknowledged the necessity of continuing to engage with the Taliban during her visit, with EU Council president Charles Michel, to a reception centre for evacuees near Madrid, in Spain

The European Union’s top officials warned the Taliban on Saturday that the current conversations being held to secure the exit of as many Afghan evacuees as possible do not mean the bloc is prepared to recognise the new regime.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen acknowledged the necessity of continuing to engage with the Taliban during her visit, with EU Council president Charles Michel, to a reception centre for evacuees near Madrid, in Spain.

‘We do have operational contacts with the Taliban in this moment of crisis, because we need to discuss in these difficult times how we can facilitate it for people in Kabul to come to the airport,’ she said.

‘But this is completely distinct and separated from political talks. There are no political talks with the Taliban and there is no recognition of the Taliban.’

She also said the continuance of European humanitarian aid to Afghanistan will hinge on the Taliban respecting human rights, especially for women and girls.

‘We hear the Taliban statement that stresses that women will have their right place in society and have the right to study and work, within the framework of Islam, whatever that means.

‘But we also hear more and more reports of people being hunted down for their past work or opinions, and we hear of women being turned away when they show up at their usual workplace,’ she said.

‘The one billion euros set aside by the European Union for the next seven years for development aid is tied to strict conditions: respect for human rights, good treatment of minorities, and respect for the rights of women and girls.’

Then a backlog at the transit facility in Qatar, which is one of the main countries welcoming refugees, stalled flights for hours on Friday. 

A defense official said about 5,7000 people, including about 250 Americans, were flown out of Kabul in 16 C-17 transport planes. The previous two days, about 2,000 people were airlifted. 

No one knows how many U.S. citizens remain in Afghanistan, but estimates have ranged as high as 15,000. 

‘This is one of the largest difficult airlifts in history and the only country in the world capable of projecting this much power on the far side of the world with this degree of precision is the United States of America,’ Biden said on Friday. 

Meanwhile, the Taliban said today they have not kidnapped any foreigners, although some of them are being questioned before being allowed to leave Afghanistan.

Just a week after the Taliban’s swift takeover of the south Asian nation, Western nations have struggled to ramp up the pace of evacuations amid chaos and reports of violence by the insurgents.

The Taliban official told Reuters on condition of anonymity: ‘Our fighters will continue to demonstrate restraint.’

He ruled out incidents of reported kidnappings of foreigners, but added: ‘We are questioning some of them before they exit the country.’

The official also said today the Taliban will be accountable for its actions and will investigate reports of reprisals and atrocities carried out by members.

The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that the group planned to ready a new model for governing Afghanistan within the next few weeks.

‘We have heard of some cases of atrocities and crimes against civilians,’ the official said. ‘If Talibs (members) are doing these law and order problems, they will be investigated.’

He added: ‘We can understand the panic, stress and anxiety. People think we will not be accountable, but that will not be the case.’

Taliban co-founder Mullah Baradar arrived in the Afghan capital today for talks with militant commanders, former government leaders and religious scholars.

Baradar will meet militant commanders, former government leaders and policy makers, as well as religious scholars among others, the official said. 

The chief of the Taliban’s political office, Baradar was part of the group’s negotiating team in the Qatar capital of Doha.

Reported to have been one of the most trusted commanders of the former Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar, Baradar was captured in 2010 by security forces in Pakistan’s southern city of Karachi and released in 2018.

Meanwhile German Chancellor Angela Merkel conceded today the Afghan army’s resistance against Taliban militants had been misjudged.

‘The army collapsed at a breathtaking pace,’ Merkel said at an election event. ‘We had expected the resistance to be stronger.’ 

An Afghan man today stands near a damaged house after airstrikes in two weeks ago during a fight between government forces and the Taliban in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province

An Afghan man is pictured today standing near a damaged house after airstrikes in two weeks ago during a fight between government forces and the Taliban in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province

Two boys stand next to their crumbling house today after it was damaged during the air strikes in Helmand province two weeks ago

An Afghan boy today stands at a damaged house after airstrikes in two weeks ago during a fight between government forces and the Taliban in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province

Former diplomat describes ‘mission impossible’ escape from Afghanistan

A former Afghan diplomat has described his escape from the country with his wife and two young children as ‘mission impossible’ amid the Taliban takeover.

Zubair Juenda told Channel 4 News that at one point he passed out as he and his family pushed through huge crowds to reach ‘the gates out of hell’ and were evacuated with the help of the British military.

Mr Juenda fled from Kabul to England with his wife and children, aged nine and 10.

They left the Afghan capital on Thursday and had to make the perilous journey via three checkpoints controlled by the Taliban, before arriving in England the following day.

He said: ‘It was horrendous. Everybody has the fear to be stopped by the Taliban at the checkpoints and the sense of uncertainty over what the reaction of the Taliban would be.

‘It was difficult and we had to drive many checkpoints controlled by the Taliban to actually get to the place where we were met by the British army officers, but getting to it was a mission impossible.

‘But we managed to get through. Thousands of people were standing trying to get in to the camp, so we had to push through.

‘I had my two children and my wife with me, and we had to get through this gate which I now call the gate out of hell.’ 

Merkel said the focus now was on rescuing people from Afghanistan, but later there would need to be a discussion on what had or had not been achieved.  

Despite the chaos gripping the Middle East country, President Biden has decided to leave Washington DC and return to his holiday home in Delaware.

The president will have spent only four days in the last 15 in the White House since the Taliban took their first regional capital, with the rest of the time at Camp David or in Delaware.

Vice president Kamala Harris left DC on Friday for an Asia tour and will be absent for a week, visiting Singapore, Vietnam and then California. Her office insisted she will continue to work on the Afghan crisis while she is in Asia.

President Biden also has access to secure command and control centres at all the locations he travels to.

The President has taken flack throughout the crisis, most recently last night during his speech from the White House that presented a distorted reality.

Minutes after he said the mission to destroy Al Qaeda was a success and he knew of no circumstances where Americans had been unable to reach Kabul airport, he was flatly contradicted by the Pentagon.

Al Qaeda remains present in Afghanistan, said Department of Defense spokesman John Kirby during a briefing, and yes, he was aware of reports of Americans being beaten by the Taliban as they tried to reach safety.

The contradiction will raise further doubt about whether Biden is in control of the White House messaging operation, let alone the chaotic effort to bring Americans home.

He also flubbed while describing key communications with the Taliban, mangling the name of Doha, Qatar – a key focal point of negotiations as well as evacuations.

Asked about assurances of security for people making it to the airport, Biden responded: ‘We’ve been in constant contact with the Taliban leadership on the ground in Kabul, as well as the Taliban leadership in Daho.’

He did not immediately correct himself, but he later referred to the location correctly when defending the way the evacuation was handled.

‘The point was that although we were in contact with the Taliban and Doha for this whole period of time,’ there wasn’t expected to be a ‘total demise’ of the Afghan military. 

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. 

A baby who was captured in a viral video being handed to a US Marine over a wall topped with barbed-wire at Kabul airport has been reunited with her father. The video sees the sobbing infant being handed over to a Marine across a reinforced wall at Hamad Karzai International Airport who then hands the child to a fellow soldier.

Major Jim Stenger told CBS News: ‘The baby seen in the video was taken to a medical treatment facility on site and cared for by medical professionals. I can confirm the baby was reunited with their father and is safe at the airport.

‘This is a true example of the professionalism of the Marines on site, who are making quick decisions in a dynamic situation in support of evacuation operations.’ It is the latest iconic image to emerge as people desperate to flee the Taliban beg troops and US allies to help them evacuate.

Elsewhere in the international crisis, the Gulf nation of Bahrain said today it was allowing flights to use its transit facilities for the evacuation, an option that should ease pressure after the US faced issues on Friday with its facilities at Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

The backlog forced flights from Kabul’s international airport to stop for several hours. The United Arab Emirates also said today it would host up to 5,000 Afghans ‘prior to their departure to other countries’.

Tens of thousands of Afghan translators and others, and their close family members, are seeking evacuation after the Taliban’s shockingly swift takeover of Afghanistan in a little over a week.

So far, 13 countries have agreed to host at-risk Afghans at least temporarily, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said. Another 12 have agreed to serve as transit points for evacuees, including Americans and others.

Remaining in Afghanistan means adapting to life under the Taliban, who say they seek an ‘inclusive, Islamic’ government, offer full amnesty to those who worked for the US and the Western-backed government and claim they have become more moderate since they last held power from 1996 to 2001.

They also say they will honour women’s rights within the norms of Islamic law.

But many Afghans fear a return to the Taliban’s harsh rule of the late 1990s, when the group barred women from attending school or working outside the home, banned television and music, chopped off the hands of suspected thieves and held public executions.

Meanwhile Uzbekistan today said it had accepted about 400 more refugees from Afghanistan and put them up in temporary accommodation near the Afghan border.

It is unclear how many Afghans have crossed into the former Soviet republic as Taliban insurgents overran Afghanistan.

The Tashkent government has denied senior Afghan figures such as ethnic Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dustum were among them.

But approximately 650 Afghan officers from units commanded by Dustum were already at the same health centre, TASS cited the source as saying.

Uzbekistan said on Friday that it had sent 150 Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan as per an agreement with the Taliban and after requests from the refugees themselves.

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