Poland suspends Afghan airlift for security reasons as US deadline approaches
WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Poland has ended its evacuations from Afghanistan, an official said on Wednesday, as time is running out on the West’s spectacular efforts to help people escape the Taliban takeover before a full American withdrawal.
President Joe Biden said the day before he was meeting his August 31 deadline to complete the US withdrawal, as the Taliban insisted he had to, stepping up pressure on the already risky Kabul airlift. to get as many people out as possible in the next few days.
The European allies insisted on more time but lost the discussion and, in practice, they could be forced to end their evacuations days before the departure of the last American troops. Several countries have yet to say when they plan to end their operations, perhaps hoping to avoid another fatal crash at an airport which is one of the last ways out of the country.
The Taliban regained control of Afghanistan almost 20 years after they were ousted in a US-led invasion following the September 11 attacks. Their return to power has prompted many Afghans to flee, fearing reprisals from combatants or a return to the brutal regime they imposed during their last rule of the country.
Thousands of people are still believed to be trying to leave the country, and it is not clear that all who wish will be able to do so before the end of the month. But any decision by Biden to stay longer could rekindle a war between the Taliban and US troops and the other coalition forces operating the airlift.
“Due to the extreme tension on the ground (…) and the planned departure of American forces, these evacuations are a real race against time,” French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday. He said the evacuation from his country would likely end “a few hours, maybe days before” the American departure.
As the deadline approached, Marcin Przydacz, Polish deputy foreign minister, said on Wednesday that a group of people taken from Kabul and who are now in Uzbekistan were the last to be evacuated by Poland. He said his country made the decision not to continue operations after consulting with US and UK officials.
“After a long analysis of the reports on the security situation, we can no longer risk the lives of our diplomats and our soldiers,” said Przydacz.
A number of troops will stay briefly to complete operations, Przydacz said. Poland used more than a dozen planes to bring hundreds of evacuees to Warsaw. Some then traveled to other countries.
The Czech Republic declared its own evacuation mission completed last week.
The chaos at Kabul airport rocked the world after the Taliban blitz across Afghanistan saw it take control of a nation that has received hundreds of billions of dollars in reconstruction aid and security support since the 2001 US invasion.
Afghans flocked to the tarmac last week, and some clung to a US military transport plane as it took off, later falling to their lives. At least seven people died that day, and seven more died Sunday in a stampede of panic.
Thousands of people have swarmed the airport in recent days, and the United States and its allies have been pushing to speed up the evacuation in recent days, sometimes getting people out before their documents are fully processed and bringing them in. to transit points in Europe or Asia. On Wednesday, a group of 51 people landed in Uganda, which became the first African country to receive evacuees.
European countries, including US allies Germany and the UK, had asked for a longer window to continue evacuations beyond the deadline next week. CIA Director William Burns even went to Kabul on Monday to meet with the Taliban’s top politician. However, Biden stuck with the August date, even after an emergency Group of Seven online summit.
This left European nations with no choice but to meet the deadline.
“That the global deployment literally corresponds to the position of the militarily strongest member of the alliance, the United States, has always been clear to us,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a speech to parliament.
“We will continue the evacuation operation as long as possible, in order to also allow the Afghans who have worked with us for security, freedom, the rule of law and development to leave the country,” he said. she adds.
She did not give a date for the departure of the last German evacuation flight, but said that even after this effort is over, the country will work to see if it can continue to help people by “among other things through civilian use of Kabul airport “.
For now, the US military is coordinating all air traffic entering and leaving Kabul airport. Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen wrote on Twitter that they plan to allow people to leave Kabul airport via commercial flights after the August deadline.
However, it is still unclear which commercial carriers would immediately resume their flights to an airport entirely under the control of the Taliban. On Wednesday, a flood of military planes took off from the airfield as evacuees lined up on the tarmac. The desperate remained outside, with some standing knee-deep in the sewers and waving IDs at Western soldiers in the hope of being allowed to cross the barbed wire and get on the plane.
With the final withdrawal date in just under a week, analyst Patricia Lewis said the practical deadline for stopping the evacuations was “the next two days.”
“You can’t just say, ‘OK, midnight we’re going to stop now, we’re just going to pack our bags smoothly,'” said Lewis, who is the director of the international security program at the International Affairs Think Tank. of Chatham House. “There’s a ton of stuff to do, including getting out all the people doing the work and all the equipment.
“All of the allies are heavily dependent on the United States for military cover, especially air cover,” Lewis said. “They can’t put their own people in danger, so it really depends on when the United States starts packing up.”
This story has been updated to correct the fact that the final withdrawal deadline is just under a week away, not more than a week away.
Associated Press editors Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Jill Lawless in London, Karel Janicek in Prague, Geir Moulson in Berlin and Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.
More AP coverage of Afghanistan: https://apnews.com/hub/afghanistan
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