Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said the UK evacuation effort in Afghanistan is working towards the end of August, but time will also be taken to withdraw the military operation.
Speaking on Sky News this morning, and asked about suggestions the withdrawal could begin within 24 to 48 hours, Raab said: “I’m not going to give the precise timeline. What we do know is that we are working towards the end of the month.”
“The military planners will work out how much time they need to withdraw their equipment, their staff, and what’s really important is we will make the maximum use of all the time we have left,” he added.
He said in the last 24 hours “we have secured 2,000 back to the UK, so the system is operating at full speed, at full capacity and we will use every last remaining hour and day to get everyone we can back, the British nationals, the Afghans who worked so loyally for us, we are getting the Chevening scholars back, also women’s rights defenders and journalists.”
“We will work to the end of August, but we will take back from that, you step back from that, the time that we need to withdraw our military operation.
“I can’t give you the precise details because we want to make sure we use every last hour and day to keep this rate up.”
Exit date next week
The Taliban has put an exit date of August 31 for all foreign evacuations.
Raab has said “almost all” single-nationality UK citizens who want to leave Afghanistan have been brought home.
Asked on Sky News if all British nationals are out of the country, he said: “Mono-nationals, so single-nationality UK who have got documentation, the lion’s share, almost all of them that want to come out have been brought home.
“The ones that are remaining, and we have done an amazing job, two-and-a-half thousand UK nationals if you go back to April… what remains are rather complex cases, large family units where one or other may be documented or may be clearly a national, but it’s not clear whether the rest of them are.”
Evacuations so far
Raab said that 9,000 British nationals, Afghans who worked for British forces and those at risk, journalists and Chevening scholars have been evacuated from Afghanistan since 15 August.
Discussing the Taliban’s press conference where they said the US should not be “encouraging” highly skilled people to leave Afghanistan, Raab said the group needs to be more “inclusive” and “moderate” compared to the previous Taliban.
He told Times Radio: “If the Taliban leadership, as they were saying overnight, want to avoid the brain drain, they’re not going to be able to do that by coercively blocking the border. You’ll just see a larger flow of refugees going out and they’ll have to be processed.”
“They’re not going to be able to avoid the refugee crisis by just a few roadblocks, they’re not going to be able to hermetically seal the Afghan border, which is rugged and wide-ranging.”
“If they’re really serious about avoiding the brain drain, which was the language that the Taliban spokesperson said, they’re going to have to find a way to bring in other factions to be more inclusive and to be more moderate compared with the previous Taliban.”
Raab said the UK “would like to see Kabul airport go back to being functional”.
Asked on Sky News about reports the airport could switch back to allowing people to leave on civilian aircraft rather than military flights, and asked if the UK has had conversations with the Taliban about that possibility, Raab said: “We do engage with the Taliban militarily on the ground, and in Doha with the political representation.
“We would like to see Kabul airport go back to being functional. That will require the security on the ground, it will require it to be done safely, and of course it will require the Taliban to live up to their assurances about allowing safe passage out.
“They’ve actually so far tried to be constructive, as we have seen with the numbers we have got, and tried to be constructive in their own way, and what we have then got to do is test them beyond the withdrawal date, will they still allow safe passage, as they have undertaken, will they allow humanitarian groups the permissive environment to be able to operate?
“So, there is a next stage of engagement, not recognition, engagement with the Taliban, and we will hold them very clearly to the assurances that they are already stating.”
Responding to criticism about his Greek holiday while the Taliban took Kabul, Raab has said it is “nonsense” to say he was “lounging around on the beach all day” while on his holiday which has been so strongly criticised, and said he didn’t go paddleboarding because “the sea was actually closed”.
He told Sky News: “The stuff about me being lounging around on the beach all day is just nonsense. The stuff about me paddleboarding, nonsense, the sea was actually closed, it was a red notice.
“I was focused on the Cobra meetings, the Foreign Office team, the director and the director general, and the international engagement.”