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Taliban warn US against extending evacuation deadline

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid looks on as he addresses the first press conference in Kabul on August 17, 2021, following the Taliban stunning takeover of Afghanistan. (Photo by AFP)

The Taliban have rejected the potential extension of a looming deadline for US and other foreign troops to completely withdraw from Afghanistan, and called on Washington to stop evacuating skilled Afghans after the group’s takeover of the country.

Taliban’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said at a news conference in the capital, Kabul, on Tuesday that the militant group would not agree to an extension of the August 31 deadline for full foreign evacuations from Afghanistan and was not in favor of Afghan nationals leaving the country.

Mujahid called on the United States not to encourage Afghan people to leave their homeland, and urged foreign embassies not to close or stop work.

Mujahid repeated earlier warnings by the Taliban against extending the airlift of Afghans, saying Americans were taking “Afghan experts,” such as engineers out of Afghanistan.

“We ask them to stop this process,” he said. “This country needs their expertise. They should not be taken to other countries.”

Mujahid urged Afghans to “return to their homes and resume their calm everyday lives” as the crowding at the Kabul airport was dangerous and “people could lose their lives.”

The Taliban spokesman told the thousands of Afghans crowding into the airport in the hope of boarding flights that they had nothing to fear and should go home, saying, "We guarantee their security.”

Elsewhere in his remarks, Mujahid said the formation of a new government in Afghanistan will be announced soon and the Taliban will cooperate with the future government, adding that its fighters will be recruited into the Afghan army.

The comments were made as US President Joe Biden has faced growing calls from Washington’s allies to negotiate more time for the evacuations following the hasty withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan and the ensuing Taliban’s takeover of the country.

The US-led invasion of Afghanistan removed the Taliban from power 20 years ago, but it worsened the security situation in the country. The militants intensified their offensive and rapidly overran major cities in recent weeks, as the US-led foreign forces enforced what was seen as a hasty withdrawal.

The Taliban laid siege to Kabul on August 15 shortly after then-Afghan president Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

For the past two weeks, Kabul's airport has been the scene of chaos and sporadic violence, with panicked Afghan and foreign nationals desperately trying to catch evacuation flights out of the country, prompting officials there to enforce restrictions.

US ‘on pace’ to meet deadline: Biden

Speaking with G7 leaders during a virtual summit on Tuesday, Biden said the US is "on pace" to meet the August 31 deadline for evacuations, adding, "The sooner we finish the better.”

Biden said completing evacuations by August 31 is dependent on continued cooperation with the Taliban, including continued access for evacuees to the airport in Kabul.

"The Taliban have been taking steps to help get our people out," Biden said, adding that the international community would judge the Taliban by their actions.

Biden also told the G7 summit that each day on the ground in Afghanistan brings added risk to US troops from an attack by the militants.

According to a report by the White House on the same day, some 12,700 Afghan people were evacuated by 37 US military flights and 8,900 others were evacuated by coalition flights over the past 24 hours, with the Pentagon stressing that the military has increased the pace of flights out of Kabul to one aircraft every 45 minutes.

The White House also said Biden has left open the chance of the deadline being extended by asking the Pentagon and the US State Department to develop contingency plans should that prove necessary.

G7 agrees 'roadmap' for future engagement with Taliban

Other G7 leaders, meanwhile, said they would remain committed to Afghanistan and back the United Nations in coordinating immediate humanitarian help in the region.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said after the summit that the G7 group of nations has agreed on a "roadmap" for future engagement with the Taliban and will insist on the "safe passage" of people who want to leave Afghanistan beyond August 31.

"The number one condition we're setting as G7 is that they have got to guarantee, right the way through, through 31 August and beyond, safe passage for those who want to come out,” Johnson said.

"Some will say that they don't accept that and some, I hope, will see the sense of that, because the G7 has very considerable leverage - economic, diplomatic and political," he added.

The British PM said the UK had managed to evacuate 9,000 people so far, adding, "We're confident we can get thousands more out.”

"We will go on right up until the last moment that we can," Johnson added.

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