UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to ask US President Joe Biden to extend the Aug. 31 deadline for the US withdrawal and to keep American forces in the country to allow evacuations to continue, local media reported on Monday.
Johnson will make the request at an emergency meeting of G7 leaders on Tuesday, according to Sky News.
Although Biden has said discussions were taking place on the extension of the deadline, he made clear that his government will stick to the deadline and evacuate all US nationals and its allies before its expiry date at the end of the month.
The emergency meeting of G7, of which the UK is chair, will take place virtually and the long-term future of Afghanistan and its relationship with the international community will be its main focus. Talks on trade cooperation and climate change will also feature in the session.
Unlike the US, the British government has no official deadline on the full withdrawal of its troops at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, but with the absence of US troops it is likely that British forces will struggle to secure the airport and thus will follow the US in its withdrawal.
The UK has more than 1,000 troops deployed at the Kabul airport to ensure a stable and orderly evacuation of its citizens as well as Afghan nationals. The government is also looking at how neighboring countries could act as transit hubs for the Afghan nationals who helped the UK in its 20-year campaign in the country.
Evacuation efforts ‘down to hours, not weeks’
The UK’s evacuation effort in Afghanistan is “down to hours now, not weeks,” British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said on Monday.
Speaking to Sky News, Wallace said that Johnson will raise the issue of the deadline during the G7 meeting but argued that the withdrawal of US forces from the airport will leave the UK and other allies struggling to secure the area and thus will have to follow White House’s lead.
"The prime minister is, obviously at the G7, going to try and raise the prospect of seeing if the United States will extend. It's really important for people to understand the United States have over 6,000 people in Kabul airport and when they withdraw that will take away the framework, and we will have to go as well,” Wallace said.
"I don't think there is any likelihood of staying on after the United States. If their timetable extends even by a day or two, that will give us a day or two more to evacuate people. Because we are really down to hours now, not weeks, and we have to make sure we exploit every minute to get people out,” he added.
Earlier, the foreign office announced that it had sent five of its staff to Kabul to aid in the evacuations. This brings the total number of foreign office staff to 19, including UK’s Ambassador to Kabul Sir Laurie Bristow, who are helping troops process visas and help evacuate UK citizens and Afghan nationals out of the country.