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  • War in Afghanistan (2001-present)

image sourceFCDOimage captionBritish ambassador to Afghanistan Laurie Bristow (left) speaking to a member of the UK armed forces at Kabul airport

Efforts to evacuate Britons and eligible Afghans from Kabul are improving, with more than 1,700 people airlifted out in the past 24 hours, the armed forces minister has said.

On Sunday, the UK government said seven Afghan civilians had died in the chaotic crowds outside the airport.

But minister James Heappey said the Taliban were now marshalling people into queues, speeding up the process.

731 people had been processed on Sunday morning and were set to fly, he added.

He urged more people to come forward if they had been told to do so.

Until now, he said, a lot of people had been put off going to Baron Hotel in Kabul, where many British nationals have been told to travel for processing, because of reports of violence and chaotic scenes.

"Today the queue is flowing better," he said, adding that the Taliban were marshalling people into separate UK and US evacuation queues, which was "making a big difference".

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He reiterated previous comments from ministers that the UK could not say with confidence it would get all British nationals out but, he said, more capacity was becoming available with each day and other nations were joining the UK effort.

The US has a planned deadline of 31 August for withdrawal from Afghanistan – but President Biden has said troops may stay past this date to help with evacuations.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the US would have his complete support if it chose to push back the deadline for leaving but there was "no time to lose" to get people out of the country.

Mr Heappey said if the US did stay longer that would give the UK the opportunity to continue flying people out.

But he also gave some reassurance that even if the deadline was not extended, people would still be able to access the UK resettlement programme through other routes, such as handling centres in refugee camps or embassies.

General Lord Richards, who was Chief of the Defence Staff and commanded international forces in Afghanistan in 2006, told the BBC there was "no doubt" lives would be saved if troops could stay beyond the 31 August deadline to help evacuations.

A UN multilateral humanitarian intervention operation needed to be implemented quickly, he told Radio 4's Broadcasting House.

"The Taliban ironically might well welcome it, because the alternative is some very bad headlines come 1 September when we see starving Afghans and worse potentially, simply because they don't have the capacity to deal with it," he said.

image sourcePA Mediaimage captionCalls are being made for troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond August to help with the evacuation

Mr Heappey was asked for his reaction to reports that the prime minister gave Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab permission to stay on his summer holiday as Afghanistan collapsed into chaos.

He responded saying everyone who should have been at the emergency Cobra meetings was there and it was "simply not the case there was any delay in enacting this longstanding plan because of where in the world people were at the time".

Mr Heappey was also asked about the defence secretary's suggestion in his article that the UK could still retain a presence in Afghanistan after the military had gone.

"It's something we would hope for because that takes away from the urgency of this week but the Taliban have a vote in that," he said.

"That might be a presence that emerges in six months, a year, two years' time," he said, adding that it would depend on how the international community wanted to recognise the Taliban and whether the Taliban were willing to have an international presence in the country.

"I certainly don't think we should rush to recognise the Taliban," he said.

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