G-7 leaders can’t sway Biden to delay Afghanistan withdrawal

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged defeat on Tuesday after he and other Group of Seven leaders failed to persuade President Joe Biden to delay the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Johnson and other members of the alliance had hoped to persuade Biden to delay the U.S. withdrawal. The G-7 leaders held a virtual meeting on Tuesday amid growing doubts that the U.S. and other Western allies will be able to safely evacuate all of their citizens and Afghan allies by month’s end.

A White House official confirmed that Biden planned to stick with the Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops shortly after the U.S. president held a virtual meeting with Johnson and other G-7 leaders to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.

 The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the yet to be announced plan, said Biden had asked his national security team to have ready contingency plans should he determine in the days ahead that the U.S. military needs to remain slightly longer.

“We will go on right up until the last moment that we can,” said Johnson, who acknowledged he was unable to sway Biden to extend the U.S. military presence. “But you’ve heard what the president of the United States has had to say, you’ve heard what the Taliban have said.”

Ahead of the meeting, British defense secretary Ben Wallace said he was doubtful that Biden would agree to extend the deadline. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Tuesday said his group would accept “no extensions” to the deadline.

G7 leaders discuss COVID challenges 05:26

Biden addressed the leaders for several minutes near the start of the meeting that lasted less than an hour, according to the White House. He was expected to deliver public remarks on Afghanistan later in the day.

The G-7 leaders were also joined by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

CIA Director William Burns visited Kabul on Monday to meet with Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s top political leader, according to a U.S. official familiar with the matter.

The Washington Post first reported Burns’ meeting with Baradar. A U.S. official confirmed the report on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The lawmakers who head the G-7 nations’ foreign affairs committees urged leaders in a letter on Tuesday to “avoid arbitrary dates for ending military support to the evacuation.”

Johnson and others, including French President Emmanuel Macron, wanted Biden to extend his self-imposed Aug. 31 deadline in order to ensure the evacuation of all foreign nationals as well as Afghans who worked for or supported the American-led NATO operation that vanquished the Taliban in 2001 and has now accepted defeat.

Wallace said the 1,000 British troops at Kabul’s airport would be unable to keep up the operation when the much larger American contingent leaves.

U.S. and European officials are also increasingly concerned about Islamic State militants targeting their troops and Afghan civilians near the chaotic scene outside Kabul’s international airport.

Germany’s top military commander, Gen. Eberhard Zorn, told reporters Tuesday that “the threat has further increased.”

“We have signals both from American sources as well as our own assessment, that there’s an increase” of Islamic State suicide bombers slipping into the city, he said.

“And that is the biggest threat, which we have already received signals about from the Americans at the start of the week,” Zorn added. “That’s increasing and leads to heightened precautions.”

Germany’s defense minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, said she takes seriously the Taliban threat not to allow any foreign troops to remain beyond Aug. 31.

“I think one needs to take very, very seriously the announcement that they (the Taliban) won’t agree to a further delay,” she said, but added that the threat could also be an attempt by the group to “drive up the price” in negotiations with foreign officials.

Despite Biden’s April announcement that the U.S. would completely withdraw from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the nation was almost an afterthought when the G-7 leaders met in June. COVID-19, China and climate change dominated the agenda. And expectations for Biden’s impending summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin were at the top of people’s tongues.

The leaders put Afghanistan as number 57 out of 70 points in their final 25-page communique -– behind Ukraine, Belarus and Ethiopia. Afghanistan didn’t even feature in the one-and-a-half page summary of the document. NATO had already signed off on the U.S. withdrawal and all that appeared to be left was the completion of an orderly withdrawal and hopes for a peace deal between the Afghan government and Taliban.

“We call on all Afghan parties to reduce violence and agree on steps that enable the successful implementation of a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire and to engage fully with the peace process. In Afghanistan, a sustainable, inclusive political settlement is the only way to achieve a just and durable peace that benefits all Afghans,” the leaders said, without a hint of urgency.

On the eve of Tuesday’s meeting, the White House said Biden and Johnson had spoken by phone and discussed “the importance of close coordination with allies and partners in managing the current situation and forging a common approach to Afghanistan policy.”

Johnson’s office said the two leaders “agreed to continue working together to ensure those who are eligible to leave are able to, including after the initial phase of the evacuation has ended.”

White House aides said in advance of Tuesday’s meeting they expected it could be contentious, as U.S. allies have looked on with disapproval at the tumultuous American drawdown.

Senior British military officers expressed anger over the U.S. pullout, saying it exposes the hollowness of the trans-Atlantic “special relationship” – a phrase used since World War II to stress the bonds of history, friendship and shared diplomatic interests between London and Washington.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the majority of local staff who worked for his country in Afghanistan haven’t yet been gotten out and called Tuesday’s G-7 meeting “very important” for discussing international access to the Kabul airport beyond Aug. 31.

Taliban warns of consequences if withdrawal d… 03:08

 
White House aides have said they think the meeting could grow contentious, as U.S. allies have looked on with disapproval at the tumultuous American drawdown.

Senior British military officers have expressed anger over the U.S. pullout, saying it exposes the hollowness of the trans-Atlantic “special relationship” — a phrase used since World War II to stress the bonds of history, friendship and shared diplomatic interests between London and Washington.

British Armed Forces take part in Kabul airport evacuation
Lt. Cdr. Alex Pelham Burns, a member of the U.K. Armed Forces, gives water to a child as he takes part in the evacuation of entitled personnel from Kabul airport in Afghanistan, August 19-22, 2021, in a handout picture obtained by Reuters on August 23, 2021. LPhot Ben Shread/UK MOD Crown copyright 2021/REUTERS

And the German government is expressing impatience with the pace of the evacuation effort. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the majority of local staff who worked for his country in Afghanistan haven’t yet been gotten out and called Tuesday’s G-7 meeting “very important” for discussing international access to the Kabul airport beyond Aug. 31.
 
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, who has called the U.S. deal with the Taliban that set the deadline a “mistake,” was downbeat about the prospects of an extension to the evacuation effort.
 
“I think it is unlikely,” he told Sky News. “Not only because of what the Taliban has said but if you look at the public statements of President Biden I think it is unlikely.
 
“It is definitely worth us all trying, and we will.”