Afghanistan LIVE: UK issues terror warning to Taliban and admits 'surprise' at advance

The warning from Mr Raab comes after the Taliban swept across Afghanistan rapidly gaining ground as the US and allies pulled out of the country. Mr Raab also said the West would have to be pragmatic in its relations with the Taliban. He said: “Our message is going to be this: Afghanistan must never be used to launch terrorist attacks against the West, we’ve had 20 years of success in that regard. We want to do everything we can, through the full range of diplomatic-economic sanction measures, to make sure we can use as much leverage as we conceivably have, and I’m realistic about that, to try and moderate and exercise some form of positive influence around the regime.”

Mr Raab admitted the UK was surprised at the speed in which the Taliban gained control in Afghanistan.

Speaking to Sky News, he said “the truth is, across the world, people were caught by surprise. I haven’t spoken to an international interlocutor, including countries in the region over the last week, who hasn’t been surprised.”

Discussing the measures that can be taken to ensure better outcomes in Afghanistan, Mr Raab told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We will reconfigure our aid budget. We of course will not give the security capacity building money that we previously gave to the government to the Taliban.”

But he added: “I expect that we will increase our aid budget for development and humanitarian purposes, probably by 10% is what I have in mind on last year. We want to try and make sure it won’t go through the Taliban, but make sure that we can alleviate the humanitarian suffering.”

It comes as the European Union is set for an emergency meeting to discuss the security situation following the crisis in Afghanistan.

There are fears that the Taliban victory could trigger mass migration similar to that seen during the 2015 migrant crisis which saw millions of Syrians flee their war-torn country.

French President Emmanuel Macron said: “We must anticipate and protect ourselves against significant irregular migratory flows.”

The French president called the situation in Afghanistan a “historic turning point” which will have “major consequences for the whole of the international community, for Europe, and France”.

READ MORE: Afghanistan LIVE: UK and US evacuation suspended – runway unsafe

The Taliban declared “the war was over” on Sunday after seizing the presidential palace in the capital city Kabul – sending former President Ashraf Ghani fleeing.

Fighting in the region had escalated significantly in recent weeks after the US-led military coalition began their withdrawal which was due to end at the end of the month.

The declaration of victory follows a blistering advance across Afghanistan, which saw 20 provincial capitals fall to the Taliban in less than two weeks.

Thousands of Afghan people flocked to Kabul airport yesterday desperate to escape from the Taliban’s looming regime.

Disturbing video footage emerged showing two people falling from a US Military aircraft as it was taking off moments after dozens of people were seen clinging to the outside of the plane on the runway.

The British government vowed to evacuate hundreds of Britons and eligible Afghan nationals but their efforts were temporarily suspended due to the large number of people who had invaded the runway.

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13:18 British armed forces ‘can’t afford to pause’ in Afghanistan evacuation

Royal Navy Vice Admiral Sir Ben Key said British armed forces “can’t afford to pause” as they work with US troops to help evacuate about 6,000 people out of Afghanistan.

Sir Ben told Sky News: “The demand placed upon us is in the order of 6,000, both Arap (Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy) and entitled personnel.

“Those numbers are changing all the time as we understand the scale of the ask – people are coming forward making themselves known through the FCDO consular services or into us under the Arap programme.

“How long have we got to do it?

“We don’t really know, so every day we are working as hard as we can to bring as many forward into this pipeline as we possibly can.

“Clearly there is a dynamic political situation running across the city.

“We make no assumptions about that other than we really can’t afford to pause and wait.”

Afghanistan Live

The British Army can not afford to pause and wait (Image: GETTY)

13:01 Over 600 Afghans cram into U.S. cargo plane

More than 600 Afghan people squeezed onto the plane which is only designed to carry 134 passengers in a desperate escape from the Taliban.

A photo showing the people huddled together on the C-17 cargo aircraft has gone viral on social media.

A U.S. official told Reuters about 640 people clambered onto the flight from Kabul on Sunday, when thousands of people desperate to flee the country surged to the airport in the Afghan capital.

“The unusually high number of passengers was the result of a dynamic security environment that necessitated quick decision making by the crew which ultimately ensured these passengers were quickly taken outside the country,” the official said.

12:30 Author fears for progress made by Afghan women

The gains Afghan women have made over the past 20 years are “up in the air”, Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini said.

The Kite runner author told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “while the last 20 years have certainly been challenging and beset by missteps and tragedies, it is also true that there has been progress in Afghanistan.

“Now all of that is up in the air and whether any of those gains will last remains to be seen.”

The “significant improvements and achievements” have included women serving in the Afghan parliament, becoming police chiefs and being part of the workforce, and millions of girls who had returned to school.

Mr Hosseini told the programme that Mr Biden did not give “a statement of empathy with the millions of Afghans whom the Americans have been calling partners now for 20 years, who are left behind and have to fend for themselves and face the very unenviable reality of having to live under a regime that proved to be extremely brutal when they were in charge in the 1990s”.

He also said Mr Biden had not “clearly” explained what the legacy of the past 20 years in Afghanistan had been for.

Of the Afghan army which fled instead of standing to fight as the Taliban made sweeping gains across the country, Mr Hosseini said: “I don’t condone it but I understand it.”

12:15 Afghan turmoil ‘shames’ the West, says German president

The chaotic scenes at Kabul airport yesterday is shameful for Western nations, Germany’s president said. 

“We are experiencing a human tragedy for which we share responsibility,” said President Frank-Walter Steinmeier after the Western-backed government in Kabul collapsed and the Taliban declared victory.

Germany, which had the second largest military presence in Afghanistan after the United States, wants to airlift thousands of German-Afghan dual nationals as well as rights activists, lawyers and people who worked with foreign forces to safety.

“The images of despair at Kabul airport shame the political West,” Mr Steinmeier added.

“All the more now we have to stand by those to whom we are indebted for their work and support.”

However, a first German military plane to land in Kabul since the Taliban seized power only managed to evacuate seven people due to the airport chaos yesterday.

“The Bundeswehr (army) is now securing access,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted, saying the situation at the airport had stabilised and there would be further evacuation flights during Tuesday.

Die Lage am Flughafen in #Kabul hat sich weiter stabilisiert. Die #Bundeswehr sichert nun den Zugang. Weitere Evakuierungsflu00fcge erwarten wir im Laufe des Tages. Die ud83cudde9ud83cuddea Botschaft hat daher eine erste Gruppe zu Evakuierender kontaktiert, um ihren Abflug zu ermu00f6glichen. (1/2)

u2014 Heiko Maas ud83cuddeaud83cuddfa (@HeikoMaas) August 17, 2021

11:54 Some evacuation flights leaving near empty

The Taliban has stationed checkpoints around Kabul and at the entrance to the airport and are preventing people from entering, according to reports by the Wall Street Journal. 

At the checkpoints, Taliban fighters search resident’s smart phones for communications in English and illicit content. 

Thousands of Afghans employed by Western embassies are stranded in Kabul and are unable to enter the airport to be evacuated. 

Military flights are resuming and the US has sent more troops to assist with the withdrawal, however, there are fears many Afghans will be unable to escape. 

The checkpoints come a day after thousands of Afghans rushed to Kabul airport in a bid to escape the Taliban’s feared rule. 

People clung to the sides of military aircrafts and two people fell to their deaths after the plane took flight.

Taliban agents continue to search the offices and homes of Afghans suspected to be allied with Western governments and organisations. 

Afghanistan Live

Five people reportedly died in the Kabul airport chaos yesterday (Image: GETTY)

11:30 Some Taliban support education for Afghan girls, claim UNICEF

Taliban representatives in some parts of Afghanistan have expressed support for educating girls, according to the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.

UNICEF is still delivering aid to most parts of Afghanistan and is quite hopeful for cooperation with Taliban representatives, Mustapha Ben Messaoud, UNICEF’s chief of field operations in Afghanistan, told a U.N. briefing in Geneva.

UNICEF cited some Taliban local representatives as saying they were waiting for guidance from their leaders on the issue of educating girls, while others have said they want schools “up and running”.

Mr Messaoud said: “We have ongoing discussions, we are quite optimistic based on those discussions.

“We have not a single issue with the Taliban in those field offices.”

Out of the 13 field offices in Afghanistan, 11 are currently operational.

During the Taliban’s reign between 1996 and 2001, they did not allow women to work, girls were not allowed to attend school and women had to cover their faces and be escorted by a male relative if they wanted to leave their homes.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai has voiced her concern that these conditions will return for women. 

Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 after campaigning for girl’s education in Pakistan. 

We watch in complete shock as Taliban takes control of Afghanistan. I am deeply worried about women, minorities and human rights advocates. Global, regional and local powers must call for an immediate ceasefire, provide urgent humanitarian aid and protect refugees and civilians.

u2014 Malala (@Malala) August 15, 2021

11:15 We must not be the gateway to the EU for fleeing Afghans, says Greece

Greece does not want to become the entry point into the European Union for Afghans fleeing the escalating conflict in their homeland, Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said today.

The migration minister has instead called for a common EU response to the crisis.

Greece was on the frontline of Europe’s migration crisis in 2015, when a million people fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan landed on its islands.

Mitarachi told state television ERT: “We are clearly saying that we will not and cannot be the gateway of Europe for the refugees and migrants who could try to come to the European Union. 

“We cannot have millions of people leaving Afghanistan and coming to the European Union … and certainly not through Greece.

“The solution needs to be common, and it needs to be a European solution.”

Unity between EU member states over whether to deport failed Afghan asylum-seekers crumbled last week.

Afghanistan Live

Refugees arriving to Greece in 2015 (Image: GETTY)

11:00 Afghan politicians to meet Taliban in Doha

Afghan politicians will meet with the Taliban today to discuss the future of Afghanistan, according reports by Al Jazeera.

Former Afghan faction commander and prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is said to be travelling to Doha to meet a Taliban delegation, accompanied by former President Hamid Karzai and former foreign minister and peace envoy Abdullah Abdullah.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Dunya News that the group would “respect the rights of women and minorities as per Afghan norms and Islamic values”.

Mr Shaheen also urged people to return to work and promised the new regime would work with the international community to rebuild the country.

During their 1996-2001 rule, women could not work  or leave the house without a male escort.

Punishments such as public stoning, whipping and hanging were administered to those caught breaking the rules.

10:40 Biden defends Afghanistan decision

President Joe Biden has defended his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan despite scenes of chaos in Kabul. 

The President blamed the Taliban’s victory on the Afghan army and political leaders who switched sides or fled.

He warned the Taliban they would face “devastating force” should they interfere with the US withdrawal.

President Biden was forced to send US troop reinforcements to Kabul to ensure a safe withdrawal of American diplomatic personnel and civilians as well as Afghan citizens who worked with the United States and could face reprisals.

“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said.

“After 20 years I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces.

“That’s why we’re still there.”

Our current military mission in Afghanistan will be short in time and focused in its objectives: Get our people and our allies to safety as quickly as possible. pic.twitter.com/eSESK5QR09

u2014 President Biden (@POTUS) August 17, 2021

10:20 Britain was surprised by the speed of the Taliban take-over

The UK did not anticipate the speed at which the Taliban would successfully take over Afghanistan, according to Dominic Raab. 

He told BBC Breakfast: “I think you’re right we didn’t anticipate the scale or the rapidity of the deterioration of the situation.

“We thought it would happen more towards the autumn and much more gradually.

“Of course there is still this question of whether the civilian government that we saw in place before, the Afghan government, and the Taliban would come to some kind of arrangement.”

The Taliban declared victory from Kabul on Sunday after capturing 20 cities in only two weeks. 

09:55 Dominic Raab defends going on holiday as the Taliban swept to power

The Foreign Secretary has defended his position after coming under fire for going on holiday while the Taliban was making significant progress in Afghanistan.

Asked how sorry he was that he did not return from his holiday earlier, Dominic Raab told Sky News he returned “as soon as the situation deteriorated and demanded it”.

He said: “Everyone was caught off-guard by the pace, scale of the Taliban takeover.

“When [foreign secretaries] are abroad, whether it’s travel for work or for holiday, we are there able to respond to events.

“So I was engaged in Cobra, talking to foreign counterparts, directly speaking to the head of our team here in London, I was doing that on an hour-by-hour basis and, of course, I left as soon as the situation deteriorated and demanded it”.

He went on to say that the situation in Afghanistan was being monitored, and “from my point of view, at any point in time, I will have eight to 10 simmering issues that can bubble up.

“We didn’t predict that we would be doing this on this scale because of the Taliban takeover.

“But look, in retrospect of course I wouldn’t have gone on holiday if I had known that would be the case.

“Equally, after 18 months and two years of a very gruelling, demanding schedule, I think it is right that people in those positions try and take some leave, but we are always ready, I’m always ready, to come back.

“And even when I was away, frankly I wouldn’t have gone away if I would have known that, I was constantly handling and managing meetings, talking to foreign counterparts, and because of technology, of course, able to engage in every one of the Cobra meetings.”

Afghanistan Live

Dominic Raab said he returned as soon as the situation deteriorated and demanded it (Image: GETTY)

09:35 Prince Harry encourages veterans to support each other

Prince Harry has encouraged veterans from the Afghanistan war to support each other as the Taliban sweep to power. 

The Prince served two tours of duty in Afghanistan and founded the Invictus Games sporting event for wounded former military personnel.

During his second tour, the Taliban had vowed to kidnap or kill the Queen’s grandson.

Prince Harry said: “What’s happening in Afghanistan resonates across the international Invictus community.

“We encourage everybody across the Invictus network – and the wider military community – to reach out to each other and offer support for one another.”

Afghanistan live

The Taliban had vowed to kidnap or kill Prince Harry in Afghanistan (Image: GETTY)

09:15 Militants must never attack West from Afghanistan, says Britain

Afghanistan must never be used to launch terror attacks on the West, Britain has warned the Taliban. 

There are widespread fears that the Taliban’s return and the West’s chaotic withdrawal will allow militants from al Qaeda and Islamic State to gain a foothold in Afghanistan and use it as a base to launch attacks on the West.

Dominic Raab said the West would have to be pragmatic in its relations with the Taliban and try to convince them to be “inclusive”.

Mr Raab said: “Our message is going to be this: Afghanistan must never be used to launch terrorist attacks against the West, we’ve had 20 years of success in that regard. 

“We want to do everything we can, through the full range of diplomatic-economic sanction measures, to make sure we can use as much leverage as we conceivably have, and I’m realistic about that, to try and moderate and exercise some form of positive influence around the regime.”

Told by a Sky reporter that the Taliban were a “red tag bunch of thugs”, Raab said: “I’m not going to dissent from that view but they are now in power, and we now need to deal with that reality.”

“We want to test whether there is scope to moderate the kind of regime that we will now see in place,” Mr Raab added.

08:51 Taliban spokesperson calls for women to join government

The Taliban has called for women to join their government after concerns that women would be marginalised and harmed in their society. 

Under previous Taliban rule, women had been confined to their homes and only allowed to leave if escorted by a male family member. 

A member of the Taliban’s cultural commission, Enamullah Samangani, said they don’t want women to be “victims” and insisted “they should be in government structure according to Sharia law”. 

He said: “The structure of government is not fully clear, but based on experience, there should be a fully Islamic leadership and all sides should join.” 

08:40 More evacuations possible as position at the airport ‘stabilising’

The situation at Kabul airport is “stabilising” after a turbulent 24 hours, according to Dominic Raab. 

Thousands of people flooded to the runway yesterday in a bid to escape the Taliban’s feared rule. 

“The position at the airport is stabilising.

“There has been a surge of UK and US troops – we have got 600 extra personnel there,” said Mr Raab. 

Mr Raab told Sky News this morning that 150 British nationals were successfully evacuated from Afghanistan on Sunday alone. 

“We expect over the next 24 hours to have 350 more British nationals and Afghan nationals who have worked for us coming out,” he added. 

08:05 Humanitarian aid to Afghanistan set to increase

The Foreign Secretary has announced he plans to increase humanitarian aid to Afghanistan by 10 percent but would not want the cash to go to the Taliban.

Dominic Raab told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We will reconfigure our aid budget.

“We of course will not give the security capacity building money that we previously gave to the government to the Taliban.

“I expect that we will increase our aid budget for development and humanitarian purposes, probably by 10 percent is what I have in mind on last year.

“We want to try and make sure it won’t go through the Taliban, but make sure that we can alleviate the humanitarian suffering.”

Asked if aid provision will be a point of leverage against the Taliban, Mr Raab said: “In terms of aid, previously in the past, and this won’t be possible with the Taliban, at least for the foreseeable future, we’ve had the sort of framework arrangement that pegs what we are willing to do to standards of governance, and I would expect that to include the clamping down on any terror groups, but also the way they treat women, and the other things we are trying to achieve.

“Now that’s in ordinary circumstances what we might do.

“That is not going to be possible for the foreseeable future, I don’t think we will condition the humanitarian relief we provide to ordinary Afghans on what the Taliban does.”

Roy Walsh

Roy Walsh

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