The UK pledged its “complete support” to the US if Joe Biden opts to extend the deadline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, as the evacuation situation in Kabul worsened.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said seven Afghan civilians had died in the chaotic crowds outside the city’s international airport.
“Our sincere thoughts are with the families of the seven Afghan civilians who have sadly died in crowds in Kabul,” said a spokesman.
“Conditions on the ground remain extremely challenging but we are doing everything we can to manage the situation as safely and securely as possible.”
It comes as Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, in what is likely to be seen as a plea to Washington, said “no nation will be able to get everyone out” of the Taliban-controlled country, with US President Joe Biden’s August 31 target date making the rescue mission even more time-pressured.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, the Cabinet minister said: “If the US timetable remains, we have no time to lose to get the majority of the people waiting out.
“Perhaps the Americans will be permitted to stay longer, and they will have our complete support if they do.”
Relations between the UK and US are under strain, with former prime minister Tony Blair – who was in Downing Street when Britain sent troops into Afghanistan 20 years ago in the wake of 9/11 – accusing Mr Biden of deciding to pull out of the central Asian country with “little or no consultation”, branding the move “imbecilic”.
According to the Sunday Times, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab – who is once again in the spotlight over his decision to remain on holiday as the Taliban advanced on Kabul – is seeking to speak to his opposite number, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, to discuss extending the end-of-the-month deadline.
Mr Wallace confirmed there were “too many people in the airport” on Saturday, forcing the US side of the operation to suspend access.
There were further worrying reports about the treatment of Britons and Afghans who supported UK efforts in the country who are trying to escape.
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy shared a letter on social media that she had sent Mr Raab about the “crisis” facing evacuees, as she sought additional assistance for those on the ground.
The senior Opposition figure said Labour MPs have been hearing of people being “shot at, beaten and raped” while they wait to be called forward at the airport, while the Baron Hotel in the city, where many British nationals are being told to go for processing, is being blockaded by the Taliban.
Ms Nandy asked whether Nato allies could put in place a “military policing operation” at the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport or within the internal processing zone to protect those waiting.
My office is in touch with hundreds of people who have been shot at, beaten or turned back trying to reach the airport and British processing centre in Afghanistan. We need to step up evacuation efforts urgently. My letter to the Foreign Secretary ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/VTiW7wZBjI— Lisa Nandy (@lisanandy) August 21, 2021
Sir Laurie Bristow
Meanwhile, the US embassy in Afghanistan recommended US citizens avoid travelling to Kabul airport “because of potential security threats outside the gates” being linked to the so-called Islamic State.
Sir Laurie Bristow, the British ambassador to Afghanistan who has stayed in the capital to help process applications, said the rescue effort was “without a doubt the biggest international challenge I have worked on as a diplomat”.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the Operation Pitting evacuation mission is being supported by 1,000 British troops – including Paras from 16 Air Assault Brigade – with nearly 4,000 people repatriated from Afghanistan since August 13.