The UK won’t be able to fly everyone it promised out of Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover, as the air bridge to Kabul will remain open for only a few more days, James Heappey, Britain’s armed forces minister, says.
“That sad truth is – we don’t have it in our gift to stay there until absolutely everyone is out,” Heappey told Sky News on Friday, adding that the realisation that not everyone will be evacuated from Afghanistan “keeps us awake at night.”
The minister was unaware how long the flights from Kabul will continue, only indicating that “the air bridge could last two more days, five more days, ten more days.”
“We are simply doing our best to maximise flow each and every day,” he said. According to Heappey, 963 people departed from Kabul on British flights on Thursday, and another 1,000 were expected to follow on Friday.
Planes with evacuees from Kabul have been landing at the Royal Air Force Brize Norton airbase, 121km (75 miles) northwest of London, since the weekend. The UK had promised to airlift around 7,000 UK citizens and Afghan staff from the turbulent country, as well as 5,000 refugees. Evacuations are also being carried out by the US and NATO countries.
In another interview with BBC Radio 4, Heappey also defended UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab, who faces calls to resign over failing to make a crucial phone call about the airlift of Afghan interpreters, who assisted the UK forces and are now in mortal danger from the Taliban, just days before the takeover of Kabul.
“No one phone call” from Raab, who was on holiday on the Greek island of Crete at that time, or any other official “would have been decisive in changing the trajectory – either for the collapse of the Afghan government or indeed the acceleration of the airlift,” he said.
There have been chaotic scenes at the Kabul airport as thousands attempt to flee the country after the Afghan government surrendered the capital without a fight to the advancing Taliban militants last week. The radical group swept through the country in a large-scale offensive as US troops were withdrawing after a two-decade presence.
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