Kabul airport WILL reopen today amid fears ISIS could carry out attack

Kabul airport WILL reopen today as more US soldiers arrive after eight people died and stowaways plunged to their deaths – amid fears chaos could provide an opening for a terrorist attack

  • US officials have vowed that Kabul airport will reopen following chaotic scenes on runway on Monday
  • Airport was shut after eight people were killed as desperate Afghans attempt to escape Taliban rule
  • Britain and the US have drafted in extra security amid fears ISIS could carry out suicide bombings
  • Security risk is so great the issue of ISIS terrorism was discussed at Monday’s Cobra meeting in No10 
  • Joe Biden defended US withdrawal from Afghanistan, blaming Trump and Afghan forces for Taliban takeover  
  • Government forces collapsed without the support of the US military, which invaded in 2001 after 9/11 attacks  

Kabul airport will reopen on Tuesday, US officials have vowed, as extra security is drafted in to manage the evacuation of thousands of foreign nationals and Afghans trying to escape Taliban rule amid mounting fears that Islamic State could commit a terror atrocity in the country. 

Joe Biden defended the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, two decades after NATO forces invaded the country and toppled the Taliban regime following the September 11, 2001 attacks, as he blamed Donald Trump and the Afghan security services for the anarchy engulfing the country.

Speaking from the White House, the US President – who had returned from his ‘vacation’ at Camp David – told the American nation that the Taliban’s astonishing sweep to power and seizure of the capital city Kabul this month had happened ‘more quickly’ than he had anticipated. 

His address came as Americans woke up to images of terrified Afghans plummeting from the engines of an airborne US Air Force C-17 jet above Hamid Karzai International Airport, as hundreds of other desperate locals attempted to escape the theocratic rule of the Taliban.

The airport was forced to close and evacuation flights halted after at least eight people were killed, including two shot dead by US troops, three run over by taxiing planes and the three who fell hundreds of feet.

But in a push to secure the airport, Britain and the US deployed another 200 and 1,000 soldiers respectively on Monday. The deployments take the totals to around 900 and 6,000 respectively, with many troops expected to be on patrols to help keeping the capital’s airport safe. 

It is understood there are growing Anglo-US concerns that Islamists could exploit security lapses at the airport with suicide bombings – with the risk of an attack by the Khorasan Province wing of Islamic State great enough for it to be discussed at Monday’s emergency Cobra meeting in Downing Street. The issue has also been raised in Ministry of Defence planning meetings, the Telegraph reported. 

Speaking about the clashes at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Monday, one defence source told the paper: ‘If you are in the Pentagon or the MoD you are looking at the scenes and thinking: ‘That is a tragic loss of life, but what if that was an IS-KP suicide bomber?”  

A Pentagon official said that US troops had come under fire at the airfield and grounded all flights while soldiers cleared the airfield with Apache helicopters and fired ‘warning shots’ to disperse the crowds. Flights resumed after 90 minutes but were suspended again after a security breach on the civilian side of the airport, a Pentagon spokesperson said.   

The C-17 can carry 171,000 pounds of cargo but its interior is designed to carry fewer than 150 soldiers. It is unclear who exactly was on board and how many Americans remain on the ground. However, a flight-tracker showed the jet was flown to the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. 

A Pentagon spokesperson said 3,000 soldiers would be on the ground at the airport by Tuesday to help with the evacuation efforts, with a further 3,000 troops arriving later this week. However, the shambolic scenes further humiliated the US and its NATO powers, with much of the Anglo-US media and political class branding the withdrawal the ‘biggest foreign policy disaster’ since Suez.  

US media said the ‘debacle of the US defeat and chaotic retreat in Afghanistan’ was a ‘political disaster’ and slammed the President’s ‘failure to orchestrate an urgent and orderly exit’. A New York Post editorial even said his claims that he ‘inherited’ Trump’s withdrawal plans were a ‘lie’ and branded the crisis situation ‘as humiliating an end as the rooftop scramble in Saigon in 1975’.  

The head of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, Armin Laschet, called it the ‘biggest NATO debacle’ since the founding of the alliance, while MPs accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of a ‘shameful’ silence and questioned if he did enough to discourage President Biden from withdrawing US troops. 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was ‘concerned’ by accounts of human rights violations against the women and girls of Afghanistan who fear a return to the darkest days’ of the 1990s when the Taliban came to power after the Civil War and imposed a brutal theocracy. 

Afghanistan’s representative to the UN Security Ghulam Isaczai told a meeting of the five powers – the US, Britain, China, Russia and France – on Monday that ‘there are already reports of target killings and looting in the city’.  ‘Kabul residents are reported that the Taliban have already started house-to-house searches in some neighbourhoods, registering names and looking for people in their target list,’ he added.   

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has also come under fire from critics and political rivals for hightailing out of the country as the Taliban stormed the Presidential Palace last night. The Russian Embassy claimed that he had fled in a helicopter full of cash. His whereabouts remain unknown. 

It comes as: 

  • President Biden defended the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and blamed Trump for Taliban takeover; 
  • Taliban fighters were seen patrolling the streets of Kabul as thousands of hopeful Afghans gathered on the runway at Hamid Karzai airport trying desperately to escape from Afghanistan;   
  • Defence Minister Ben Wallace choked up as he vowed to fly hundreds of desperate Afghans out of the country within the next 36 hours – but insisted sending UK troops back in is not ‘on the cards’; 
  • Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab defended being on holiday, saying the whole world was ‘taken by surprise’;
  • Emmanuel Macron vowed to halt the expected influx of Afghan migrants coming to mainland Europe;
  • Russian officials said they were in touch with the Taliban in Afghanistan via its Embassy in Kabul; 
  • The US ambassador and embassy staff fled Afghanistan after Taliban forces stormed Kabul in scenes likened to the 1975 evacuation of its mission in Saigon; 
  • PM Boris Johnson said said the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan had ‘accelerated’ the crisis; 
  • Tory MPs called fallout from Anglo-US withdrawal ‘Britain’s worst foreign policy disaster since Suez’;
  • MPs are expected to to vent their anger and frustration when they return to Westminster on Wednesday for an emergency recall of Parliament to discuss the crisis.

Thousands of Afghans are trying to get on to flights out of the capital following the Taliban’s seizure of the city. A US soldier is pictured aiming his weapon at a passenger at Kabul airport

Afghan people climb atop a KamAir plane grounded at Hamid Karazi airport as they wait at the Kabul airport in Kabul on Monday

Footage from Hamad Karzai airport showed hundreds of people running alongside – and in front of – a US Air Force plane preparing to take off

Afghans desperately tried to climb onto the rear right wheel of the US Air Force C-17 in a last ditch attempt to flee the country after the Taliban swept to power

Footage published by Afghan outlet Aśvaka showed three stowaways falling to the deaths after clinging on to the wheels of a military plane as it took off from Kabul airport

Senior US military officials said troops shot and killed two armed Afghans among those trying to get onto the jet while US citizens were evacuated in two separate incidents

Image of British citizens and dual nationals residing in Afghanistan being evacuated from Afghanistan to the UK

Video posted later appeared to show residents collecting the bodies of three stowaways, who reportedly fell from an airborne plane, from a roof in Kabul

The US Embassy has been evacuated and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport in scenes reminiscent of the evacuation of the embassy of Saigon in 1975. Other Western countries have also closed their missions and are flying out staff and civilians after the Taliban walked into Kabul’s presidential palace

US military Apache helicopters flew low over crowds of desperate people at Kabul airport in an attempt to clear them out of the way for a USAF plane taxiing behind 

A satellite image shows crowds of Afghans gathered on the tarmac at Hamid Karzai airport on Monday as they desperately try to board the last flights out of Kabul

At least five people have been killed at Kabul airport as thousands of people tried desperately to get on flights out of Afghanistan amid increasingly chaotic scenes. Witnesses said it was not clear whether the victims were killed by gunshots or in a stampede

Thousands of Afghans scaled the walls of Hamid Karzai International Airport desperate to get on the last flights out of the country before the Taliban impose their rule. The group have been shooting at people trying to clamber their way into the airport

Hopeful Afghan passengers wait at Kabul airport as hundreds of US and UK citizens are evacuated following the Taliban’s swift campaign

US soldiers stand guard as desperate Afghans try to board flights at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Monday

In a stunning rout, the Taliban seized nearly all of Afghanistan in just over a week, despite the billions of dollars spent by the US and NATO over nearly two decades to build up Afghan security forces

President Joe Biden speaks about Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House, August 16, 2021

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace breaks down as he admits ‘some people won’t get back’ from Afghanistan 

Ben Wallace choked up today as he vowed to fly hundreds of desperate Afghans out of the country within the next 36 hours – but insisted sending UK troops back in is not ‘on the cards’.

The Defence Secretary was overcome with emotion as he talked about the consequences of the collapse of the Western-trained Afghan army, after the Taliban walked into Kabul and took charge of the presidential palace. 

He said the crisis had become inevitable after a deal was struck with the extremists and the US pulled out, and the focus was now on evacuating interpreters and others who might be subject to reprisals.

But he conceded that ‘some people won’t get back’. ‘It is sad the West has done what it has done,’ he said. ‘Twenty years of sacrifice.. is what it is.’  

Mr Wallace – who himself served in the military before entering politics – said he felt the issue so deeply because he was a soldier. 

The British Ministry of Defence confirmed the first UK nationals landed at RAF base Brize Norton early on Monday as 60 countries issued a joint plea to the Taliban to allow civilians to flee ahead of EU foreign ministers hold crisis talks via video-link on Tuesday. 

But an emotional Defence Secretary Ben Wallace conceded that ‘some people won’t get back’. Around 4,000 British nationals and eligible Afghans are thought to be in Kabul and in need of evacuation.

James Rogers, Director of Research at the Council on Geostrategy, told MailOnline: ‘The decision to leave Afghanistan was inevitable; the way that has been carried out is a shambles. 

‘We’ve effectively handed victory to the Taliban on a plate. At this point, as the Prime Minister has said, we need to ensure Afghanistan does not become a safe haven for jihadi terrorists. 

‘More strategically, we need to question our inability to act competently on the world stage without the US – or, in this situation, when the US decides to leave its allies in the lurch.’ 

Some 700 UK personnel are deployed at the airport, with Mr Wallace insisting the key areas are still secure despite chaotic scenes and reports of several people being killed when they fell from aircraft. The US has 5,000 troops in place.

The Taliban swept into the capital on Sunday after the Western-backed government collapsed and Ghani fled the country ‘to avoid bloodshed’, bringing a stunning end to a two-decade campaign in which the US and its allies had tried to transform the country.  

The US Embassy has been evacuated and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport in scenes reminiscent of the evacuation of the embassy of Saigon in 1975. Other Western countries have also closed their missions and are flying out staff and civilians.  

Almost all major checkpoints in Kabul were under Taliban control by Monday morning and Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority issued an advisory saying the ‘civilian side’ of the airport had been ‘closed until further notice’ and that the military controlled the airspace. 

Early Monday morning, flight-tracking data showed no immediate commercial flights over the country.

Video from Afghanistan’s parliament building showed Taliban fighters entering the main chamber. The grainy footage showed fighters carrying weapons sitting at a table at the head of the chamber under the government’s seal, with some smiling and posing for photographs. 

It comes after officials  promised civilians would not be harmed and announced everyone would be allowed to return home from Kabul airport if they decided to stay in the country. The Taliban previously said westerners would be allowed to leave the country but that Afghans would be barred from departing.  

Scramble to evacuate as UK pledges visas 

Afghans whose lives are at risk from the Taliban will be able to come to Britain.

Government sources said the Home Office will set up a specific new visa route for those fleeing turmoil in the country.

‘We will make sure there is a bespoke route for Afghans in need,’ said a Home Office source. ‘We’ll ensure that we are leading the world on that.’

Exact details of the resettlement scheme had not been finalised last night but the source insisted it would be ‘generous’.

It is understood that the visa scheme will be closely based on an existing project run from 2014 to March this year that brought 20,000 Syrians to the UK with refugee status.

The UN is calling for an immediate end to violence in Afghanistan and urging the international community to unite to ensure that the human rights of all people, especially women and girls, are respected.

Mr Guterres said ‘the world is following events in Afghanistan with a heavy heart and deep disquiet about what lies ahead’ and with the country’s future and the hopes and dreams of a generation of young Afghans in the balance, the coming days ‘will be pivotal.’

At this ‘grave hour,’ the secretary-general urged all parties, especially the Taliban, ‘to exercise utmost restraint to protect lives and to ensure that humanitarian needs can be met.’

Mr Guterres said the UN continues to have staff and offices in areas now under Taliban control, and which so far have been respected. ‘Above all, we will stay and deliver in support of the Afghan people in their hour of need.’

‘We cannot and must not abandon the people of Afghanistan,’ he said.

Afghanistan’s representative Ghulam M Isaczai said officials were ‘extremely concerned about the Taliban not honouring their promises and commitments made in their statements at Doha and other international forums.

‘We’ve witnessed time and again how Taliban have broken their promises and commitments in the past. We’ve seen gruesome pictures of Taliban’s mass executions, of military personnel and target killing of civilians in Kandahar and other big cities.

”We cannot allow this to happen in Kabul, which has been the last refuge for many people escaping violence and Taliban’s revenge attacks. 

‘Kabul residents are reported that the Taliban have already started house-to-house searches in some neighbourhoods, registering names and looking for people in their target list. 

‘There are already reports of target killings and looting in the city. Kabul residents are living in absolute fear right now. There is no time for blame game. We have an opportunity to prevent further violence, prevent Afghanistan descending into a civil war and becoming a pariah state.

‘Therefore, the security council and the UN secretary general should use every means at its disposal to call for an immediate succession of violence, respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.’ 

Footage showed desperate Afghans trying to climb onto grounded planes at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai airport after the Taliban swept the city

US troops fired shots into the air at Kabul airport today as desperate Afghans climbed up the outside of airbridges trying to flee as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan

 Video posted social media showed hundreds of people trying to climb the outside of airbridges to board commercial liners grounded in Hamad Karzai airport

Thousands of Afghans scaled the walls of Hamid Karzai International Airport desperate to get on the last flights out of the country before the Taliban impose their rule. The group have been shooting at people trying to clamber their way into the airport

Hundreds of desperate Afghans scaled the walls of Kabul airport trying to escape before the Taliban imposes its brutal rule

US troops fired shots in the air at Hama Karzai airport to prevent hundreds of civilians running onto the tarmac after they took control of the airport in Kabul and the country’s air traffic control

US troops are guarding the airport and have taken over air traffic control, but all non-military flights are grounded. Early Monday morning, flight-tracking data showed no immediate commercial flights over the country even as thousands of Afghans flooded Kabul airport

Hundreds of Afghans desperately scaled the walls of Hamid Karzai international airport in Kabul as they try to flee the country

People swarmed to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai airport on Monday hoping to flee the country after the Taliban’s stunningly swift capture of much of Afghanistan

Desperate Afghans were seen chasing US military C-17s as the evacuation flights took off from Kabul airport on Monday

Hundreds of desperate people are seen around grounded planes at Kabul airport in this satellite image

Commercial flights have been suspended, with only military flights allowed in and out of the Afghan capital. Thousands of people have descended on the airport hoping to somehow get onboard a plane

Afghan passengers sit inside a plane as they wait to leave Kabul airport although all commercial flights have been grounded, with only military aircraft being allowed in and out 

‘The whole world was taken by surprise’: Dominic Raab defends being on holiday during Afghanistan meltdown – as MOD confirms 200 more UK troops will be sent to Kabul 

Dominic Raab today defended being on holiday while Afghanistan plunged into chaos – saying the whole world was ‘taken by surprise’ – as the MoD confirmed a further 200 UK troops are to be sent to Kabul to assist with the evacuation effort.

The Foreign Secretary insisted he was in touch with events throughout his break, believed to be in the Mediterranean, as the situation dramatically escalated over recent days with the Taliban regaining power.

He arrived back in the UK last night, as extremist fighters posed in the presidential palace in Kabul, and took part in the emergency meeting of ministers and officials this lunchtime.

A Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesman told MailOnline there will shortly be 900 British personnel in Kabul, comprised of 16 Air Assault Brigade, Logistics, Medics and RAF.

There had been around 100 UK personnel in the region roughly a week ago, before the explosion in Taliban advances throughout the country.

But the MoD today confirmed that another 600 had been ordered to the region, and now another 200 are being dispatched. The spokesman said the plan was to have all British nationals evacuated by the end of the month, flying out more than 1,000 every day.

More than 300 people – including Britons and Afghans eligible for settlement – have been evacuated so far.

After attending the third meeting of the Cobra emergency committee in just four days, Mr Raab said ‘modern’ communications meant he could be in ‘direct control’ of the Foreign Office from anywhere.

Ghani fled the country on Sunday night as the insurgents encircled the capital – saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed – capping a military victory that saw them capture all cities in just 10 days.

In a Facebook post, Ghani said he had left the country to avoid clashes with the Taliban that would endanger millions of Kabul residents. Some social media users branded Ghani, who did not disclose his location, a coward for leaving them in chaos. Al-Jazeera reported he had flown to Uzbekistan, citing his personal bodyguard.

‘The Taliban have won with the judgement of their swords and guns, and are now responsible for the honour, property and self-preservation of their countrymen,’ Ghani said after fleeing.

Taliban officials said they had received no reports of any clashes anywhere in the country: ‘The situation is peaceful,’ one official said. The Taliban control 90 percent of state buildings and fighters had been told to prevent any damage, the official added.

Scenes of panic spread across the country on Monday as thousands of Afghans desperately try to flee Afghanistan before the Taliban’s brutal rules are implemented. Refugees massed at borders, with pictures from Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan showing hundreds of people queuing in an attempt to leave.   

‘Today is a great day for the Afghan people and the mujahideen. They have witnessed the fruits of their efforts and their sacrifices for 20 years,’ Mohammad Naeem, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, told Al Jazeera TV. ‘Thanks to God, the war is over in the country.’

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who fought in the Soviet-Afghan War during the 1980s and helped ex-chief Mohammad Omar create the Taliban in 1994, is thought likely to be installed as the head of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, according to reports in the Arab world.  

Former Afghan President Hamid Kharzai tried to reassure those left in Kabul in a video message: ‘To the people of Kabul, I, my daughters and my family are here with you. My wish is that the problems of our country and capital could be solved with peaceful dialogue and negotiations.

‘I want the Taliban forces, wherever you are, to provide safety to the people and pay attention to preserve people’s lives. I advise all the people to stay in your homes. We are trying to talk with the leadership of Taliban to solve the problems of the people of Afghanistan through dialogue and brotherhood, for the sake of our nation.’

Afghanistan’s Paralympic team have already announced they will not participate in Tokyo Games due to the closure of Kabul airport amid the worsening political situation in country. 

Britain will evacuate hundreds of British nationals and eligible Afghan nationals every day, and flights out of Afghanistan will continue for as long as it is safe, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said on Monday. 

‘I’d say at least hundreds every day will be leaving (on) the flights, but obviously this is a fluid situation,’ the spokesman said. Asked how long Britain planned to keep such flights going, he said: ‘We want to obviously continue to do this as long as we are able to do so and as long as it is safe to do so.’

The Government COBRA emergency response committee met on Monday to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.  

It came after Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the military side of Kabul airport was secure and that Britain was doing everything it could to evacuate British citizens and Afghans with links to Britain.

‘Our target is… about 1200 to 1500 exit a day in the capacity of our airplanes, and we’ll keep that flow,’ he said.

Taliban fighters patrolled Kabul on Monday as chaos continued at the city’s airport as thousands try to flee the fundamentalist group

Two Taliban fighters ride in the back of a vehicle with the group’s white flag as the Afghan capital settled into a tense calm on Monday 

Taliban fighters were seen inside the Afghan parliament on Monday after officials promised civilians would not be harmed and announced everyone would be allowed to return home from Kabul airport if they decided to stay in the country

Biden’s statement ‘washing hands’ of Afghanistan ‘is one of most shameful in US history’: Left and right-wing media unite in condemnation of America’s ‘chaotic retreat’ and ‘betrayal’ of Afghan people 

Media outlets across the political divide in the US and Britain have united in their condemnation over Joe Biden’s handling of the Afghanistan crisis amid what is being billed the biggest foreign policy catastrophe in 65 years.

Even Left-wing outlets such as CNN and The New York Times who have been among Biden’s biggest cheerleaders have hit out at him for his role in allowing insurgents to take Kabul after routing Afghan forces in just a week, calling it a debacle and a political disaster.

The Wall Street Journal condemned Joe Biden’s statement ‘washing his hands’ of the situation, saying it should ‘go down as one of the most shameful in history by a Commander in Chief at such a moment of American retreat’.

As the crisis deepened, a CNN columnist said the ‘debacle of the US defeat and chaotic retreat in Afghanistan’ was a ‘political disaster’ for the US President and slammed his ‘failure to orchestrate an urgent and orderly exit’.

And an opinion writer in The Atlantic said there was enough blame attached for the Afghanistan crisis to ‘fill a library of books’, condemning the ‘betrayal’ of the Afghan people as he placed the ‘burden of shame’ on Biden.

Meanwhile a New York Post editorial said Biden’s claims that he ‘inherited’ his predecessor Donald Trump’s withdrawal plans were a ‘lie’ and the situation is ‘as humiliating an end as the rooftop scramble in Saigon in 1975’.

An opinion piece in The New York Times claimed that Biden would ‘go down in history, fairly or unfairly, as the president who presided over a long-brewing, humiliating final act in the American experiment in Afghanistan’.

A Washington Post column said the situation ‘is on Biden, and it will leave an indelible stain on his presidency’, while a piece in USA Today said ‘this catastrophe is appearing on his watch, and he will have to take his lumps’.

Fox News ran a comment from Republican Senator Joni Ernst condemning the ‘slap in the face to the thousands of men and women who served in this war’ and a ‘total abandonment of a country and its people’ by Biden.

Columnists in the British Press also hit out at Biden today, with The Sun’s editorial saying he ‘ignored repeated warnings, then withdrew crucial air support for the Afghan army it has spent billions arming over 20 years’.

Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chair Tom Tugendhat wrote in The Times that it was the ‘the biggest foreign policy disaster since Suez’ in 1957, while a columnist for the i condemned the ‘betrayal of Afghanistan’s people’.

The Financial Times said the ‘abandonment of Afghanistan raises doubts over the depth of US commitment to supposed allies’, while Mark Almond wrote in the Daily Mail that Islamist fundamentalism is now ‘back on a roll’.

Britain has relocated its embassy to Kabul airport from the city. Asked what he would feel to see the Taliban flag flying over the former British embassy building in Kabul, Mr Wallace said: ‘Symbolically, it’s not what any of us wanted.’ 

The Armed Forces are supporting the evacuation of British nationals and those eligible for relocation under the Government’s Afghan Relocation and Assistance Program.

Special Forces units are joining 600 British troops from the 16 Air Assault Brigade, including 150 Paratroopers, with support from RAF teams from around the world, to airlift British officials out of the Kabul. 

Revealing that the first evacuation flight had landed in the UK last night, the Ministry of Defence said in a Twitter post: ‘Last night the first flight of British Nationals and Embassy Staff arrived at RAF Brize Norton as part of Op Pitting. 

‘The UK Armed Forces are supporting the evacuation of British Nationals and those eligible for relocation under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Program.’

The rescue mission could eventually see thousands being evacuated from Afghanistan. Around 500 embassy staff are thought to be among those to be rescued. 

Around 5,000 Afghan-English interpreters and their families are also seeking evacuation, as they fear being classed as ‘traitors’ by the extremist Taliban.

There are also thousands of British and dual nationality passport holders who may need evacuation to UK, and around 2,000 people with links to Britain who could also be eligible to leave Afghanistan for the UK.  

It comes as the UK’s ambassador to Afghanistan put plans to leave the country on hold – and remained at Kabul airport to help process the applications of those seeking to leave.

Despite the scramble to evacuate, the ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow was said to have remained in the city last night. Boris Johnson said he was at the airport helping to process the applications of those seeking to leave. 

Some 700 UK personnel are deployed at the airport, with Mr Wallace insisting the key areas are still secure despite chaotic scenes. He said it could take more than 36 hours to get another 1,500 out, suggesting nearly 800 of those will be Afghans. Government sources said 1,000 interpreters and other staff had arrived over the past few weeks.

It is not clear how the evacuation is being prioritised, with Mr Wallace stressing that vetting applications to leave at high speed was more of a challenge than maintaining flights.

The Prime Minister has insisted Britain could ‘look back at 20 years of effort and achievement In Afghanistan’, as he argued he wanted to ‘make sure that we don’t throw those gains away’. 

Mr Wallace choked up as he talked about the consequences of the collapse of the Western-trained Afghan army, after the Taliban walked into Kabul and took charge of the presidential palace. 

He said the crisis had become inevitable after a deal was struck with the extremists and the US pulled out, and the focus was now on evacuating British nationals, interpreters and others who might be subject to reprisals.

But he conceded that ‘some people won’t get back’. ‘It is sad the West has done what it has done,’ he said. ‘Twenty years of sacrifice.. is what it is.’  

Mr Wallace – who himself served in the military before entering politics – said he felt the issue so deeply because he was a soldier. 

Mr Wallace later told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:  ‘President Biden inherited a momentum, a momentum that had been given to the Taliban because they felt they had now won, he’d also inherited a momentum of troop withdrawal from the international community, the US.’

‘So I think in that sense, the seeds of what we’re seeing today were before President Biden took office. The seeds were a peace deal that was [effectively] rushed, that wasn’t done in collaboration properly with the international community and then a dividend taken out incredibly quickly.’

MP Tobias Ellwood, former captain in the British Army and chairman of the defence select committee, criticised the West for pulling out of Afghanistan.

Appearing on Sky News, he said: ‘The world is now a little bit more dangerous because they’ve now taken control of the country, and the West should really hang its head in shame after abruptly abandoning Afghanistan to a civil war after two decades of effort.’

He added: ‘This is not a good day for the West at all, and China will be observing things very, very closely indeed. They are already making alliances with the Taliban and glossing over the human rights atrocities that are likely to unfold.’ 

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the military side of Kabul airport was secure and that Britain was doing everything it could to evacuate British citizens and Afghans with links to Britain

It comes as the Ministry of Defence confirmed the first British nationals had landed at RAF base Brize Norton after being evacuated from Kabul

Passengers arrived in RAF base Brize Norton after an evacuation flight from Kabul following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan

Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Laurie Bristow (right) remains in Kabul today, despite an SAS-backed operation to evacuate embassy staff amid a Taliban takeover of the city

British Forces from 16 Air Assault Brigade arrive in Kabul, Afghanistan, to provide support to British nationals leaving the country, as part of Operation PITTING after Taliban insurgents took control of the presidential palace in Kabul, August 15

How did the Taliban take over Afghanistan so quickly?

The Taliban’s stunning and rapid takeover of Afghanistan was the result not only of their battlefield strength, but also a sustained push to force surrenders and cut deals.

The insurgents mixed threats and lures with propaganda and psychological warfare as they took city after city – some with barely a shot fired – eventually capturing the capital Kabul.

How did this happen? Why didn’t the Afghan army put up a fight? 

As foreign troops began their final withdrawal in May, Washington and Kabul were confident the Afghan military would put up a strong fight against the Taliban.

With more than 300,000 personnel and multi-billion-dollar equipment more advanced than the Taliban arsenal, Afghan forces were formidable – on paper.

In reality, they were plagued by corruption, poor leadership, lack of training and plummeting morale for years. Desertions were common and US government inspectors had long warned that the force was unsustainable.

Afghan forces put up strong resistance this summer in some areas such as Lashkar Gah in the south, but they now faced the Taliban without regular US air strikes and military support.

Faced with the smaller but highly motivated and cohesive enemy, many soldiers and even entire units simply deserted or surrendered, leaving the insurgents to capture city after city.

How did the Taliban take advantage of low morale? 

The seeds for the collapse were sown last year when Washington signed a deal with the insurgents to withdraw its troops completely.

For the Taliban, it was the beginning of their victory after nearly two decades of war. For many demoralised Afghans, it was betrayal and abandonment.

They continued to attack government forces but started to combine those with targeted killings of journalists and rights activists, ramping up an environment of fear.

They also pushed a narrative of inevitable Taliban victory in their propaganda and psychological operations.

Soldiers and local officials were reportedly bombarded with text messages in some areas, urging them to surrender or cooperate with the Taliban to avoid a worse fate.

Many were offered safe passage if they did not put up a fight, while others were reached through tribal and village elders.

What happened to the anti-Taliban warlords and their militias? 

With Afghan forces unable to hold off the Taliban advances, many of Afghanistan’s famed – and notorious – warlords rallied their militias and promised a black eye to the Taliban if they attacked their cities.

But with confidence plunging in the ability of Afghanistan’s government to survive, never mind hold off the insurgents, the writing was also on the wall for the warlords.

Their cities fell without a fight. Warlord Ismail Khan in the western city of Herat was captured by the Taliban as it fell.

Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Mohammad Noor in the north fled to Uzbekistan, as their militia members abandoned humvees, weapons and even their uniforms on the road out of Mazar-i-Sharif.

But how were the Taliban able to do this so quickly?

The Taliban had started putting deals and surrender arrangements in place reportedly long before the launch of their blitz in May.

From individual soldiers and low-level government officials to apparently provincial governors and ministers, the insurgents pressed for deals – with the Taliban all but victorious, why put up a fight?

The strategy proved immensely effective.

The images from their final march to Kabul were not of bodies in the streets and bloody battlefields, but of Taliban and government officials sitting comfortably on couches as they formalised the handover of cities and provinces.

According to one reported US estimate less than a month before the fall of Kabul, the Afghan government could collapse in 90 days.

But once the Taliban captured their first provincial capital, it took less than two weeks. 

Mr Ellwood later compared the mayhem at Kabul airport ‘Saigon 2.0,’ akin it to US evacuation of South Vietnam’s capital in 1975.

The advance of the North Vietnamese prompted the US to evacuate thousands of its nationals and troops as well as South Vietnamese civilians who had helped during the war. The most dramatic images involved the evacuation of people from the roof of the US Embassy.

‘If this is not Saigon 2.0, I don’t know what is,’ Ellwood said. ‘Is this how we thought we’d depart Afghanistan? I repeat my call for a UK inquiry.’

Meanwhile Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called on the government to ‘get UK nationals out’, but added ‘we also have an obligation to all of those Afghans who helped and assisted the UK, and we shouldn’t have nice distinctions between this type of person, this type of help, and that type of help.’ 

‘If those in Afghan have helped us, the UK, in our work in Afghanistan, we have got an obligation to them.’

He said on the longer and medium-term there needs to be ‘safe and legal routes for refugees’.

Families of soldiers who died on previous tours of Afghanistan have criticised the British and US Governments’ handling of the withdrawal from the nation.

Graham Knight, father of 25-year-old RAF Sergeant Ben Knight who was killed when his Nimrod aircraft exploded in Afghanistan in 2006, said the British Government should have moved more quickly to get civilians out.

The 69-year-old said: ‘We’re not surprised that the Taliban have taken over because as soon as the Americans and the British said they were going to leave, we knew this was going to happen.

‘The Taliban made their intent very clear that, as soon as we went out, they would move in. As for whether people’s lives were lost through a war that wasn’t winneable, I think they were.

‘I think the problem was we were fighting people that were native to the country. We weren’t fighting terrorists, we were fighting people who actually lived there and didn’t like us being there.’

Discussing the footage of people desperately climbing on to planes in Kabul to escape, Mr Knight said: ‘I feel very sorry for them, they’re obviously fighting for their lives. Anybody who feels like that is in a desperate situation. It’s like Saigon all over again.’

The fall of Saigon happened when military personnel evacuated the former southern capital of Vietnam in 1975 after the North Vietnamese army captured the city, leading to the end of the Vietnam War.

Mr Knight went on: ‘I think it was all started too late again. It [the evacuation process] should have started about a week ago. My main worry is some hothead American, or British hothead, will decide that the Taliban isn’t behaving how they want, shoot at them and that will be it.’

While Ian Sadler, whose 21-year-old Trooper son Jack died when his Land Rover struck a mine in Afghanistan in 2007, told PA: ‘I was surprised the Americans and the allies had so much confidence in the Afghan national army.

‘Why did they think the Afghan national army would be able to keep the Taliban back based on just numbers alone? Why did our Government and allies have so much confidence in them?

‘It proved to be rubbish, really. Why did the president say Kabul will never fall when, at the same time, he must have been planning his escape?

‘To pull them out so quickly like that… I would have thought it would have been more of a strategic advantage to reduce the British and American influence. When the Nato forces were pulled out so suddenly, the Afghan National Army were left without any direction.’

The 71-year-old added: ‘I don’t think any of the British Governments – Labour, coalition or Conservative – have handled the situation in Afghanistan particularly well… The level of support given to our soldiers in Afghanistan was trivial.

‘It wasn’t until we were out there for about 10 years that the urgent operational requirements came in. Why weren’t our soldiers equipped with mine-protected vehicles? We would have lost a lot less.’  

It comes after the US government said late on Sunday all staff from the US Embassy in Kabul and were at the airport. Ambassador Ross Wilson were both seen arriving at Kabul airport, as other Americans still in the country were ordered to shelter in place. 

Initially, the aim had been to have staff removed within 72 hours, but the Taliban’s advances across the Afghan capital Kabul prompted the immediate removal of all staff.

Former President Donald Trump sent a statement to his followers on Sunday calling on President Joe Biden to ‘resign in disgrace’ amid the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops.

‘It is time for Joe Biden to resign in disgrace for what he has allowed to happen to Afghanistan, along with the tremendous surge in COVID, the Border catastrophe, the destruction of energy independence, and our crippled economy,’ Trump said in an email.

He continued perpetuating his claim that Biden won the presidency via election fraud, concluding the email: ‘It shouldn’t be a big deal, because he wasn’t elected legitimately in the first place.’ 

Earlier Sunday, he issued another statement denouncing the Biden administration over the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

‘Tragic mess in Afghanistan, a completely open and broken Border, Crime at record levels, oil prices through the roof, inflation rising, and taken advantage of by the entire world—DO YOU MISS ME YET?’ he said in a short emailed statement on Friday.

The Trump administration negotiated the terms of a US withdrawal in talks with the Taliban last year. Now the speed of a Taliban advance has rattled officials three weeks ahead of President Biden’s August 31 deadline to bring all troops home. 

Biden has repeatedly said he has no regrets about pushing ahead with his timetable, insisting there was no choice but to withdraw American troops because he would not ‘pass this war’ to another president.  

A US Chinook helicopter flies over the city of Kabul as diplomatic vehicles leave the compound after the Taliban advanced on the Afghan capital

The Chinook helicopter was seen taking to the skies above the city – just like in 1975 when a US Marine helicopter was seen evacuating embassy staff from Vietnamese capital (pictured)

A man sits inside the frame of a airplane engine while waiting for an evacuation flight out of Kabul after the Taliban took the capital on Sunday

Pictured: Afghans crowd at the tarmac of the Kabul airport on August 16, 2021, to flee the country as the Taliban were in control of Afghanistan after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and conceded the insurgents had won the 20-year war

Pictured: Pakistan’s soldiers check the documents of stranded Afghan nationals wanting to return to Afghanistan at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing point in Chaman on August 16, 2021

Pictured: People struggle to cross the boundary wall of Hamid Karzai International Airport to flee the country after rumors that foreign countries are evacuating people even without visas, after Taliban took control of Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16

Thousands of Afghans were at Hamad Karzai airport desperately trying to flee the country after the Taliban swept the capital on Sunday

US troops are guarding the airport and have taken over air traffic control, but all non-military flights are grounded. Soldiers fired warning shots in the air to prevent hundreds of civilians running onto the tarmac, a US official said

US soldiers take up their positions as they secure the airport in Kabul after the Taliban walked into the capital, forcing President Ashraf Ghani to flee

Thousands of Afghans gathered at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai airport, but all commercial services have been suspended, with only military flights leaving the country as the UK, US and other western countries repatriate their citizens

Taliban members were seen patrolling the streets of Kabul on Monday morning after sweeping across the capital on Sunday

Taliban fighters removed the Afghan national flag and raised the group’s white flag in Kabul on Sunday after sweeping across the country and forcing President Ashraf Ghani to flee

Taliban fighters ride through the city of Kabul on Monday, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war, as thousands flee

Taliban members were seen patrolling the streets of Kabul on Monday as the US and UK hurried to evacuate their ambassadors and citizens from Afghanistan

Taliban fighters guard a roadside near the Zanbaq Square in Kabul on Monday after the group swept the capital, forcing President Ashraf Ghani to flee

Taliban fighters raise their flag at the Ghazni provincial governor’s house, in Ghazni, southeastern, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021

Hundreds of thousands of Afghanis have been displaced from their homes in recent weeks by fighting, with fears that could swell to millions if entire country falls

Iran’s new ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi on Monday said that the ‘defeat’ of the United States in Afghanistan must usher in a durable peace in the neighbouring, war-wracked country.

‘The military defeat and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan should offer an opportunity to restore life, security and lasting peace in that country,’ Raisi said, quoted by his office.

The presidency statement came after the Taliban seized control of Kabul, but it did not mention the Taliban nor the fall of the Afghan capital.

Raisi, who made the remarks in a call with outgoing Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, said the Islamic republic wanted good relations with Afghanistan. Iran was ‘closely monitoring the evolution of events in Afghanistan’ and wants good neighbourly ties with it, he said.

Raisi tasked Zarif and Iran’s Supreme National Security Council to give him updated reports on the situation in Afghanistan, the statement added.

Iran shares a 900km (560 mile) border with Afghanistan, and hosts nearly 3.5 million Afghans, according to the UN refugee agency.

Russian ambassador to meet Taliban in Kabul Tuesday 

Russia said its ambassador to Afghanistan will meet with the Taliban in Kabul on Tuesday and that it will decide on whether to recognise the new government based on its conduct.

‘Our ambassador is in contact with the Taliban leadership, tomorrow he will meet with the Taliban security coordinator,’ foreign ministry official Zamir Kabulov said in an interview with the Ekho Moskvy radio station on Monday.

He said the talks between Moscow’s ambassador, Dmitry Zhirnov, and the Taliban would centre on how the group plans to provide security for the Russian embassy in the Afghan capital.

On Sunday, as the Taliban completed its military takeover of Afghanistan, Kabulov said that Russia had no plans on evacuating its embassy – though on Monday he said that ‘part’ of its staff would be ‘evacuated’.

Kabulov also said that Moscow will decide on recognising the new Taliban government based ‘on the conduct of the new authorities’.

‘We will carefully see how responsibly they govern the country in the near future. And based on the results, the Russian leadership will draw the necessary conclusions,’ Kabulov said.

In recent years, Russia has sought to reach out to the Taliban and has hosted Taliban representatives in Moscow several times, most recently last month.

Moscow is closely watching for a potential spillover of the instability into neighbouring ex-Soviet Central Asian countries where Russia maintains military bases. 

Reporting by AFP 

In 1998, Taliban troops entered the Iranian consulate in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, killing several diplomats and an official news agency journalist.

The Taliban later said they had been killed by individuals acting independently, but Tehran held the movement responsible for the deaths, which sparked outrage and nearly triggered an Iranian military intervention in Afghanistan.

Analysts say Tehran is taking a pragmatic stance on the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan.

On Sunday the Iranian foreign ministry said it had reduced its diplomatic presence in Afghanistan.

The announcement came shortly after the Taliban reached the outskirts of the Afghan capital.

Foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said a skeleton staff remained at Iran’s Kabul embassy and that employees had been also evacuated from three of out of five diplomatic missions in other Afghan cities.

Zarif meanwhile held Monday a meeting in Tehran with China’s special envoy for Afghanistan Yue Xiaoyong, the foreign ministry said.

The talks focused on the situation in Afghanistan, it said.

Zarif on Sunday said that ‘Iran stands ready to continue its peacemaking efforts’ in Afghanistan.

‘Violence and war – like occupation – never solve problems,’ he wrote on Twitter.

His talks with the Chinese envoy come as a government spokeswoman in Beijing on Monday said China was ready to deepen ‘friendly and cooperative’ ties with Afghanistan.

Meanwhile Pakistan’s state-run airline says it has halted all flights to Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul because of the ‘uncertain security situation’ there. 

Spokesman Abdullah Hafeez said Monday that Pakistan International Airlines decided to protect passengers, the crew and the planes after consulting the Afghan civil aviation authorities. He spoke as embassies scrambled to evacuate personnel and Afghan employees through the airport. 

Australia is sending three transport and air-to-air refueling jets with 250 military personnel to repatriate more than 130 Australians and their families from Afghanistan, officials said on Monday.

Australia is also working to evacuate an undisclosed number of refugees, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement.

An Airbus A330 airliner modified for aerial refueling would support US-led operations in Afghanistan later this week, Australia’s Defense Department said in a statement. Two C-17A Globemaster heavy transport aircraft would also be sent to the Middle East, the statement said.

Australia shut its Kabul embassy in May and withdrew the last of its troops from Afghanistan in June. 

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel said soldiers would be deployed to Afghanistan to help with the evacuation of Germany nationals and Afghans in danger from the Taliban, parliamentary sources said.

The government is planning to seek a mandate from parliament to allow the deployment of as many as ‘several hundred soldiers’, the sources told AFP, citing a briefing by Merkel to leaders of parliamentary groups late on Sunday. 

Taliban commander ‘spent eight years in Guantanamo Bay’ 

A Taliban commander claimed he spent eight years in Guantanamo Bay in a triumphant speech from inside the Presidential Palace in Kabul as the militants declared an Islamic state of Afghanistan after the country’s president joined thousands of Afghan nationals in a mass exodus.

Taliban fighters marched into the ancient palace on Sunday and demanded a ‘peaceful transfer of power’ as the capital city descended into chaos, with US helicopters evacuating diplomats from the embassy in scenes echoing the 1975 Fall of Saigon which followed the Vietnam War.

There were chaotic scenes at Kabul airport where thousands of desperate Afghans are gathering in an attempt to flee the country. Fighting and stampedes broke out between passengers before commercial flights were stopped and only military planes departed the terminals which are now guarded by US troops.

The Al-Jazeera news channel livestreamed the press conference from inside the palace, which showed a group of Taliban fighters sitting at the President’s desk before a fighter claimed he was a former inmate of the US-controlled Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba.

Established by George W Bush in 2002, suspected terrorists have been detained without trial and tortured at the facility. Donald Trump signed an executive order to keep the centre open indefinitely in 2018, while in February the Biden administration vowed to shut Guantanamo down.

A spokesman for the Taliban’s political office told Al-Jazeera TV on Sunday that the war is over in Afghanistan and that the type of rule and the form of regime will be clear soon.

Portugal’s defense minister says his country is prepared to take in 243 Afghans, and their families who worked with Portuguese forces stationed in the country.

Defense Minister Joao Gomes Cravinho said NATO is coordinating the evacuation of the Afghans because Portugal does not have the military capacity to do so. He told public broadcaster RTP late Sunday he is not aware of any Portuguese citizens living in Afghanistan.

Portugal had a small detachment of fewer than 200 troops stationed at Kabul airport, as part of the NATO mission in the country. The last ones pulled out at the end of May. 

While Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said on Monday that 19 embassy employees had been evacuated from Kabul to Doha, Qatar and that they will eventually flown to Sweden.

Earlier Monday, Norway and Denmark said that the bulk of the embassy staff were out of Afghanistan.  

Denmark’s Defense Minister Trine Bramsen told Danish broadcaster DR that while most Danish diplomats had been evacuated, ‘there are still Danes,’ and others in the country still to be flown out.

Challenges include being able to land at Kabul’s chaotic airport, he said. But there’s a struggle, too, to get people to the airport, ‘a very difficult operation,’ Bramsen was quoted as saying.   

Italy’s evacuated 70 embassy staff and Afghan employees from the capital city of Kabul with the plane scheduled to arrive in Rome on Monday. 

The evacuation is part of Italy’s Operation Aquila Omnia (Eagle Ready for Anything) to quickly evacuate Italian diplomatic staff, citizens and Afghan employees and family members. Italy had one of the largest contingents in Afghanistan before the pullout.

Italian journalist Francesca Mannocchi, who was on the plane, said that it was carrying 20 Afghan embassy employees and their families, including women and children. Prior to the Taliban advance, 228 Afghanis and their families had been transferred to Italy.

Officials declined to give number of how many remained, but Italian media reported over the weekend that some 390 Afghan citizens and their family members were awaiting evacuation. 

The first Czech evacuation flight has taken off from Kabul’s international airport and landed in Prague. Prime Minister Andrej Babis said 46 people were on board Monday’s flight.

They included Czech nationals, the Afghan staffers at the Czech embassy and Afghan interpreters who helped the Czech armed forces during NATO missions together with their families.

Babis didn’t immediately provide more details. It’s not clear how many such flights will follow.

Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamacek tweeted that given the deteriorating situation at Kabul’s airport, it was ‘a miracle’ that the Czech flight managed to take off.  

Saudi Arabia says it has evacuated all its diplomats from its embassy in the Afghan capital, and New Zealand’s government is sending a plane to help its people leave the country.

Saudi Arabia said all staff were evacuated from the embassy in Kabul on Sunday due to the changing conditions on the ground, joining other countries that have also shuttered their embassies as the Taliban advance on the Afghan capital.

New Zealand’s government says its sending a C-130 Hercules military transport plane to Afghanistan to help with the evacuation of 53 New Zealanders and dozens of Afghanis and their immediate families who helped New Zealand troops when they were stationed there.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said they had so far identified 37 Afghanis who had helped, but the number of evacuees would be in the hundreds once dependents and others were included.

Defense officials say they have planned for a monthlong mission involving at least 40 military personnel tasked with servicing and protecting the plane. Ardern asked that the Taliban allow people to leave peaceably: ‘The whole world is watching,’ she said.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said it has ‘temporarily closed’ its embassy in Kabul and evacuated most of its staff to an unspecified third country in the Middle East.

The ministry said a few diplomats, including Ambassador Choi Taeho, remain at a safe location in Afghanistan to support the evacuation of a South Korean national in the country and that the Seoul government is closely working with the United States and other countries to ensure their safe evacuation.

Afghanistan has been on South Korea’s travel ban list since 2007. There were reportedly around five South Koreans living in Afghanistan before the Seoul government in June called for all of them to leave the country within 10 days as the United States and NATO proceeded with troop pullouts.

Crowds gathered at Kabul airport trying to flee the country after the Taliban swept through the capital and effectively took power in Afghanistan

Pictured: Vehicles are seen on a congested street in Kabul, Afghanistan, in these still images taken from a video uploaded to social media on August 15, 2021

Footage on Sunday captured the sound of US gunshots after thousands of Afghans packed into Kabul’s Hamid Karzai airport desperate for a flight out of the country

Pen Farthing, founder of animal rescue charity Nowzad, has pleaded with the British government to evacuate his staff from Kabul

Boris Johnson urges the West NOT to recognise Taliban government 

Boris Johnson is urging western countries to not recognise the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan and says the country must not become a ‘breeding ground for terror’, after he was seen posing for pictures with Team GB Olympians. 

The Prime Minister has earlier posed for publicity pictures with athletes at an event in London as Downing Street said ministers and senior officials would meet on Sunday afternoon to discuss the worsening situation.

And it emerged Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had flown back to Britain from his overseas holiday, breaking his silence on the war-torn country. He said the world must tell the Taliban ‘the violence must end and human rights must be protected’. 

The Foreign Office refused to say where the Foreign Secretary was but said he was expected to land in the UK today. 

Following an emergency meeting of Cobra yesterday, Mr Johnson called for a ‘united position among the like-minded’ and said it was ‘clear’ there is ‘going to be very shortly a new government in Kabul, or a new political dispensation’.

He said the situation in Afghanistan remains ‘difficult’, and the Government’s priority is ‘to make sure we deliver on our obligations to UK nationals in Afghanistan, to all those who have helped the British effort… over 20 years and to get them out as fast as we can.’ 

He told Sky News: ‘We don’t want anybody bilaterally recognising the Taliban, we want a united position amongst all the like-minded, in as far as we can get one, so that we do whatever we can to prevent Afghanistan lapsing back into being a breeding ground for terror.’ 

The United States had earlier released a statement with more than 65 nations urging the Taliban to let Afghans leave the country, warning of accountability for any abuses.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged the Taliban and all parties to ‘exercise restraint’ and said the rights of women and girls, who suffered under the previous Taliban regime, must be protected. 

Pen Farthing, founder of animal rescue charity Nowzad, has added his voice to the calls, pleading with the British government to evacuate his 71 staff from Kabul. 

He has vowed not to leave Afghanistan until his staff are granted safe passage to the UK. The Charity has launched a campaign called Operation Ark to fundraise £200,000 to evacuate staff and animals. 

The US government has insisted in recent days that its two decades of war in Afghanistan was a success, defined by quashing the Al-Qaeda threat.

President Joe Biden also said he was determined there was no choice but to withdraw American troops, as he would not ‘pass this war’ onto another president.

But Washington was left shocked by the rapid collapse of the Afghan government, and critics have said the United States’ reputation as a global power has been badly tarnished.

‘America’s credibility as an ally is diminished,’ said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States.

The Taliban freed thousands of prisoners as they swept across the country as the police melted away in recent days. There were scattered reports of looting and armed men knocking on doors and gates.

The Taliban deployed fighters at major intersections and sought to project calm, circulating videos showing quiet city streets.

‘There were a few Taliban fighters on each and every road and intersection in the city,’ Shah Mohammad, a 55-year-old gardener, said after coming to work in the diplomatic quarter. He said there was less traffic than usual and fewer people out on the streets.

Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, tweeted that fighters had been instructed not to enter any home without permission and to protect ‘life, property and honor.’  

The speed of the Taliban advance has taken almost everyone by surprise and Afghans who had booked commercial flights to escape the Taliban face being forced to remain in Afghanistan.

Westerners will be evacuated by their home nations on military flights but the Taliban has said that it will not allow Afghan citizens to leave.

Tens of thousands of interpreters and officials who helped the Western-backed Afghan government are desperate to escape the country for fear of reprisals by the Taliban.

On Sunday the US led more than 65 nations in urging the resurgent Taliban to let Afghans leave the country, warning of accountability for any abuses. 

‘The United States joins the international community in affirming that Afghans and international citizens who wish to depart must be allowed to do so,’ Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote on Twitter as the State Department released a statement signed by its close allies. 

‘Those in positions of power and authority across Afghanistan bear responsibility – and accountability – for the protection of human life,’ the joint statement said. 

A NATO official said all commercial flights had been suspended and only military aircraft were allowed to operate. The alliance said it was helping to keep the airport running (pictured: Scenes at Kabul airport) 

Harrowing pictures show people waiting near Kabul Airport’s runway to escape from the country’s capital – as the Taliban entered the presidential palace

Pictured: Chaotic scenes at Kabul airport as Taliban insurgents enter Kabul amid a withdrawal of western forces

Images show Kabul Airport descending into chaos as the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan continues

Scenes from the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul are pictured above

Pictured: Scenes at the airport in Kabul as the Taliban enter Afghanistan’s capital 

Ex-Nato chief says Raab’s holiday amid Afghan crisis ‘staggering’ 

A former Nato chief has said they are ‘staggered’ Dominic Raab was on holiday as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban.

Lord Robertson, a Labour minister before becoming secretary-general of the military alliance said the situation had not been taken ‘seriously’. 

‘You’ve got to be on duty during that sort of period where we are so deeply and intimately involved in it,’ he told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme.

Looking at the British handling of the war in Afghanistan in the past 20 years, the former Nato secretary-general said: ‘We bear a big responsibility ourselves.

‘We never really took Afghanistan and the conflict there with the seriousness that it demanded.

‘We sent people into danger, troops into danger and people died and yet we were not fully, it would appear, committed to the campaign that was going on there.

‘I’ve been critical all along about our country not taking this situation seriously and now the chickens have come home to roost and we’re facing a humiliation and a disaster for all of our people.’ 

A NATO official said all commercial flights had been suspended and only military aircraft were allowed to operate. The alliance said it was helping to keep the airport running. 

Following a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergencies committee on Sunday, Boris Johnson his priority was to get UK nationals and Afghans who had worked with them out of the country ‘as fast as we can’.

‘We are going to get as many as we can out in the next few days,’ he said.

Around 4,000 British nationals and eligible Afghans are thought to be in the city and in need of evacuation.

When the Operation Pitting rescue operation, involving 600 troops, was announced at the end of last week, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said it could carry on through the rest of the month.

However the speed of the Taliban advance suggests that there may only be a short window of a few days to get people out.

In a sign of the desperate situation the British ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow was said to be helping the small team of diplomats still in the country to process the applications of those hoping to leave.

There was particular concern for the safety of Afghans who worked with British forces when they were in the country as interpreters and other roles amid fears of reprisals if they fall into the hands of the insurgents.

The Taliban insisted that they were seeking a peaceful takeover of power and were prepared to offer an amnesty to those who had worked with the Afghan government or with foreign governments.

However those assurances were being treated with deep scepticism by many British MPs amid reports of threats to those who remain and their families.

Heavily armed Taliban fighters fanned out across the capital, and several entered Kabul’s abandoned presidential palace. 

Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman and negotiator, said that the militants would hold talks in the coming days aimed at forming an ‘open, inclusive Islamic government.’

But he refused to guarantee that Afghans would be allowed to leave the country, telling the BBC: ‘We need all Afghans to stay’. 

He said Taliban forces would not attack NATO teams overseeing evacuations, but said aid organisations and foreign embassies should stay, saying ‘We won’t hurt them’.

Boris Johnson has vowed to get as many as possible of the Afghans who worked with the UK out of the country as the Taliban stood poised to take control of the capital Kabul.

With President Ashraf Ghani fled, and insurgent fighters surrounding the capital, the Prime Minister said the situation was ‘extremely difficult’.

‘The Taliban have won with the judgement of their swords and guns, and are now responsible for the honour, property and self-preservation of their countrymen,’ Ghani said after fleeing.

After chairing a meeting of the Government’s Cobra contingencies committee he said the UK was determined to work with allies to prevent the country again becoming a ‘breeding ground for terror’.

Britain has sent 600 troops – including Paras from 16 Air Assault Brigade – to assist in the operation.

Meanwhile other Western countries were scrambling to get their people out, with helicopters shuttling from the US embassy to the airport while smoke was seen coming from the embassy rooftop as diplomats burned sensitive material.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken had said earlier on Sunday that US embassy staff were ferried by helicopter from the diplomatic compound to the airport, about  5km (3 miles) away on the northeastern side of the city.

‘We’re working to make sure that our personnel are safe and secure. We’re relocating the men and women of our embassy to a location at the airport,’ Blinken told ABC news.

Asked if the evacuation was evocative of the US departure from Vietnam in 1975, he said: ‘Let’s take a step back. This is manifestly not Saigon.’   

Special Forces units are joining 600 British troops from the 16 Air Assault Brigade, including 150 Paratroopers, to begin airlifting more than 500 British Government employees out of Kabul. Pictured: Members of Joint Forces Headquarters get prepared to deploy to Afghanistan

UK military personnel boarding an RAF Voyager aircraft at RAF Brize Norton on August 14, 2021 to travel to Afghanistan

The Taliban standing on a roadside in Kandahar after taking over more parts of Afghanistan. The scale and speed of the Taliban advance has shocked Afghans and the US-led alliance that poured billions into the country

People wait at the airport in Kabul as the Taliban roll back into the country’s capital 

Taliban are seen inside the presidential palace in Kabul amid a withdrawal of western forces

Last days of the US Embassy in Kabul: Nerve centre of the war on terror is being gutted of all sensitive material as staff and CIA assets

The US Embassy in Kabul – the nerve center of the war on terror – is being gutted of all its sensitive material and evacuated in 72 hours, as the Taliban coils around Afghanistan’s capital. 

The Embassy’s demise will create an intelligence void that could plunge the US into pre-9/11 blindness, unless it can find another nearby country that will allow it rebuild its spy center.  

For the past 20 years, the US Embassy in Kabul has gathered vast amounts of information that shaped counterterrorism military actions – such as precision drone strikes – and prevented another 9/11-type attack. 

The location allowed CIA agents to meet with sources and monitor the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in the region.  

‘When the time comes for the US military to withdraw, the US government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish. That’s simply a fact,’ CIA Director Bill Burns told Senators in April.  

Everyone in the Embassy – except Bureau of Diplomatic Security Service agents and top decisionmakers, including the ambassador – will be out of the country before the end of Tuesday.   

Security Engineers will also stay behind as they continue to burn, shred and pulverize 20 years worth of intelligence stored on electronics and in documents. 

Embassy or agency logos, American flags ‘or items which could be misused in propaganda efforts’ are also considered to be sensitive materials and will be destroyed. 

The military is prepared to lower the American flag flying above the Embassy – at the State Department’s order – signaling the Embassy’s official closure. 

Sources told Reuters that most U.S staff were expected to be evacuated from Kabul in the coming day or two.

A NATO official said all commercial flights had been suspended and only military aircraft were allowed to operate. The alliance said it was helping to keep the airport running.

France and Germany, members of NATO, said on Sunday they were moving their diplomats to the airport and sending military transport planes to Kabul to evacuate their citizens and their Afghan helpers.

A US intelligence assessment earlier in the week had said Kabul could be encircled in 30 days and could fall to the Taliban within 90 days, but the insurgents captured most of Afghanistan’s major cities in less than a week and entered the capital on Sunday.

Some 4,200 people remained in the US embassy until Thursday, when the Taliban’s rapid gains forced the Biden administration to begin flying in thousands of troops to help pull out many of the remaining diplomats.

The deployment included an additional 1,000 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division, who President Joe Biden said on Saturday would help evacuate citizens and ensure an ‘orderly and safe’ drawdown of US military personnel.

On Sunday, US officials said they were weighing whether more troops were needed. Another 3,000 are on standby in Kuwait.

Washington invested billions of dollars over four US administrations in Afghan government forces, giving them advantages over the Taliban, but they were unable to defend the country in the face of the militants’ advance, Blinken told CNN.

The United States’ original mission in Afghanistan, launched to oust al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, had been fulfilled, Blinken said, saying Washington had prevented further attacks by militants harbored by the Taliban.

But Biden has faced rising domestic criticism after sticking to the plan to withdraw, which was agreed under his Republican predecessor Donald Trump. On Saturday, Biden defended his decision, saying an ‘endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me’.

Republican lawmaker Michael McCaul said a Taliban takeover would revive the threat to the United States.

‘We are going to go back to a pre-9/11 state. A breeding ground for terrorism,’ he told CNN on Sunday.

Biden met with his national security team on Sunday by secure videoconference from the presidential retreat at Camp David to hear updates on evacuations and the security situation, a White House official said.

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat like Biden, said at a news conference that the safety of US personnel and of Afghans who supported the Americans should be Washington’s top concern.

‘Job number one is for us to bring back, first, all American personnel… But second, all of the brave Afghans who helped our military, they have to be provided an exit to come to America,’ Schumer said.

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