France cannot continue Afghanistan evacuations past Friday, says PM Castex

France will no longer be able to evacuate people from Afghanistan after Friday evening, French Prime Minister Jean Castex told RTL radio.

This photo provided by the French Army shows a French soldier at Kabul airport, Afghanistan, on August 20, 2021.
This photo provided by the French Army shows a French soldier at Kabul airport, Afghanistan, on August 20, 2021. © Etat-Major des Armees via AP

"As of tomorrow evening, we will no longer be able to proceed with evacuations from Kabul airport," the French prime minister said, citing the imminent withdrawal of the US troops controlling and securing the airport, set for August 31.

The United States and allies urged people to move away from Kabul airport on Thursday due to the threat of a terror attack by Islamic State militants as Western troops hurry to evacuate as many people as possible before next Tuesday's deadline.

Castex's comments came as Britain warned of an imminent risk of an attack at the airport, while the Netherlands also said it was halting evacuation flights.

New warnings emerged overnight from Western capitals about a possible threat from Afghanistan's Islamic State group affiliate, which likely has seen its ranks boosted by the Taliban freeing prisoners across the country.

Military cargo planes leaving Kabul airport have launched flares to disrupt any potential surface-to-air missile fire as fleeing Afghan troops abandoned heavy weapons and equipment across the country as their ranks collapsed.

Outside of a missile attack, troops have also been worried about the uncontrolled, teeming crowds outside the airport. There is no formal screening process on the way to the airport as there was under Afghanistan's former government. That means someone carrying a suicide bomb could slip by, or an explosives-laden vehicle could barrel through the crowd. 

Pressure to complete the evacuations of thousands of foreigners and Afghans who helped Western countries during the 20-year war against the Taliban has intensified, with all US and allied troops due to leave the airport on August 31.

Castex said some 2,500 people had been evacuated by France since the capture of Kabul by the Taliban on August 15. The operation has seen the evacuees taken to a French base in the United Arab Emirates by military aircraft and then onward to France.

He said this number included French citizens, but also "Afghans who have contributed, in one way or another, in their support to the (French) army, as well and their families, artists and journalists".


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