France, UK end civilian evacuations from Afghanistan

Britain on Saturday announced the end of civilian airlifts from Kabul airport hours after France ended its evacuations from Afghanistan as the Taliban deployed more forces around the Hamid Karzai International Airport to prevent crowds from gathering, days after a suicide bombing killed 182 people outside the airport.

French and Afghan citizens being evacuated to France in a French military plane, at Abu Dhabi airport, August 24, 2021.
French and Afghan citizens being evacuated to France in a French military plane, at Abu Dhabi airport, August 24, 2021. AP

Britain's ambassador to Afghanistan, Laurie Bristow, said on Saturday that the time had come to end an airlift that had evacuated almost 15,000 Afghan and British citizens over the past two weeks.

"It's time to close this phase of the operation down but we haven't forgotten the people who still need to leave, and we will do everything we can to help them," he said in a statement at Kabul airport released by Britain's foreign ministry.

The announcement came hours after French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defence Minister Florence Parly said France’s airlift had to be stopped late Friday due because "the security conditions were no longer being met at the airport" in the wake of Thursday's attack, which killed 169 Afghan civilians and 13 US troops.

In a statement, Le Drian and Parly blamed the lack of security on the "rapid disengagement of the American forces".

Separately, Parly tweeted that the French forces had managed to fly around 3,000 people out of Afghanistan before their airlift operation was halted.

"In less than two weeks, the French military has brought some 3,000 people to safety, including more than 2,600 Afghans," she tweeted.

The French embassy team in Kabul has reached Abu Dhabi and from there will fly home to France, the ministers said.

France has called for setting up humanitarian operations to assist the thousands of Afghan nationals who failed to get a flight out to leave by other means.

"Our efforts continue," the two ministers said.

A French delegation met Thursday with Taliban representatives with the talks centring on the situation at the Kabul airport and the airlift operations, the ministers said.

Italy vows not to abandon Afghans after August 31

Meanwhile Italy on Saturday said it has taken in the largest number of Afghans fleeing the war-ravaged country and vowed "not to abandon" vulnerable groups after airlift evacuations end. 

America’s European allies are scrambling to get their citizens out of Kabul airport after their calls to extend an August 31 deadline went unheeded by US President Joe Biden.

Speaking at Rome's Fiumicino airport as the last Italian aircraft from Kabul landed with 58 more Afghan citizens on board, Italy's foreign minister said it had evacuated close to 5,000 Afghan citizens in recent days,.

"We are the EU country taking in the biggest number of Afghan evacuees," Luigi Di Maio said on Saturday. 

Di Maio said Italy is still hoping to fly more Afghans out with the help of the UN, NGOs and other countries after the August 31 deadline. 

"There are still so many Afghan nationals waiting to be evacuated, and we can no longer do that with the airlift," the minister said.  

He added that "a second, more difficult phase" of the evacuations process would now commence. 

"Our imperative will be not to abandon the Afghan people, not to abandon Afghan women, or young Afghans and all those who over all these years have shown a great desire for evolution, for change," Di Maio said. 

More than 5,000 people remain inside Kabul airport awaiting evacuation, with just days to go before the final pull-out. 

About 109,000 people have been flown out of the country since August 14, the day before the Taliban swept to power, according to the US government. 

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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