Evacuating most UK citizens and eligible Afghans before the United States’ end-of-month deadline will be a challenging task, the UK’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Wallace said that the flow of processing is hindered by overcrowding in Kabul airport.
“Too many people in the airport has meant a suspension of access,” Wallace wrote.
According to a statement on Sunday by the UK’s Ministry of Defence, seven Afghan civilians were killed in the panic-stricken crowd.
Wallace said that “soldiers trained for war are instead holding babies and coordinating crowds.”
He said he’s confident the problem will be solved but “until it is the crowds will get bigger.”
After the rapid fall of Kabul into the grasp of the Taliban, Western countries have deployed more troops to Afghanistan to repatriate their citizens and Afghan allies.
The number of British troops and civilian personnel processing evacuees in Kabul has increased from less than 300 to over 1,000, and the United States currently has around 6,000 soldiers in Kabul.
The Netherlands’ Defence Ministry said on Sunday that it would also increase its military presence in Afghanistan.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he had spoken with his counterparts in both the Netherlands and the United States on a unified approach to humanitarian relief, counter-terrorism, and regional stability.
U.S. President Joe Biden signalled at a press conference on Friday that U.S. efforts to rescue American citizens could wrap up at the end of the month. But he also said he would “make that judgment as we go.”
Wallace said the deadline, if unchanged, means the evacuation needs to accelerate.
“If the U.S. timetable remains, we have no time to lose to get the majority of the people waiting out,” he wrote. “We have the planes—we just need the flow.”
Wallace said that the UK is trying to find ways to keep a presence in Afghanistan after the military is gone. He also hinted that the UK would be happy if U.S. troops could stay longer.
“Perhaps the Americans will be permitted to stay longer, and they will have our complete support if they do.” he wrote.
Wallace added that “no nation will be able to get everyone out,” meaning those who are left behind will have to find their own way out of the country.
The defence secretary said the UK relocated an Afghan family from a Greek refugee camp as far back as April and is currently looking at establishing “a series of processing hubs” in countries neighbouring Afghanistan.
“People must not despair,” he wrote.
Home Secretary Priti Patel also vowed in an article for The Sun on Saturday to “do right by those who need us most in Afghanistan.”
Speaking to Times Radio, Tobias Ellwood, Conservative chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, said the situation in Afghanistan shows there has been a “demise” in the “special relationship” between the UK and the United States.
“Why is it that we didn’t stand up and tell the United States, if you want to get Afghans out—you have a duty of care for these people who will be pursued by the Taliban—you don’t get your military out first, you get the civilians out, then you retreat yourselves?” Ellwood said.
“We’ve done it the other way round.”
Ellwood said the UK had “not been included in the conversations” while the former empire’s “thought leadership” is the one thing that “the Americans actually appreciated us for” rather than its hard or soft power.
“Being able to look at things with an alternative perspective, to provide a different view, and we could have done that but the back channels have disappeared, the relationship is not what it was,” he said.
“The consequences of this is that huge geopolitical decisions are being made which I feel could have wider consequences on where Britain and America stand as a force for good in who actually supports and defends the international rules of law.”
PA contributed to this report.