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UK, France end Afghan evacuation efforts, but many who wish to flee left behind

As US withdrawal deadline nears and terror threats grow at Kabul airport, countries wrap up their efforts to fly refugees out of the country

People walk on the tarmac as they disembark from a Airbus A400M military transport aircraft at the French military air base 104 of Al Dhafra, near Abu Dhabi, on August 23, 2021, after being evacuated from Kabul (BERTRAND GUAY / AFP)
People walk on the tarmac as they disembark from a Airbus A400M military transport aircraft at the French military air base 104 of Al Dhafra, near Abu Dhabi, on August 23, 2021, after being evacuated from Kabul (BERTRAND GUAY / AFP)

France and the UK were ending their evacuations from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan over the weekend, officials said, after a suicide bombing left scenes of carnage outside Kabul airport.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defense Minister Florence Parly said their country’s airlift had to be stopped Friday night because “the security conditions [are] no longer being met at the airport.”

In a statement, the ministers blamed the lack of security on the “rapid disengagement of the American forces.” Parly tweeted that the French forces had managed to fly around 3,000 people out of Afghanistan before their airlift operation was halted.

Meanwhile, with Britain’s airlift from Kabul airport ending within hours, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed Friday to “shift heaven and earth” to bring more Afghans to the UK.

Hundreds of people eligible for evacuation have been left behind.

Britain has evacuated almost 14,000 UK citizens and Afghans from Kabul in the two-week operation, but the final flights departed on Friday. Hundreds of UK troops at the airport are due to leave in the next few days.

Demonstrators, including former interpreters for the British Army in Afghanistan, hold placards as they protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in London on August 18, 2021 (Glyn KIRK / AFP)

UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has said that about 1,000 Afghans authorized to come to Britain, and as many as 150 UK citizens, have not made it to the airport and will likely be left behind.

Johnson said Britain will try to get more people out of Afghanistan after August 31, when the US-led mission ends.

“There will sadly be people who haven’t got through, people who might qualify,” Johnson told reporters. “What I would say to them is that we will shift heaven and earth to help them get out, we will do whatever we can in the second phase.”

It’s unclear how that might happen. UK officials hope some people may be able to leave Afghanistan overland for neighboring countries such as Pakistan, where their claims to come to the UK could be processed.

French soldiers stand as people eat a meal at the French military air base 104 of Al Dhafra, near Abu Dhabi, on August 23, 2021, after being evacuated from Kabul (BERTRAND GUAY / AFP)

That will depend on cooperation from the Taliban, however.

Tens of thousands of foreign nationals and Afghans who worked with them have sought to leave the country since the Taliban’s swift takeover this month in the wake of US forces’ departure.

The desperate, chaotic exodus turned deadly on Thursday, when a suicide bomber struck crowds queuing near the airport in Kabul. The attack killed 169 Afghans, according to a preliminary count, and 13 American troops.

Two British citizens and the child of another Briton were among those killed, the UK government said Friday. Two other Britons were injured. It was unclear whether the British victims were dual UK-Afghan nationals.

Protesters display a giant Afghan flag as they demonstrate in solidarity with the people of Afganistan, in Parliament Square, central London on August 21, 2021. (Tolga Akmen / AFP)

Johnson denied that the rushed departure amounted to a national humiliation for Britain, which fought its first war in Afghanistan in the 19th century. The UK was the second-largest partner in the 20-year NATO military campaign in Afghanistan, after the United States. Some 150,000 British troops have served in Afghanistan since 2001, and 457 were killed there.

“The timing of this is certainly not the one that this country would have chosen, and I think that everybody understands that,” Johnson 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.

Afghan refugee Malalai Hussiny, who arrived on an evacuation flight from Afghanistan, waits at Heathrow Airport, London on August 26, 2021 (Dominic Lipinski / POOL / AFP)

“Our efforts continue,” French ministers said.

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

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