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Ireland’s Government jet deployed to support Afghanistan evacuation – as Biden defies calls to extend deadline 

  • US president Joe Biden will not go past the Taliban’s August 31 deadline to complete evacuations, despite pressure from other G7 nations, White House says
  • The Guardian, which cite defence sources, that the evacuation could end within 24 to 36 hours
  • Evacuation continues for the remaining 24 Irish people and 12 non-Irish dependants

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Irish Government Learjet. Photo: Defence Forces/PA Wire

Irish Government Learjet. Photo: Defence Forces/PA Wire

Irish Government Learjet. Photo: Defence Forces/PA Wire

The Government jet has been deployed to the Middle East to support the evacuation of the remaining 24 Irish people and 12 non-Irish dependents.

The Learjet 45 will not fly to Kabul but will lay in wait at a nearby destination as a ‘contingency measure’ should the Irish Army Rangers and diplomats coordinating the evacuations require assistance.

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Irish citizens will not be evacuated on the seven-seater aircraft, with the remaining Irish still in Afghanistan set to be evacuated on military aircraft of other nations.

The jet departed Ireland this afternoon, before stopping in Naples and Cairo to refuel.

On Tuesday night the aircraft was over Saudi Arabian airspace heading towards the Persian Gulf.

The jet will arrive as US President Joe Biden defies calls to extend Afghanistan deadline, amid fears for troops.

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A man pulls a girl to get inside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo: Reuters

A man pulls a girl to get inside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo: Reuters

A man pulls a girl to get inside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo: Reuters

Joe Biden cited heightened security risks to troops as he defied calls by Boris Johnson and other G7 leaders to delay his August 31 exit date from Afghanistan.

Following an emergency meeting of G7 leaders, chaired by the UK Prime Minister on Tuesday afternoon, the US President said the US was “on pace” to meet the deadline for evacuations.

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He insisted there were “increasing risks” for his troops and their allies staying in Afghanistan beyond the end of the month.

“First, on evacuation, we agreed we will continue our close co-operation to get people out as efficiently and safely as possible.

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US President Joe Biden answers a question from a reporter about the situation in Afghanistan as he speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. Photo: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

US President Joe Biden answers a question from a reporter about the situation in Afghanistan as he speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. Photo: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

US President Joe Biden answers a question from a reporter about the situation in Afghanistan as he speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. Photo: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

“We are currently on a pace to finish by August 31, the sooner we can finish the better.

“Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops, but the completion by August 31 depends upon the Taliban continuing to co-operate, allow access to the airport for those who we are transporting now, and no disruption to our operations.”

Mr Biden added that he had asked for contingency plans to be put together to adjust the timetable “should that become necessary”.

Mr Johnson said G7 leaders – who were joined in Tuesday’s meeting by the secretaries general of the United Nations and Nato – had agreed on a “road map” for engaging with the Taliban.

He said: “The number one condition we’re setting as G7 is that they have got to guarantee, right the way through, through August 31 and beyond, safe passage for those who want to come out.

“Some will say that they don’t accept that and some, I hope, will see the sense of that, because the G7 has very considerable leverage – economic, diplomatic and political.”

A joint statement from leaders of the G7 countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US – reaffirmed their commitment to the people of Afghanistan.

The statement added: “The legitimacy of any future government depends on the approach it now takes to uphold its international obligations and commitments to ensure a stable Afghanistan.”

The UK Ministry of Defence said it would not comment on reports in the Guardian, which cite defence sources, that the evacuation could end within 24 to 36 hours.

The newspaper said that the US military requires two to three days to close its operations at the airport in Kabul, and that British troops aim to be at least 24 hours ahead of that – leaving a small window for remaining flights to depart.

Meanwhile, a former UK ambassador to Washington says Mr Biden’s reputation and legacy have been permanently damaged by the withdrawal.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Lord Renwick said Mr Biden had promised in his election campaign to regain the respect of the world for the US.

“Instead, his abandonment of Afghanistan and the manner in which it was carried out has been greeted with appalled dismay by allied governments and jubilation in Moscow and Beijing,” Lord Renwick wrote.

“For President Biden, the ‘nice guy’ image has gone out of the window. His reputation and legacy have been tarnished for good.”

Lord Renwick said vice-president Kamala Harris would also find it difficult to restore her reputation, having “promised a new emphasis internationally on women’s rights”.

Mr Johnson said after the virtual meeting that leaders had agreed the “number one condition” up to and after the deadline was that the Taliban must grant “safe passage for those who want to come out”.

He said there were “harrowing scenes” at Kabul airport for those attempting to flee Afghanistan, adding the UK would “go on right up until the last moment that we can”.

He said while he was “confident” of getting thousands more people out of Afghanistan “the situation at the airport is not getting any better, there are public order issues, it’s harrowing scenes for those who are trying to get out, and it’s tough for our military as well”.

The Taliban has warned that evacuations “will not be allowed” after August 31, while it earlier said it would not accept foreign troops remaining in Afghanistan past the end of the month.

The group, which swept to power last week in the wake of America’s major withdrawal of troops, has suggested that foreign forces remaining past the deadline would cross a “red line” that will “provoke a reaction”.

Mr Biden, speaking after the G7 meeting, said US and allied forces run the risk of attack by Isis affiliates and straining a “tenuous” working relationship with the Taliban if they stay in Afghanistan longer.

He told reporters: “There was strong agreement among the leaders both about the evacuation mission underway as well as the need to co-ordinate our approach to Afghanistan as we move forward.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney earlier said not all Irish citizens may be evacuated from Afghanistan by the end of the month.

US President Joe Biden is not expected to delay the departure of US troops from Afghanistan to allow more people to be evacuated, as the August 31 withdrawal deadline looms.

On Monday, the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that a team of Irish diplomats supported by the military has been deployed to Afghanistan to help evacuate any citizens remaining in the country.

Mr Coveney told RTÉ: "I don't want to raise expectations unrealistically, that everybody will get out as a result of this.

"Even beyond the 31st of this month, into September, we will continue to work with Irish citizens if they're in Kabul."

The team, made up of two diplomats and defence personnel, is expected to be in Kabul for a number of days.

"Everybody knows, unless President Biden makes a decision today to work with partners to extend their presence there beyond the 31st, everybody knows we're talking about days not weeks," Mr Coveney said.

Ten Irish citizens have already been evacuated with the assistance of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the embassy in Abu Dhabi.

Those seeking evacuation have been described as mainly family groups. Some 36 Irish citizens and family members are still in Afghanistan.

Mr Coveney said: "The remaining are 24 Irish citizens and 12 non-Irish family members that have visas to come to Ireland. They are predominantly Afghan-Irish, if you like. They're Irish citizens and we're absolutely committed to them."

He added that evacuating them is more complicated, because they need to leave as family units.

He also said that "because they are Afghan as well as Irish, it is more difficult get them through the crowd and into the airport".

"We have places on planes for all of these 36 people."

Mr Coveney said sending the Irish team to Kabul is not without risk, but he told Newstalk: "On balance, this is the right thing to do."

It came as Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers said all foreign evacuations from the country must be completed by August 31, and the White House said US president Joe Biden is aiming to stick to the date due to the mounting threat of militant attacks.

But Biden has left open the chance of the deadline being extended, the White House said, and has asked the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department to develop contingency plans should that prove necessary.

Biden spoke on Tuesday with leaders of the G7 major industrialised nations - Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan, telling them that completing evacuations by Aug. 31 is dependent on continued cooperation with the Taliban, including continued access for evacuees to the airport in Kabul.

Biden also told G7 counterparts that each day on the ground in Afghanistan brings added risk to U.S. troops from an attack by Islamic State militants, according to the White House.

The developments follow what two US officials said was a meeting between CIA Director William Burns and Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul on Monday to discuss the chaos in Afghanistan after the Taliban's unexpectedly swift takeover.

Biden, who said last week troops might stay past Aug. 31 to evacuate Americans, will follow a Pentagon recommendation to remove the troops by that date as long as the Taliban enables the U.S. to complete its evacuations, three U.S. officials said.

US sources said there was growing concern about suicide bombings by Islamic State at the airport, which has been overwhelmed by Afghans and foreign citizens rushing to leave, fearing Taliban reprisals.

One US official said it was no longer a question of if, but when, militants would attack and the priority was to get out before it happened.

The hardline Islamist Taliban told the thousands of Afghans crowding into the airport in the hope of boarding flights that they had nothing to fear and should go home.

"We guarantee their security," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference in the capital, which Taliban fighters seized on August 15 from the Western-backed government after most foreign forces withdrew following two decades of war.

As he spoke, Western troops were working frantically to get more foreigners and Afghans onto planes and out of the country.

Mujahid said the Taliban had not agreed to an extension of the August 31 deadline and called on the United States not to encourage Afghan people to leave their homeland. He also urged foreign embassies not to close or stop work.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she had received credible reports of "summary executions" of civilians and Afghan security forces who had surrendered. The Taliban has said it will investigate such reports.

Some Democrats in the U.S. Congress argued that the evacuations must be completed regardless of the target date.

The G7 leaders on Tuesday said they would remain committed to Afghanistan and back the United Nations in coordinating immediate humanitarian help in the region, which faces a new influx of refugees.

The talks did not result "in new dates" for the end of the evacuation mission, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, though there were intensive discussions on whether a civilian-operated airport in Kabul could be used after Aug. 31.

The leaders agreed on the need to press the Taliban to allow people to leave after Aug. 31, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

Countries that have evacuated nearly 60,000 people over the past 10 days were rushing to complete the job, a NATO diplomat said. "Every foreign force member is working at a war-footing pace to meet the deadline," said the official.


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