European leaders have expressed rare frustration with the United States’ shambolic exit from Afghanistan, saying it caught them all by surprise, as President Joe Biden doubled down on his decision to quit the two-decades war.
Horrified by the grim scenes of desperate Afghans falling to their deaths as they tried to stow away on a US military flight, European leaders were openly dismayed by the catastrophic last-minute rescue mission at Kabul airport as they struggle to carry out their own rescue missions.
“This is an extremely bitter development. Bitter, dramatic, terrible – especially of course for the people in Afghanistan,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin on Monday night (Tuesday AEST). “We all made the wrong assessment.”
Angela Merkel: Credit:Getty Images
Germany managed to evacuate just seven people on a flight as a result of the chaos; in Abu Dhabi the first French plane landed carrying evacuees, the French Armed Forces Minister said.
“Europe alone cannot bear the consequences of the current situation,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday (AEST) in a pre-recorded speech from his holiday base in the south of France, warning that the continent must “protect ourselves” from the wave of refugees displaced by the fall of the Afghan government.
Beijing joined Russia and Pakistan in vowing to maintain its embassy in Kabul and said it would boost investment in Afghanistan under Taliban rule.
Chinese state media outlets said the Taiwanese should expect the same abandonment from the United States as the Afghan people.
Boris Johnson had already sheeted the blame home to the Biden administration on Sunday night as the capital fell, saying “It’s fair to say the US decision to pull out has accelerated things”.
Johnson plans to convene a virtual meeting of the G7 and work with Macron on a joint resolution to be put to the United Nations Security Council about the Afghan government’s surrender.
Speaking in Washington on Monday afternoon local time, Biden said the scenes of panic at the airport were “gut-wrenching” but did not resile from his decision, amid accusations of American abandonment.
“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said. “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time withdraw US forces.”
Biden continued: “I’m deeply saddened by the facts we now face. But I do not regret my decision to end America’s war fighting in Afghanistan.”
He said the rapid collapse of the Afghan government justified the US decision to leave the country.
“American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” he said.
While defending his decision to end America’s military involvement in Afghanistan, Biden conceded that the US-backed Afghan government had collapsed sooner than his administration had anticipated.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has been hitting the phones, calling his counterparts around the world including Russia’s Sergei Lavrov and Britain’s Dominic Raab to try and repair the damage.
When asked if his government would deal with the Taliban, Raab said Britain would have to face the reality that the Taliban were in power.
“They’re now in power and we have to deal with that reality,” he said.
The Taliban is attempting to present a more moderate face since seizing control. On Tuesday, it said it would grant an amnesty to former public servants and urged women, previously forbidden to work or go to school, to join its government.
“The Islamic Emirate doesn’t want women to be victims,” Enamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban’s cultural commission, said.
But fear and panic gripped many locals, including thousands who had assisted the allied military mission, who raced to Hamid Karzai International Airport and swarmed the tarmac trying to board a flight out.
Some managed to haul themselves onto a US military transport plane via a half-open ramp. The jet, designed to carry 134 people, carried a near record number of people, 640, to safety, reported US outlet Defense One.
But at least seven were killed at the airport, either by gunfire, in the crush, or when they fell from a plane after attempting to stow away.
The US military struggled to maintain order, firing warning shots into the air before shutting down the airport.
Amid the growing international political anger, the situation in Kabul appeared to calm on Tuesday morning local time as military evacuations resumed.
“I see airplanes landing and taking off,” said NATO’s civilian representative to Afghanistan Stefano Pontecorvo, who is at the airport.
Women reporters returned to air on Afghanistan’s TOLO News. The television station’s Head of News Miraqa Popal said they had broadcast an interview with a member of the Taliban conducted by a female presenter.
with Reuters, AP and Bloomberg.
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