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Afghan 'catastrophe' decried

China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-08-20 11:44

US soldiers keep watch at Kabul's airport on Tuesday. The evacuation flights continued on Thursday and are likely to do so until the end of August, according to sources. [US AIR FORCE/REUTERS]

EU foreign chief calls out failures, while Biden looks to keep troops back for evacuations

The European Union's foreign policy chief branded developments in Afghanistan "a catastrophe" on Thursday, and he pointed to a failure of intelligence to anticipate the Taliban's rapid return to power.

Addressing the European Parliament, Josep Borrell said about 100 EU employees and 400 Afghans working with the EU and their families had been evacuated, but that 300 more Afghans were still trying to leave.

He stressed Europe's "moral duty" to rescue as many Afghans as possible who had worked for the EU in Afghanistan, but said it would not be possible to get them all out.

"Let me speak clearly and bluntly, this is a catastrophe," Borrell said. "It is a catastrophe for the Afghan people, for the Western values and credibility, and for the developing of international relations."

Borrell further criticized US President Joe Biden for underplaying the commitment to nation-building in Afghanistan.

"President Biden said the other day that it has never been the purpose, state building was not the purpose. Well, this is arguable," he said.

"Twenty years on, you can say that we may have succeeded in the first tack of our mission, but failed in the second," the Spanish politician said as EU lawmakers heaped on criticism of the West's lack of commitment to Afghanistan.

Borrell also criticized intelligence agencies for failing to anticipate the collapse of the Afghan force in almost days instead of months. "Where (was) our intelligence in order to have a clear look at what was going to happen? Nobody was expecting it. I don't even (think) the Taliban were expecting it," he said.

Western countries have been scrambling to airlift to safety their citizens and Afghan staff and their families since the Taliban took control of the capital Kabul on Sunday. Thousands of people have desperately tried to get past Taliban roadblocks and US troops to reach Kabul's airport.

Deadline extended?

On Wednesday, Biden said US troops may stay in Afghanistan past an Aug 31 deadline to evacuate citizens, as the Pentagon said the US military does not currently have the ability to reach people beyond the airport.

"If there's American citizens left, we're going to stay until we get them all out," Biden told ABC News in an interview conducted on a day many US lawmakers pressed him to extend the deadline that he had set for a final pullout.

Biden has come under fierce criticism for his handling of the withdrawal, which in recent days has been dominated by scenes of chaos in and around Kabul's airport, with people desperately trying to get out of the country.

Biden defended his decisions, saying problems were inevitable in ending the 20-year US stay that followed the invasion.

"The idea that somehow, there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don't know how that happens," he said.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters at the Pentagon that Washington was not satisfied with how many people were being evacuated.

John Kirby, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said on Wednesday that over the latest 24-hour period, about 2,000 people, including 325 US citizens, had left aboard 18 flights by US Air Force C-17 transport planes.

Allies critical

In Europe, officials have chafed at the rapid US withdrawal.

"Now this is a harsh lesson for all of us," British Conservative lawmaker Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Commons, told Parliament.

"We can set out a vision, clearly articulate it, for reinvigorating our European NATO partners to make sure that we are not dependent on a single ally, on the decision of a single leader, but that we can work together with Japan and Australia, with France and Germany, with partners large and small, and make sure that we hold the line together."

On Thursday the Taliban urged crowds of Afghans waiting outside the airport to return home, saying they did not want to hurt anyone, a day after the group's fighters fired at protesters, killing three, Reuters reported.

In his speech, Borrell addressed concerns that a fresh wave of Afghan migrants might reach Europe, in a replay of the 2015 migrant crisis, when large numbers of people trekked across the continent, many fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

"Don't call them migrants, they are exiled people, people who are fleeing to save their lives", said Borrell, rejecting comparisons with Syria as Afghanistan is much farther away.

Borrell said he was in touch with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who will host a virtual crisis meeting of the alliance's foreign ministers on Friday to discuss Afghanistan.

NATO wrapped up military operations in Afghanistan this summer after almost two decades following a US decision to withdraw.

Agencies and Heng Weili in New York contributed to this story.

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