The Taliban is warning of “consequences” if the evacuation mission from Afghanistan is prolonged beyond the current August 31 deadline, claiming the agreed date is a “red line” and that any postponement would represent “extending occupation” from Western forces.
The threat, which was made by a member of the Taliban delegation in the Qatari capital of Doha on Monday, came just 24 hours after U.S. president Joe Biden announced that he would not rule out extending the evacuation of Americans and their allies from Kabul beyond the end of the month. August 31 was the deadline set by President Biden before the fall of Kabul, when he was still publicly claiming that the Afghan government was unlikely to be ousted by the Taliban and insisting that there would be no chaotic evacuations like there were at the end of the Vietnam War.
Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen told media however, that “If the U.S. or U.K. were to seek additional time to continue evacuations – the answer is no. Or there would be consequences.”
“It’s a red line. President Biden announced that on August 31 they would withdraw all their military forces. So if they extend it that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that,” Shaheen said. “It will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation it will provoke a reaction.”
More than a dozen U.S. legislators from both sides of the political aisle are nonetheless urging Biden to take “immediate action to improve and stabilize the situation in Afghanistan,” including extending the August 31st evacuation deadline and “[beginning] discussions within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) regarding handing over [Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International] airport to a NATO force that will continue to evacuate Afghans who no longer wish to reside in Afghanistan, particularly those who assisted our efforts there.”
President Biden is expected to decide as soon as Tuesday whether he will extend the deadline for the U.S. evacuations, which have facilitated the rescue of at least 37,000 people from Taliban-occupied Afghanistan over the past 10 days, Al Jazeera reported.
The U.K. government meanwhile insisted that they have not set a fixed deadline for evacuations, and that they still hope to fly thousands of people out of the country.
“We have not set a hard deadline for when the evacuation procedure will end,” said a spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “We will continue to run our evacuation process as long as the security situation allows ... we need to be flexible in our approach.”
Rob McBride, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Kabul, described the U.S. withdrawal date as a “moveable feast,” and suggested that since President Biden was the one who set the August 31 deadline, “he can now unset it.”
“The Taliban has threatened before with the extension of deadlines … that it would take action, that it would target U.S. troops,” McBride said. “I think it remains to be seen whether that’s going to happen.”
The reality of the danger faced by Western allies in Afghanistan is already being seen, though. CNN reported on Monday that the Taliban were retaliating against Afghan civilian staff who worked with coalition forces during the war, as well as their families, citing a series of letters from the extremist group to a man whose brother worked as an interpreter for the U.S. military. In the third and final of those letters, the man is sentenced to death.
“These court decisions are final and you will not have the right to object,” the letter reads. “You chose this path for yourself and your death is eminent, God willing.”
Last week, German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) announced that Taliban fighters hunting door-to-door for one of their journalists – who now works in Germany – shot dead a member of his family, amid warnings that the militant group is targeting a blacklist of “collaborators” for retribution.
“The killing of a close relative of one of our editors by the Taliban yesterday is inconceivably tragic, and testifies to the acute danger in which all our employees and their families in Afghanistan find themselves,” DW Director General Peter Limbourg said. “It is evident that the Taliban are already carrying out organised searches for journalists, both in Kabul and in the provinces. We are running out of time!”
Such killings contradict assurances given by the Taliban that people who worked with coalition forces would not be targeted or face retaliations, as the group attempts to present a more moderate, pacific image to the world.
Follow Gavin on Twitter.