A British soldier with a baby at Kabul airport. Photograph: Sky New
Afghanistan is facing an “absolute catastrophe” involving widespread hunger, homelessness and economic collapse unless an urgent humanitarian effort is agreed in the wake of the US withdrawal, world leaders are warned today.
The British military said on Sunday morning that seven Afghan civilians had been killed in crowd crushes around Kabul’s international airport where “conditions on the ground remain extremely challenging”. With growing anger over Britain’s chaotic evacuation effort, a meeting of G7 leaders has been hastily arranged for early this week. Senior figures in Kabul warned that the latest chaos is combining with drought, huge displacements of people and economic paralysis to create a disaster requiring immediate international action.
Mary-Ellen McGroarty, the UN’s World Food Programme’s country director for Afghanistan, told the Observer that swift coordinated action was critical. “Otherwise, an already horrendous situation is just going to become an absolute catastrophe, a complete humanitarian disaster,” she said. “We need to get supplies into the country, not only in terms of food, but the medical supplies, the shelter supplies. We need money and we need it now.
“Delay for the next six or seven weeks and it’s going to start becoming too late. People have nothing. We have to get food in now and get it to the communities in the provinces, before roads are blocked by snow.”
One of the Taliban’s top leaders, co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, arrived in Kabul for talks with Afghan political leaders including the former President Hamid Karzai, moving the group closer to forming a government, a week after their almost bloodless capture of Kabul.
While some Taliban leaders have promised an inclusive government, and kept figures like the health minister and Kabul mayor in office, one senior figure has ruled out any form of democracy. The meetings come amid continuing chaos and bloodshed at Kabul airport. Many people with links to foreign forces and western organisations do not trust the Taliban’s promises of amnesty.
The troubled evacuation effort was complicated further yesterday when the US embassy warned its citizens to stay away from the airport gates because of security threats. US officials said the most serious risk was an attack by the regional Isis affiliate, the New York Times reported.
On Sunday, witnesses told Reuters that the Taliban had imposed some order around Kabul airport, making sure people formed orderly queues outside the main gates and not allowing crowds to gather at the perimeter. There was no violence or confusion at the airport as dawn broke on Sunday, said the witnesses. Although it was early, there were long lines forming.
Australia ran four flights into Kabul on Saturday night, evacuating more than 300 people, including Australians, Afghan visa holders, New Zealanders, US and British citizens, said the prime minister, Scott Morrison. An Indian official said one of its air force transport planes left Kabul for New Delhi carrying 168 people.
On Sunday morning, Spain announced that its prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, had spoken with Joe Biden to approve the use of two military bases in southern Spain to receive Afghans who have worked for the US government. Moron de la Frontera near Seville and Rota near Cadiz would be used for the refugees until their travel to other countries was arranged, said the Spanish government.
A plane carrying 110 Afghan refugees and their families arrived at a Spain-based European Union hub at a military base outside Madrid on Saturday night, including 36 people who had worked for the US administration in Afghanistan, the Reuters news agency reported.
Meanwhile pressure has increased on the UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, over the handling of the evacuation programme, with time running out to complete it. Raab stayed on holiday in Crete last week as Kabul fell to the Taliban. Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, called for him to resign for his failure to make a call to his Afghan counterpart as the government collapsed, but added that Boris Johnson’s response had also been characterised by “complete and utter complacency from start to finish”.
“Raab should definitely go,” he told the Observer. “It is a dereliction of duty – not making the call is the clearest evidence of that. Many Tory MPs know he ought to go. But I also think this reflects on Johnson. There was a time when it would have been obvious that somebody like Raab in this position, given the collapse of the regime in Afghanistan, would have to go. But under Johnson, he doesn’t. There’s a deep sense with the prime minister that time and again, he fails to meet the moment.”
Last night, the Sunday Times reported that Raab was urged by a No 10 official to return from his holiday but stayed for two more days after Boris Johnson allowed him to stay.