World

Biden to decide whether to extend Afghan evacuation deadline

A firefight at one of the gates of Kabul's international airport killed at least one Afghan soldier early Monday, and U.S. President Joe Biden was considering whether to extend the deadline to airlift evacuees out of the country.

Decision could come Tuesday as Kabul airport remains overrun with civilians, soldiers

U.S. Marines and Norwegian coalition forces assist with security at an evacuation control checkpoint at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Friday. (U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla/Handout/Reuters)

With thousands of desperate Afghans and foreigners massed at Kabul's airport in the hope of fleeing Afghanistan's new Taliban rulers, U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to decide as soon as Tuesday on whether to extend an Aug. 31 deadline to airlift evacuees to safety.

A Taliban official said foreign forces had not sought an extension, and it would not be granted if they had. Washington said negotiations were continuing.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States was in daily talks with the Taliban and making "enormous progress" in evacuating Americans and others.

Twenty people have been killed in the chaos, most in shootings and stampedes, as international forces try to bring order. 

Thousands evacuated by plane

While thousands of people have been airlifted out of Afghanistan, a British government spokesperson said British evacuations could not continue once U.S. troops leave.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also said more time was needed. "We are concerned about the Aug. 31 deadline set by the United States," he said.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the virtual G7 summit on Tuesday must result in agreement on whether to extend the deadline and how to improve access to the airport.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to attend the virtual G7 meeting.

Canadians forces stationed at airport

Canadian special forces are operating outside Kabul's airport in an effort to bring as many eligible people as possible through security gates amid an increasingly dangerous security situation, a senior Canadian government official said.

The shooting at the airport came as the Taliban sent fighters north of the capital to eliminate pockets of armed resistance to their lightning takeover earlier this month. The Taliban said they retook three districts seized by opponents the day before and had surrounded Panjshir, the last province that remains out of their control.

Afghanistan's security forces collapsed in the face of the Taliban advance, despite 20 years of Western aid, training and assistance.

WATCH | Thousands of civilians at Kabul's airport clamour to be evacuated: 

Afghan nationals await evacuation at Kabul airport

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Amid a military presence at Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghan nationals gathered to wait for flights that would take them out of the country. 0:50

Discussions among Western leaders will explore what consequences recent developments in Afghanistan may have on security and migration for the 27-nation European Union, a spokesperson for the Slovenian EU presidency said on Monday.

Experts will start looking into the possible effects on migration, assistance to key neighbouring countries and security-related issues on Tuesday, followed by a meeting of EU ambassadors on Thursday.

This comes on the heels of the decision to hold a meeting of G7 leaders on Tuesday, called for by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Tens of thousands of Afghans have sought to flee the country, fearing a return to the brutal rule the Taliban imposed the last time they ran Afghanistan. That has led to chaos at the airport in Kabul, the main route out of the country, where some Afghan troops are assisting Western evacuation efforts.

Gunfire broke out near one of the airport's gates, where at least seven Afghans died on Saturday in a panicked stampede of thousands of people. The circumstances of the shooting, which occurred around dawn, remained unclear.

Meanwhile, an individual on Britain's "no-fly" list has been flown from Afghanistan to the United Kingdom on a British military plane as part of evacuation efforts from Kabul airport, Sky News reported on Monday.

WATCH | Ottawa criticized as global efforts to rescue people in Kabul ramp up: 

Ottawa criticized as global efforts to rescue people in Kabul ramp up

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As global efforts ramp up to evacuate people from Kabul, Ottawa is facing criticism it's not doing enough — and the crisis is beginning to overshadow Justin Trudeau’s campaign message. 5:46

People fleeing Kabul arrive at Hindon Air Force base near New Delhi, India, on Sunday. (The Associated Press)

As the airlift continues, the U.S. government asked for 18 aircraft from U.S. commercial carriers to assist in transporting Afghan refugees to their final destinations after their initial evacuation. The request fell under the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program, which was established in the wake of the Berlin airlift and can add to the military's capabilities during crises.

Early Monday, a Delta Air Lines flight landed in Dubai and later took off for Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, where evacuees are crowded into hangars. A steady stream of military transport planes continue to fly people out of Kabul to airfields across the Mideast.

WATCH  | Pentagon outlines 'worldwide effort' in Afghanistan:

Pentagon outlines 'worldwide effort' in Afghanistan

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Several countries are involved in the response to the situation in Afghanistan, says U.S. Army Maj.-Gen. Hank Taylor. He says the airport in Kabul is secure and U.S. officials are in communication with the Taliban. 1:09

There are concerns that a local affiliate of the Islamic State group might target the crowds outside the airport with suicide bombers or fire missiles at U.S. aircraft. Military planes have been executing corkscrew landings, and other aircraft have fired flares upon takeoff — both measures used to avoid missile attacks.

The Taliban and ISIS have different ideologies and have fought in recent years, but one concern about the Taliban's takeover is that they could again shelter extremist groups. The Taliban harboured al-Qaeda while it orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks, leading to the U.S. invasion in 2001. The Taliban now say they will not allow Afghanistan to be a base for attacks on other countries.

Passengers sit inside a Royal Air Force C-17 following evacuation from Kabul airport in this photo taken at an undisclosed location and released on Sunday. (Reuters)

WIth files from The Associated Press

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