UK in talks with 'senior' Taliban over evacuations from Afghanistan

British military personnel depart a C-17 aircraft at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, late Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021.
British military personnel depart a C-17 aircraft at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, late Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021. Copyright Peter Nicholls/Pool Photo via AP
By Alice Tidey
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A top UK diplomat is meeting with Taliban representatives in Doha to discuss safe passage for the remaining British nationals in Afghanistan, Downing Street has confirmed.


The UK is in talks with the Taliban to secure safe passage for British nationals and Afghans who remain in Afghanistan.

A spokesperson for Downing Street confirmed that "the Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Afghan Transition, Simon Gass, has travelled to Doha and is meeting with senior Taliban representatives to underline the importance of safe passage out of Afghanistan for British nationals, and those Afghans who have worked with us over the past twenty years."

Sir Simon Gass is a top diplomat who previously served as UK ambassador to Greece and Iran and NATO's Senior Civilian Representative to Afghanistan. He currently chairs the UK's Joint Intelligence Committee which provides the government with intelligence assessments on security, defence and foreign affairs.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Sky News on Monday that the UK evacuated more than 17,000 people out of Afghanistan before the US — which controlled Kabul airport — pulled its remaining troops out in the night between Monday and Tuesday.

He also said that a number of Britons — in the "low hundreds" — had not yet been evacuated, and conceded that it would be a "challenge" to get them out. It is unclear how many Afghans who previously worked with British authorities and are thus eligible for UK evacuation also remain in Afghanistan.

"We've put in place the arrangements with third countries, or we're putting them in place," Raab added, "to make sure we can have a workable route through for those outstanding cases."

It is understood that the third countries include Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which all share a border with Afghanistan.

The UK had lobbied the US to retain control of Kabul airport past its August 31 deadline and earlier this week, presented a joint motion with France to the UN Security Council to establish a "safe zone" at the airport to continue evacuations.

However, the resolution adopted by the UN was a lot less ambitious, saying that the Security Council expects the Taliban to allow "safe, secure, and orderly departure from Afghanistan of Afghans and all foreign nationals."

The Taliban have meanwhile said they would not prevent Afghans with passports and visas from leaving the country "after the resumption of commercial flights in the country."

The militant group has now taken over Kabul airport but it is unclear when the facility will be reopened to international flights.

A number of other countries have also entered talks with the group to secure safe passage for their nationals and Afghan workers, including France, President Emmanuel Macron confirmed earlier on Sunday.

A Canadian delegation also met with Taliban officials in Doha earlier this week, with "issues related to the airport" discussed, a spokesperson for the Taliban has confirmed.

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