Seven dead in Kabul airport crowds as UK backs later US deadline

Seven people have died in the crowds at Kabul airport amid frantic scenes of people rushing to leave Afghanistan, Britain’s Ministry of Defence has said.

The UK pledged its “complete support” to the US if Joe Biden opted to extend the deadline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, as the evacuation situation in Kabul worsened.

“Our sincere thoughts are with the families of the seven Afghan civilians who have sadly died in crowds in Kabul,” said a spokesperson.

“Conditions on the ground remain extremely challenging but we are doing everything we can to manage the situation as safely and securely as possible.”

The defence secretary, Ben Wallace, in what is likely to be seen as a plea to Washington, said no country would be able to get everyone out of the Taliban-controlled country, with the US president’s 31 August target date making the rescue mission even more pressurised.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Wallace said: “If the US timetable remains, we have no time to lose to get the majority of the people waiting out.

“Perhaps the Americans will be permitted to stay longer, and they will have our complete support if they do.”

Relations between the UK and US are under strain, with the former prime minister Tony Blair – who was in Downing Street when Britain sent troops into Afghanistan 20 years ago in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks – accusing Biden of deciding to pull out of the central Asian country with “little or no consultation”, branding the move “imbecilic”.

Afghanistan: chaos and gunshots outside Kabul airport during evacuations – video report

According to the Sunday Times, the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab – who is once again in the spotlight over his decision to remain on holiday as the Taliban advanced on Kabul – is seeking to speak to his opposite number, the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, to discuss extending the end-of-the-month deadline.

Wallace confirmed there were “too many people in the airport” on Saturday, forcing the US side of the operation to suspend access.

There were further worrying reports about the treatment of Britons and Afghans who supported UK efforts in the country and are trying to escape.

The shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, shared a letter on social media that she had sent Raab about the crisis facing evacuees, as she sought additional assistance for those on the ground.

Nandy said Labour MPs had been hearing of people being “shot at, beaten and raped” as they waited to be called forward at the airport, while the Baron hotel in Kabul, where many British nationals are being told to go for processing, is being blockaded by the Taliban.

Nandy asked whether Nato allies could put in place a “military policing operation” at the gates of Hamid Karzai international airport or within the internal processing zone to protect those waiting.

Meanwhile, the US embassy in Afghanistan recommended US citizens avoid travelling to Kabul airport “because of potential security threats outside the gates” being linked to Islamic State.

Sir Laurie Bristow, the British ambassador to Afghanistan, who has stayed in the capital to help process applications, said the rescue effort was “without a doubt the biggest international challenge I have worked on as a diplomat”.

The MoD confirmed that the Operation Pitting evacuation mission was being supported by 1,000 British troops – including paras from 16 Air Assault Brigade – with nearly 4,000 people repatriated from Afghanistan since 13 August.