UK Foreign Office Warns Against All Travel to Afghanistan, Cites 'High Threat of Terrorist Attack'
21:08 GMT 25.08.2021 (Updated: 22:12 GMT 25.08.2021)
The British government has advised its citizens "against all travel" to Afghanistan as the NATO pullout continues, saying the threat of a terrorist attack remains high, particularly at Kabul's main airport.
"The security situation in Afghanistan remains volatile," the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) said in a Wednesday update to the foreign travel advice section of its website for Afghanistan.
"There is an ongoing and high threat of terrorist attack. Do not travel to Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport. If you are in the area of the airport, move away to a safe location and await further advice," the notice reads, adding, "Commercial flights are not currently operating. If you can leave Afghanistan safely by other means, you should do so immediately."
"Travel by road throughout the country is extremely dangerous. There have been allegations of people being mistreated on their way to Kabul International Airport," it also notes.
The notice further says the British embassy in Kabul has relocated and suspended all non-essential operations, the remainder of which it is only providing remotely.
The United Kingdom was the number two partner in the US-led occupation of Afghanistan, where it participated under the aegis of Operation Herrick from 2002 until 2014 and then under Operation Toral afterward.
US officials have warned that the crowds of people waiting outside the airport, as well as US troops posted at the airport itself, have come under increasing risk of attack by ISIS-Khorasan, a local franchise of Daesh* that is hostile to both the Taliban and the United States. US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Tuesday that the Taliban* is responsible for security in the city and thus for guaranteeing the safety of those trying to get to the airport, to whom the group has guaranteed safe passage.
Like the United States, British authorities have been struggling to extricate their citizens in the aftermath of the lightning-quick capture of the Afghan capital of Kabul by the Taliban, which took the city on August 15 without a fight. According to the UK Guardian on Wednesday, advocates for more than 50 people in Kabul with dual UK-Afghan nationality claimed that their clients were being turned away from the airport by Taliban authorities while so-called "mono-nationals," or people with just British citizenship, were being evacuated first.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Sky News that "Mono-nationals, so single-nationality UK who have got documentation, the lion's share, almost all of them that want to come out have been brought home."
"We will use every last remaining hour and day to get everyone we can back, the British nationals, the Afghans who worked so loyally for us, we are getting the Chevening scholars back, also women's rights defenders and journalists," he said. "The ones that are remaining, and we have done an amazing job, two and a half thousand UK nationals if you go back to April ... what remains are rather complex cases, large family units where one or other may be documented or may be clearly a national, but it's not clear whether the rest of them are."
The UK Ministry of Defence tweeted on Wednesday that 11,474 British nationals and Afghans who have worked with British troops and diplomats have been evacuated since August 13 in what the ministry has dubbed Operation Pitting, of whom 6,946 are Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy claimants.
In addition to the roughly 6,000 American troops redeployed to Karzai airport to support the evacuation effort, 1,000 British troops have also been sent. However, UK ministers have said that the British presence at the airport cannot be maintained in the American absence, and US President Joe Biden has said that for the moment, Washington is sticking to the August 31 deadline for a final US withdrawal from Afghanistan. However, he has noted the timeline could change if necessary.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that as of Wednesday, the airlift from Karzai airport has flown more than 82,300 people out of the country since August 14. However, the airlift is winding down within the next 36 hours, as the remaining US military equipment at the airport must also be removed before the end of the month.
*The Taliban and Daesh (also known as ISIS/ISIL/IS) are terrorist organisations outlawed in Russia and many other states