Dominic Raab has admitted the UK doesn’t know the exact deadline for its withdrawal from Afghanistan.
An evacuation deadline of 31 August was confirmed on Tuesday after Boris Johnson failed to convince US president Joe Biden to keep American troops in the country after this date.
However, there was confusion on Wednesday when foreign secretary Raab was asked on BBC Breakfast whether the UK withdrawal would happen by midnight on 30 August or midnight on 31 August.
Raab, responding, would not say exactly when the withdrawal will be.
“It’s going right the way up to the calendar month," he said.
Raab said he was focused on “maximising” evacuations over the coming days and “the military planners will firm up the details for the precise timeframe”.
He then admitted: “Because of working out precisely how much time we might need and how much that can be reduced by, I can’t give you a firm timeframe on that now because we’re focused on the throughput in and out of the airport.”
Presenter Dan Walker said it was “slightly strange” that a foreign secretary did not know the exact deadline.
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Raab, who has continued to face questions over his luxury holiday in Crete as Kabul was seized by the Taliban, said: “It’s the end of August but the question is, working back from that, how much time the UK needs to withdraw our military assets and personnel.”
In a later interview, on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Raab declined to state when the last British flight will leave Kabul, amid suggestions the UK operation will have to end as soon as Friday (27 August).
He also highlighted the importance of keeping "going for every day and every hour that we’ve got left" – despite having just told BBC Breakfast's Walker that he did not know whether withdrawal would have to be by midnight on 30 or 31 August.
Having swept to power earlier this month in the wake of Biden's major withdrawal of troops, the Taliban has warned evacuations “will not be allowed” after 31 August, the date set by Biden in a speech on 8 July.
The group has warned foreign forces remaining past the deadline would cross a “red line” that will “provoke a reaction”.
The latest Ministry of Defence figures put the number of people evacuated by the UK since 13 August at 9,226, but there are thousands feared to be remaining.
Watch: Raab insists US-UK relations remain 'strong'