UK to continue Kabul evacuations despite deadly airport attack, says PM

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a news conference in London

By Andrew MacAskill

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his government will continue its evacuation operation in Afghanistan after suspected suicide bombers struck the crowded gates of Kabul airport, killing at least 13 people and wounding dozens on Thursday.

After Johnson chaired an emergency response meeting on the situation in Afghanistan, he said Britain's airlift would continue "going up until the last moment".

"We are able to continue with the programme in the way we have been running it, according to the timetable that we have got and that is what we are going to do," Johnson said.

At least two explosions struck the crowded gates of Kabul airport, causing a bloodbath among desperate civilians hoping to flee and casting the final days of the Western airlift of its citizens and allies into chaos.[nL4N2PX0E5]

Johnson said that the military had been preparing for the evacuation for months and were aware of the security threats.

"There were always going to be vulnerabilities to terrorism and opportunistic terrorist attacks. We condemn them, I think they are despicable, but I am afraid they are something we had to prepare for," he said.

Johnson paid tribute to the Afghans and members of the U.S. military who were killed. At least four U.S. military personnel were killed in the blasts at the airport, sources told Reuters.

"We extend our condolences both to the United States of America and the people of Afghanistan," he said.

Johnson would not comment on who the government suspected was behind the attack.

He said that while some Afghans eligible to reach Britain would not be evacuated before the airlift finishes, the government would pressure the Taliban to let them leave later.

A Taliban spokesman earlier this week said that the group wants foreign countries to stop taking Afghan experts out of Afghanistan.

"We also fully expect that those who want to leave Afghanistan after this phase one are allowed to do that by the Taliban," Johnson said.

"We will use all the influence that we can bring to bear – political or economic or diplomatic as we said at the G7 – to encourage the new authorities in Afghanistan to do that."

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Mark Porter and Nick Macfie)

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