Not everybody will be able to flee Afghanistan, armed forces minister James Heappey has warned, as Boris Johnson announces G7 leaders will hold “urgent talks” on the situation on Tuesday.
Mr Heappey, who formerly served in Afghanistan himself, told reporters “absolutely nobody can say we’ll be able to get everybody out” and that the “hard reality” is that many looking to escape Kabul may not be able to do so.
His comments came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed he will hold “urgent talks on the situation in Afghanistan” with G7 leaders on Tuesday.
Announcing the discussions in a social media post, the prime minister said: “It is vital that the international community works together to ensure safe evacuations, prevent a humanitarian crisis and support the Afghan people to secure the gains of the last 20 years.”
Mr Heappey said the Taliban’s help with organising people into designated queues dependent on destination at present is “very encouraging”.
It follows reports earlier this weekend that a hotel in Kabul where Britons and Afghans eligible for repatriation are being processed had been blockaded by the Taliban.
The armed forces minister also confirmed that 1,721 people have been airlifted from Kabul by the Royal Air Force in the last 24-hour period across eight flights.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday morning, Mr Heappey said the situation at the airport is improving.
“The Taliban have pushed their outer cordon away from the Baron Hotel and, more than that, they appear to now be marshalling people into separate queues for the US evacuation and the UK evacuation,” he said.
“And that is making a big difference to the size of the crowds outside of the UK gate and allowing us to process people much more quickly, and we think that is very encouraging.”
But the defence minister also issued a stark warning that despite this, some may still not be able to escape the country.
Asked if everybody will be able to get out of Afghanistan in the coming days, Mr Heappey said: “We can’t confidently say that. Every single day more capacity is being made available, planes going back and forward between the UAE and Kabul.”
But he added that while the UK’s evacuation effort is “one of the best coordinated” and that the flow of passengers is now improving “that could change, crowds could swell again, everything could become as desperate as yesterday”.
Mr Heappey said that “absolutely nobody can say we’ll be able to get everybody out”, adding: “The hard reality is that that simply may not be the case.”
Echoing this message, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said “no nation will be able to get everyone out” of Afghanistan.
Writing for the Mail on Sunday, the cabinet minister said: “I have said all along that no nation will be able to get everyone out.
“It is a source of deep sadness for many of us across NATO, and no one wanted 20 years of sacrifice to end this way.
“We will do our best to the very last moment.”
The MoD said Mr Wallace spoke with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin on Sunday “about the vital collaboration between the UK and US in Kabul”.
“They reaffirmed their partnership both tactically and strategically and discussed mutual support for the next phase in Afghanistan,” a post on social media said.
It comes as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab added that UK troops are working alongside their Dutch counterparts to evacuate nationals of both countries.
“The UK and Dutch troops are working closely to co-ordinate and evacuate our nationals and Afghans who supported us,” he said.
“Dutch foreign minister [Sigrid Kaag] and I agree we need [a] unified approach to aid, counter-terrorism and regional stability.”