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Poland halts Afghan airlift over safety as US deadline looms

European allies pressed for more time but lost the argument, and they may be forced to end their evacuations a couple of days before the last American troops leave.

AP | Warsaw |

Poland has ended its evacuations from Afghanistan, an official said on Wednesday, as the clock ticks down on dramatic Western efforts to help people flee the Taliban takeover ahead of a full American withdrawal.

President Joe Biden declared the day before that he is sticking to his 31 August deadline for completing the U.S. pullout as the Taliban insisted he must, ramping up pressure on the already risky airlift from Kabul to get out as many people as possible in the coming days.

European allies pressed for more time but lost the argument, and as a practical matter they may be forced to end their evacuations a couple of days before the last American troops leave. Several countries haven’t said yet when they plan to end their operations, perhaps hoping to avoid yet another fatal crush at an airport that’s one of the last ways out of the country.

The Taliban wrested back control of Afghanistan nearly 20 years after they were ousted in a U.S.-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks. Their return to power has pushed many Afghans to flee, fearing reprisals from the fighters or a return to the brutal rule they imposed when they last ran the country.

Thousands of people are still thought to be trying to leave the country, and it’s not clear that everyone who wants to will be able to before the end of the month. But any decision by Biden to stay longer could reignite a war between the Taliban and American troops and other coalition forces who are running the airlift.

“Due to extreme tension on the ground … and the scheduled departure of American forces, these evacuations are a true race against time,” French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Wednesday. He said that his country’s evacuation would likely end would “a few hours, maybe a few days ahead” of the American departure.

With the deadline looming, Marcin Przydacz, a Polish deputy foreign minister, said Wednesday that a group of people taken from Kabul who are now in Uzbekistan was the last evacuated by Poland. He said his nation made its decision to not continue operations after consulting with the U.S. and British officials.

“After a long analysis of reports on the security situation, we cannot risk the lives of our diplomats and of our soldiers any longer,” Przydacz said.

A number of troops will remain briefly to wrap up operations, Przydacz said. Poland has used over a dozen planes to bring hundreds of evacuees to Warsaw. Some later traveled on to other countries.

The Czech Republic declared its own evacuation mission complete last week.

Chaos at the Kabul airport has transfixed the world after the Taliban’s blitz across Afghanistan saw it seize control of a nation that received hundreds of billions of dollars in reconstruction aid and security support since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.