UK's ambassador is STILL in Kabul 'processing visa applications'

UK’s ambassador to Afghanistan is STILL in Kabul ‘personally processing visa applications for staff trying to flee’ – as troops arrive to launch rescue bid

  • Despite scramble to evacuate, ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow was said to be remaining in Kabul 
  • Helicopter – believed to be US Air Force Chinook – seen flying over Kabul from the US Embassy in Kabul 
  • It comes as Taliban closes in on the Afghan capital with shots heard on outskirts before fighters stormed city
  • Around 3,000 US troops have been sent into city to aid with US evacuation, while British troops also deployed
  • It is believed around 500 British staff needed to be evacuated and by Saturday the number was in ‘the tens’ 

The UK’s ambassador to Afghanistan put plans to leave the country on hold – and remained at Kabul airport to help process the applications of those seeking to leave.    

British troops, supported by Special Forces, are currently attempting to evacuate up to 500 embassy staff from the city. Despite the scramble to evacuate, the ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow was said to be remaining in the city last night. 

Boris Johnson said he was at the airport helping to process the applications of those seeking to leave. The Prime Minister has insisted Britain could ‘look back at 20 years of effort and achievement In Afghanistan’, as he argued he wanted to ‘make sure that we don’t throw those gains away’.

But when asked if Sir Laurie was among the hundreds already thought to have been rescued, a spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) told MailOnline: ‘We have reduced our diplomatic presence in response to the situation on the ground.

‘However our Ambassador remains in Kabul and UK Government staff continue to work to provide assistance to British nationals and to our Afghan staff.

‘We are doing all we can to enable remaining British nationals, who want to leave Afghanistan, to do so.’  

Earlier reports had suggested Sir Laurie would be evacuated from Kabul on Sunday evening due to the Taliban’s rapid advancement into the capital. 

It comes as Special Forces units are joining 600 British troops from the 16 Air Assault Brigade, including 150 Paratroopers, with support from RAF teams from around the world, to airlift British officials out of the city. 

Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Laurie Bristow (right) remains in Kabul today, despite an SAS-backed operation to evacuate embassy staff amid a Taliban takeover of the city. Pictured left: The British embassy in Kabul

Special Forces units are joining 600 British troops from the 16 Air Assault Brigade, including 150 Paratroopers, to begin airlifting more than 500 British Government employees out of Kabul. Pictured: Members of Joint Forces Headquarters get prepared to deploy to Afghanistan

The Taliban is now closing in on the capital of Kabul from all sides, now controlling territories in the north, south, east and west

Gunshots were heard outside the capital city, while Taliban militants were seen in the districts of Kalakan, Qarabagh and Paghman today

However the Taliban’s advance has since hastened rapidly, with militants now in the capital.  

Meanwhile, as many as 2,000 interpreters and their families – who fear being branded as ‘traitors’ by the extremist Taliban – are in line to be rescued.

There are also 3,000 entitled personnel – British and dual passport holders – who may also need evacuation by the UK Government. These include aid workers and security officials stationed over in Afghanistan. 

However, only 450 have so applied to leave. The FCDO says it has been urging British nationals to leave the country since April.

On top of this, around 2,000 people with links to Britain could also be eligible to leave Afghanistan for the UK. 

It is understood that British officials believed they had until the end of the month to evacuate around 7,000 negligible people from Afghanistan – while US intelligence forces suggested Kabul could stand against the Taliban for three months.

But gunshots were heard outside the capital city, while Taliban militants were seen in the districts of Kalakan, Qarabagh and Paghman.

Long lines were seen outside the Iranian embassy in Kabul on Sunday as Afghan men waited for hours to get visas

There were also long lines outside banks in the capital as people gathered to try to withdraw money as the Taliban closed in

Pictured: Dozens of people queue outside Kabul Bank in the Afghan capital on Sunday. People waited for hours to try and withdraw money

As the Taliban closed in on Kabul on Sunday, many Afghans fled. Pictured: People arriving from Afghanistan make their way at the Friendship Gate crossing point at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Chaman

Afghan passengers walk toward the airport in Kabul after the Taliban made huge gains across the country in the wake of the US military departure

Pictured: The Pakistani and Taliban flag are seen flying above a crossing point between Afghanistan and Pakistan on Sunday as Afghans tried to flee into the neighbouring country

Afghan refugees are fleeing the country and heading to the US and Canada as they face threats from the Taliban 

It comes as, in a scene mirroring that of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam war, a US Air Force helicopter was seen taking off from the US embassy.

The Chinook helicopter was seen taking to the skies above the city – just like in 1975 when a US Marine helicopter was seen evacuating embassy staff from Vietnamese capital.

Smoke was also seen rising from near to the US embassy earlier today as security staff work to burn any important documents, including CIA information, or material that could be used ‘in propaganda efforts’. The US flag is soon expected to be lowered, signalling the official closure of the embassy. 

It comes as the US steps up its evacuation of Kabul with Taliban fighters quickly moving in ‘from all sides’.  Shots were heard on the outskirts of the capital earlier today, much earlier than first anticipated, before fighters poured into the city.

US Intelligence officials had expected Kabul to hold out for three months, while UK ministers were hoping they had until the end of the month.

Leaders of the extremist group have today demanded the Afghan government surrender the city to them in a bid to avoid bloodshed – adding the chilling warning ‘we’ve not declared a ceasefire’. 

As many as 10,000 US citizens are being evacuated from the city. Around 3,000 US troops are being sent to aid the mission.  

Taliban officials demanded foreigners who don’t leave to register their presence with Taliban administrators in the coming days. 

While western countries such as the US and UK have opted to evacuate staff, Russia confirmed that it did not intend to evacuate its embassy staff in Kabul. 

A twin-rotor US Air Force Chinook was seen taking off from the US Embassy earlier today, as the evacuation efforts rapidly pick up pace 

The Chinook helicopter was seen taking to the skies above the city – just like in 1975 when a US Marine helicopter was seen evacuating embassy staff from Vietnamese capital (pictured)

The US Embassy in Kabul has been ordered to destroy sensitive materials and evacuate as Taliban fighters move in on the capital 

Anti-missile decoy flares are deployed as U.S. Black Hawk military helicopters and a dirigible balloon fly over the city of Kabul, Afghanistan

Security Engineers will  stay behind as they continue to burn, shred and pulverize 20 years worth of intelligence stored on electronics and in documents. Pictured: Smoke rises next to the US Embassy in Kabul today

The US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan has been the intelligence hub of the US’s war on terror

As the Taliban advance continues, following the decision by the US to pull its troops out, gunfire was heard near the presidential palace in Kabul.

The militants were seen in the districts of Kalakan, Qarabagh and Paghman hours after taking control of Jalalabad, the last major Afghan city to fall to the insurgents.

The terror group said in a statement they did not intend to take the capital ‘by force’ after entering the outskirts of the city.

An Afghan official earlier confirmed Jalalabad fell under Taliban control without a fight early Sunday morning when the governor surrendered, saying it was ‘the only way to save civilian lives.’

Its fall has also given the Taliban control of a road leading to the Pakistan city of Peshawar, one of the main highways into landlocked Afghanistan.

Jalalabad is close to the Pakistani border and just 80 miles from Kabul – the Afghanistan capital home to more than four million people and currently the only remaining major city still under government control.

Besides Kabul, just seven other provincial capitals out of the country’s 34 are yet to fall to the Taliban.

Concerns are mounting over how long Kabul can stave off the Taliban insurgents as they have captured the northern stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif, the second-largest city Kandahar and third-largest city Herat all within the last 48 hours.

The Taliban are now closing in on the capital from all sides, controlling territories to the North, South, East and West and advancing to just seven miles south of the city. 

Hoda Ahmadi, a lawmaker from Logar province, told The Associated Press that the Taliban have reached the Char Asyab district on the outskirts of the capital, which was gripped by blackouts, communications outages and street fighting overnight Saturday as the country descends into chaos.

A US defense official has warned it could be only a matter of days before the insurgent fighters take control of Kabul. 

A Taliban fighter sits inside an Afghan National Army (ANA) vehicle along the roadside in Laghman province on Sunday 

Taliban fighters drive the vehicle through the streets of Laghman province Sunday – the same day Jalalabad fell 

Residents and fighters swarm an Afghan National Army vehicle on a roadside in Laghman province as the insurgents take control of major cities

The US Embassy in Kabul – the nerve center of the war on terror – is being gutted of all its sensitive material and evacuated in 72 hours, as the Taliban coils around Afghanistan’s capital. 

The Embassy’s demise will create an intelligence void that could plunge the US into pre-9/11 blindness, unless it can find another nearby country that will allow it rebuild its spy center.  

For the past 20 years, the US Embassy in Kabul has gathered vast amounts of information that shaped counterterrorism military actions – such as precision drone strikes – and prevented another 9/11-type attack. 

The location allowed CIA agents to meet with sources and monitor the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in the region.  

‘When the time comes for the US military to withdraw, the US government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish. That’s simply a fact,’ CIA Director Bill Burns told Senators in April.  

Everyone in the Embassy – except Bureau of Diplomatic Security Service agents and top decisionmakers, including the ambassador – will be out of the country before the end of Tuesday.   

Security Engineers will also stay behind as they continue to burn, shred and pulverize 20 years worth of intelligence stored on electronics and in documents. 

Embassy or agency logos, American flags ‘or items which could be misused in propaganda efforts’ are also considered to be sensitive materials and will be destroyed. 

The military is prepared to lower the American flag flying above the Embassy – at the State Department’s order – signaling the Embassy’s official closure. 

Today the Taliban said they aim to take the city, but say they have no plans to take Kabul ‘by force’.

Leaders of the extremist group say they don’t want a ‘single Afghan to be injured or killed’ during the hostile takeover – but warned ‘we’ve not signed a ceasefire yet’. 

Just last week, US intelligence estimates expected the city to be able to hold out for at least three months. 

A senior US official told the New York Times the Taliban have warned the US it must cease airstrikes or else its extremist fighters will move in on US buildings.

Joe Biden has vowed that any action that puts Americans at risk ‘will be met with a swift and strong US military response.’  

Meanwhile, in the UK, Boris Johnson is facing calls for a last-ditch intervention to prevent the complete collapse of Afghanistan.

The lead elements of the British force sent to evacuate the remaining UK nationals were understood to be in the capital amid fears it could fall within days or even hours. 

But amid a hurried scramble for safety, helicopters were seen landing at the US embassy to ferry away remaining personnel.

In the UK, there was deep anger among many MPs at the way – 20 years after the first international forces entered Afghanistan – the country was being abandoned to its fate.

The chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat said it was ‘the biggest single foreign policy disaster’ since Suez, while Defence Committee chairman Tobias Ellwood said it was a humiliation for the West.

Despite the decision of the Biden administration to withdraw the remaining US troops which triggered the collapse, Mr Ellwood said it was still not too late to turn the situation around.

He called for the despatch of the Royal Navy carrier strike group to the region and urged the Prime Minister to convene an emergency conference of ‘like-minded nations’ to see what could be done.

‘I plead with the Prime Minister to think again. We have an ever-shrinking window of opportunity to recognise where this country is going as a failed state,’ he told Times Radio.

‘We can turn this around but it requires political will and courage. This is our moment to step forward.

‘We could prevent this, otherwise history will judge us very, very harshly in not stepping in when we could do and allowing the state to fail.’

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