UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed Thursday that most British troops have left Afghanistan, almost 20 years after the UK and other Western countries sent troops into the country to engage in what they described as a “war on terror.”
Addressing Parliament, Johnson said the threat posed by al-Qaeda to but he declined to answer questions on whether the hasty military exodus by the country and its NATO allies risks undoing the work of nearly two decades, the Associated Press reported.
Johnson also declined to give details about the troop withdrawal, citing security reasons. But he said that “all British troops assigned to NATO’s mission in Afghanistan are now returning home,” adding that “most of our personnel have already left.”
“We must be realistic about our ability alone to influence the course of events. It will take combined efforts of many nations, including Afghanistan’s neighbors, to help the Afghan people to build their future,” Johnson said.
“But the threat that brought us to Afghanistan in the first place has been greatly diminished by the valor and by the sacrifice of the armed forces of Britain and many other countries.”
He stressed that Britain remains committed to helping achieve a peace settlement in Afghanistan through diplomacy, AP reported.
“We are not walking away. We are keeping our embassy in Kabul, and we will continue to work with our friends and allies, particularly our friends in Pakistan, to work towards a settlement,” Johnson said.
The US military announced Tuesday that 90% of American troops and equipment had already left the country, with the drawdown set to finish by late August.
Last week, US officials vacated the country’s biggest airfield, Bagram Air Base and most European troops have also quietly pulled out in recent weeks.
Uzbeks refuse to return military aircraft flown from Afghanistan last year
Uzbekistan authorities say dozens of aircraft flown into their country in August last year, during the collapse of the former government, belong to the United States and will not be returned to the interim government in Kabul.
Afghan air force personnel flew almost 50 helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to Uzbekistan in mid-August as former president Ashraf Ghani fled the country and Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) forces took control.
Several more aircraft and Black Hawk helicopters were also taken to neighboring Tajikistan.
The IEA has however repeatedly requested that these aircraft are returned to Afghanistan.
But in a recent interview with VOA, Ismatulla Irgashev, a senior presidential adviser, said the aircraft would not be going back to Kabul.
“The U.S. government paid for them,” said Irgashev, his nation’s most senior diplomat dealing with Afghan matters. “It funded the previous Afghan government. So, we believe it is totally up to Washington how to deal with them.
“We’ve kept this military equipment in agreement with the U.S. and have told the Taliban (IEA) so.”
Little has been said since about the issue, in part because of the sensitivity of the issue in Uzbek-Afghan relations and the reluctance of officials on all sides to discuss it, VOA reported.
But U.S. defense officials confirmed to VOA that both Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have no plans to give the aircraft to the IEA.
Blinken and Austin visit Kyiv; announce assistance package to Ukraine
The United States announced new military assistance for Ukraine and a renewed diplomatic push in the war-ravaged nation as President Joe Biden’s secretary of state and Pentagon chief completed a secrecy-shrouded trip to Kyiv.
In the highest-level American visit to the capital since Russia invaded in late February, top envoy Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Ukraine’s president, Volodomyr Zelenskyy, and his advisers that the U.S. would provide more than $300 million in foreign military financing and had approved a $165 million sale of ammunition, the Associated Press reported.
They also said Biden would soon announce his nominee to be ambassador to Ukraine and that American diplomats who left Ukraine before the war would start returning to the country this coming week. The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv will remain closed for the moment.
Austin and Blinken announced a total of $713 million in foreign military financing for Ukraine and 15 allied and partner countries; some $322 million is earmarked for Kyiv. The remainder will be split among NATO members and other nations that have provided Ukraine with critical military supplies since the war with Russia began, officials said.
U.S. officials said they believed the new assistance would satisfy at least some of the Ukrainians’ urgent pleas for more help. New artillery, including howitzers, continues to be delivered at a rapid pace to Ukraine’s military, which is being trained on its use in neighboring countries, the officials said.
UN chief heading to Turkey ahead of Moscow, Kyiv visits
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will visit Ankara before heading to Moscow next week to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and then to Ukraine for talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a UN statement said on Saturday.
Guterres will visit the Turkish capital on Monday, where he will be received by President Tayyip Erdogan, the statement said.
The UN aid chief, Martin Griffiths, said on April 18 that Turkey was a valuable host for humanitarian talks between Ukraine and Russia.
Eri Kaneko, Guterres’ associate spokesperson, told a news briefing on Friday that Guterres would head to Moscow on Tuesday and meet Putin as well as have a working meeting and lunch with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, hoping to discuss what can be done to bring peace to Ukraine, Reuters reported.
The United Nations also said on Friday that Guterres would meet with Zelenskiy on Thursday, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and staff at UN agencies to discuss the scaling up of humanitarian assistance efforts.
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