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AFGHANISTAN

‘Time is running out’: Spain warns it will have to leave people behind in Afghanistan

Spain will not be able to rescue all Afghans who served Spanish missions in Afghanistan because of the "dramatic" situation on the ground, Defence Minister Margarita Robles said Tuesday.

'Time is running out': Spain warns it will have to leave people behind in Afghanistan
Military personnel help an Afghan family after a second evacuation airplane carrying Afghan collaborators and their families landed at Spain's Torrejon de Ardoz air base. Photo: Mariscal/Pool/AFP

Robles said Taliban checkpoints and violence were making it difficult for people to reach Kabul airport to catch one of the daily flights on a Spanish military plane out of the country.

“We will evacuate as many people as possible but there are people who will stay behind for reasons that do not depend on us, but on the situation there,” Robles said during an interview with news radio Cadena Ser.

“It is a very frustrating situation for everyone, because even those who reach Kabul, access to the airport is very complicated,” she added.

“The Taliban are becoming more aggressive, there is gunfire, violence is more obvious,” she said.

“The situation is frankly dramatic and besides with each passing day it is worse because people are conscious that time is running out.”

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez (L) and Minister of Defence Margarita Robles. Photo: Javier Soriano/AFP

Spain has been evacuating its nationals and local contractors from Afghanistan via Dubai since the Taliban swept to power ten days ago.

Madrid has so far evacuated just over 700 people from Afghanistan but Robles said there were still “many people” who feared Taliban reprisal who needed to leave.

“We will keep trying until the end,” she added.

The Spanish government has consistently declined to give a figure for the total number of people it planned to take out of Afghanistan.

US President Joe Biden has set an August 31 deadline to finish the chaotic airlift organised by thousands of temporarily deployed US and UK troops, but has left the door open to an extension if needed.

However, a spokesman for the Taliban warned Monday the hardline Islamist group would not agree to any extension.

Asked if Biden should extend the deadline for US troops to leave Kabul, Robles declined to comment, saying only that she was focused on Spain’s evacuation operation.

But during an interview with private television La Sexta on Monday, she said Spain could only carry out its evacuation flights as long as Kabul airport is “controlled” by US troops.

A child waves an Afghan flag during a demonstration called by “Ca la Dona” feminist association in support of Afghan women and girls, in Barcelona on August 18th. Photo: Lluis Gené/AFP

Another 420 people are expected to arrive in Spain on Tuesday, the minister said.

They include 290 people who are already in Dubai and 130 who are expected to leave on a Spanish military plane from Kabul, she added.

In addition, Spain has agreed to host up to 4,000 Afghans who will be airlifted by the United States to air bases in Rota and Moron de la Frontera in southern Spain.

Under an agreement signed by Madrid and Washington, the evacuees may stay at the airbases which are used jointly by the United States and Spain for up to 15 days.

READ ALSO: ‘It’s Europe’s hub’ – EU chiefs to visit Afghan evacuation centre in Spain

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NATO

Spain and Mali foreign ministers speak after row over NATO remarks

Mali's Foreign Minister said Saturday he had spoken with his Spanish counterpart after a row over comments the Spaniard made about the possibility of a NATO operation in the African country.

Spain and Mali foreign ministers speak after row over NATO remarks

Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop wrote in a tweet that he had spoken by phone with his Spanish counterpart Jose Manuel Albares about the comments, which were made in a radio interview.

“He denied the remarks and expressed his attachment to friendly relations and cooperation with Mali,” wrote Diop.

Spain moved to calm the row Saturday, a day after a day the military regime in Bamako had summoned their ambassador for an explanation.

“Spain did not ask during the NATO summit or at any other time for an intervention, mission or any action by the Alliance in Mali,” said a statement from Spain’s embassy.

The row blew up over remarks by Albares in an interview Thursday with Spain’s RNE radio. Asked if a NATO mission in Mali could be ruled out, Albares said: “No, we can’t rule it out.”

“It hasn’t been on the table at the talks in Madrid because this is a summit that is laying out, so to speak, the framework for NATO action.”

“If it were necessary and if there was to be a threat to our security, of course it would be done,” he added.

Albares was speaking on the sidelines of the NATO summit as it drew to a close in Madrid. Diop had told state broadcaster ORTM on Friday that Bamako had summoned the Spanish ambassador to lodge a strong protest over the remarks.

READ ALSO: Nato apologises after hanging Spanish flag upside down at Madrid summit

“These remarks are unacceptable, unfriendly, serious,” said Diop, because “they tend to encourage an aggression against an independent and sovereign country”.

“We have asked for explanations, a clarification of this position from the Spanish government,” he added.

At the Madrid summit, Spain pushed hard to prioritise the topic of the threat to NATO’s southern flank caused by the unrest in the Sahel — the vast territory stretching across the south of Africa’s Sahara Desert, incorporating countries such as Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

Jihadist attacks there are pushing increasing numbers of people to flee north towards Europe, with Spain one of the main points of entry there.

READ ALSO: Spain’s capital ramps up security to host Nato summit

At the summit, NATO acknowledged the alliance’s strategic interest in the Middle East, north Africa and the Sahel.

Mali has since 2012 been rocked by jihadist insurgencies. Violence began in the north and then spread to the centre and to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

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