UK embassy could reopen within weeks following Taliban negotiations

The UK and US embassies in Kabul could reopen within weeks following behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Taliban.

As part of the ‘back channel’ talks with the new Afghanistan leaders, UK and US diplomats are focusing on concessions from the Taliban that will help ease the path out of the country for tens of thousands at risk people left behind following the withdrawal of allied troops earlier this week.

Both the UK and US have moved their Kabul embassy operations to Doha in Qatar, where talks with the Taliban are being orchestrated.

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However, officials at both the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the US State Department have said they are hopeful of reopening their embassies in Kabul along with other nations.

Taliban fighters wave as they patrol in a convoy along a street in Kabul. Picture: Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images

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A FCDO official said: “We intend to re-establish the embassy in Kabul when the situation in country allows and are co-ordinating this effort with allies.”

A US State Department spokeswoman added it had moved embassy operations to Doha “for the time being”.

Despite the intentions to reopen its embassy in Kabul and ongoing talks with the Taliban, foreign secretary Dominic Raab yesterday said the UK had no immediate plans to recognise the Taliban government.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with military personnel who worked on the Afghan evacuation during a visit to Melville Barracks. Picture: Dan Kitwood - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Mr Raab said: “The reality is we will not be recognising the Taliban any time in the foreseeable future, but I think there is an important scope for engagement and dialogue.

While the UK evacuated more than 8,000 people eligible for the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, Mr Raab said he was unable to give a “definitive” figure for the number of people eligible to come to the UK who remained in Afghanistan.

The US, which has evacuated around 120,000 “at-risk” Afghans, has also failed to put a figure on those left behind.

However, Professor Jodi Vittori, a scholar in the Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, believes the total number could be as many as 250,000.

“I’ve seen numbers of 70,000, which seems exceedingly low, to a quarter million, which is probably at least closer to reasonable,” said Prof Vittori, who also served in Afghanistan as a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force.

She said the US may find foreign citizens will be less willing to work with its military in future campaigns should the Biden administration fail to protect those at risk in Afghanistan.

Prof Vittori said: “If we don't get them out, who's going to ever work with us again?”

Those considered at risk include many Afghans who worked for the allied forces, as well as their families, during the near two decades campaign.

The US State Department said it remained committed to sending aid to the Afghan people despite the Taliban takeover, but that it would not be handed directly to the Taliban.

The State spokeswoman said: “The conflict has taken a terrible toll on the Afghan people. Millions are internally displaced. Millions are facing hunger, even starvation. The Covid-19 pandemic has hit Afghanistan hard.

"The US will continue humanitarian aid to the Afghan people. Consistent with our sanctions on the Taliban, the aid will flow not through the government, but rather through independent organisations. We expect those efforts will not be impeded by the Taliban or anyone else.”

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