British family trapped in Afghanistan for weeks after visiting sick grandfather are delighted to get back home after being surrounded by gun-toting Taliban
- British family trapped in Afghanistan after visiting a sick relative have made it back home to Nottingham
- The Ziahes flew out to Afghanistan more than six weeks ago following a death and to visit poorly grandfather
- But they found themselves caught in the midst of the crisis engulfing Afghanistan following Taliban takeover
- Spent two days without a bed on the outskirts of Kabul, surrounded by fighters firing AK-47s into the air
- Safe exit from turmoil largely down to the help of headteacher Amanda Dawson and MP Lilian Greenwood
A British family trapped in Afghanistan for weeks after visiting a sick relative have managed to make it back home to Nottingham after being surrounded at gunpoint by the Taliban.
Nargas Ziahe, 24, flew out to Afghanistan more than six weeks ago with her brother Omar, five, sister Asma, nine, and their mother, following the death of her uncle and to visit her poorly grandfather.
But they soon found themselves caught in the midst of the crisis, and spent two days without a bed or washing facilities on the outskirts of Kabul, surrounded by Taliban fighters firing AK-47s into the air, before making it safely to the Baron Hotel where their repatriation paperwork was processed.
Their safe exit from the turmoil which followed the takeover was largely down to the help of the headteacher of Mellers Primary School in Radford, Amanda Dawson, who worked with Nottingham South MP Lilian Greenwood to allow passage out of the country.
Raghib Ziahe, the father who remained in Nottingham and worked with Amanda and Ms Greenwood to get his family home, told Nottinghamshire Live they landed in Birmingham this morning. They must now spend 10 days in quarantine, as per Covid restrictions.
‘I was so excited. I could not believe it,’ he said. ‘They just arrived this morning. I was thinking how it would be possible to get them out of the city. Last week I could not sleep, but I said to them do not worry.
‘But a lot of the family are still in hiding. There are still about 20 [family members] out there. We need to save their lives. The Taliban keep searching the houses.’
Nearly 6,000 Britons, Afghan staff and their families have now been airlifted out by the RAF – but there are plans to fly out a further 6,000 this week amid fears that not all foreign nationals will be evacuated before the August 31 deadline for withdrawal.
Nargas Ziahe flew out to Afghanistan more than six weeks ago with her brother Omar (left), sister Asma (right) and their mother, following the death of her uncle and to visit her poorly grandfather
Raghib Ziahe, 48, pictured with his children. Raghib Ziahe, the father who remained in Nottingham and worked with Amanda and Ms Greenwood to get his family home, told Nottinghamshire Live they landed in Birmingham this morning
People trying to flee the country continue to wait around the Kabul airport with only days left before Biden is planning to withdraw troops
Crowds of people wait outside the airport in Kabul as they desperately try to flee the country which has been taken over by the Taliban
US airmen and marines guide evacuees into a plane at Hamid Karzai International Airport amid the huge evacuation effort
Former top British military officials last night urged the UK to go it alone in its Afghanistan rescue mission if the US does not push back its pull-out date.
President Joe Biden last night said he ‘hoped not to’ extend the date for pulling his 6,000 remaining US troops from Kabul. The current date is August 31.
UK defence bosses say it is unlikely British troops will be able to remain in Kabul once the US pulls its forces.
However a former British Army general last night said the UK should go it alone if the US does not push back its leaving date.
Retired Major General Tim Cross, who served in Iraq and Kosovo, told the Sun: ‘What’s the point of having armed forces if we cannot hold a single airfield? It makes the whole global Britain idea a joke.’
Another, Colonel Richard Kemp, a retired officer who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, told the paper: ‘We are one of the most powerful military nations in the world. We should stay until we have got every last Brit, and everyone we need, out.’
The Minister of Defence last night said it would be ‘impractical’ to secure Kabul Airport and to continue the evacuation mission ‘without the partnership (with the US)’.
Mr Ziahe thanked Amanda for all her help throughout the past few days. Amanda said the news was somewhat ‘bittersweet’ as just four had arrived home, with many still out there waiting on evacuation.
She added: ‘[Their] aunt and uncles are in significant danger still. I’ve been working with Lilian Greenwood and her team to gather all the documentation and pass it to the Foreign Office.
‘The youngest uncle had his ID taken by Taliban and told that once US and UK security forces leave he will be beheaded. I am relieved, overjoyed and a bit overwhelmed. It is bittersweet, though, knowing how many people are still in danger.’
British military commanders are understood to have pencilled in August 25 as the last day they can process refugees, including former British interpreters, under the current plans before the focus shifts to getting about 1,000 British troops and government officials home safely.
It could mean the last British evacuation flight may have to leave as soon as tomorrow or Wednesday to allow soldiers enough time to withdraw.
Boris Johnson will use a virtual meeting of world leaders tomorrow to press Joe Biden for more time to save people from the clutches of the Taliban – something the US President has so far refused to commit to.
French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he was ‘concerned’ about the deadline and ‘additional time is needed’. Germany estimated it has 5,000 people still waiting to be taken to safety, with a Foreign Ministry spokesman saying the airbridges should stay open ‘as long as the situation on the ground allows’.
However, the Taliban have said any extension would be a ‘red line’ and warned of ‘consequences’ – as ministers admit they have a ‘vote’ on the timetable.
Despite the entreaties from fellow leaders, Mr Biden has been non-committal, saying yesterday he ‘hopes not to’ extend his current deadline. He made a pledge to US citizens that ‘any American who wants to get home will get home’ but pointedly failed to mention his allies.
It came as dramatic pictures emerged of Taliban fighters and British troops, once sworn enemies, working just yards apart at Kabul airport.
Downing Street insiders said Mr Johnson will ask the US President at the G7 meeting not to leave Western allies in the lurch. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace have also been in contact with their opposite numbers in Washington on the issue.
Mr Biden has set a deadline of August 31 for all Americans to have left the country, but UK military sources said another fortnight was needed. Asked what he would say if G7 leaders pushed him, Mr Biden said: ‘I will tell them we will see what we can do.’
Taliban spokesman Dr Suhail Shaheen said the group will not accept an extension to the deadline and warned of retaliation if Western forces extend their ‘occupation’ since the group dramatically swept to power.
He told Sky News: ‘It’s a red line. President Biden announced that on 31 August they would withdraw all their military forces. So if they extend it that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that.
‘If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations – the answer is no. Or there would be consequences. It will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation it will provoke a reaction.’
Speaking to reporters in Fort George, near Inverness, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: ‘The Prime Minister is, obviously at the G7, going to try and raise the prospect of seeing if the United States will extend.
‘It’s really important for people to understand the United States have over 6,000 people in Kabul airport and when they withdraw that will take away the framework … and we will have to go as well.
Crowds climb up on buildings as they gather near the airport in Kabul in a bid to flee Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover
British military commanders are understood to have pencilled in August 25 as the last day they can process refugees
Boris Johnson (pictured left) will attempt to persuade US President Joe Biden (pictured right) to keep American troops in Afghanistan beyond his August 31 deadline when the two leaders take part in a G7 meeting this week
‘I don’t think there is any likelihood of staying on after the United States. If their timetable extends even by a day or two, that will give us a day or two more to evacuate people.
‘Because we are really down to hours now, not weeks, and we have to make sure we exploit every minute to get people out.’
Furious former generals have urged the PM to continue the evacuation even if the US leaves, in the hopes of getting ‘every last Briton out’.
‘We are concerned about the deadline set by the United States on August 31. Additional time is needed to complete ongoing operations,’ Mr Le Drian told reporters at the UAE’s Al-Dhafra air base, where France has set up an air bridge for people evacuated from Kabul.
Mr Heappey said the ‘hard reality’ is that the effort cannot continue without the US, admitting that not everyone will get out – stressing that people will be able to look for other escape avenues after that.
‘The fact is we will get out as many as we possibly can but we have been clear throughout that there is a hard reality that we won’t be able to get out everybody that we want to, and that is very important that we start to reassure people in Kabul – because I know that people in Afghanistan are acutely aware of what is being said in our media in the UK – that the airlift is not the only route out of Afghanistan, not the only route to the UK.’
He added: ‘There is a second phase to this, where people will be able to settle in the UK having been processed either at a handling centre in a refugee camp or at one of our embassies or high commissions in the region.’
Over recent days, the President has remained stubbornly opposed to any plan to extend the rescue operation into September.
His stance means UK nationals and Afghans eligible to relocate to Britain would have to escape themselves to a third country, such as Pakistan, from where they could travel to the UK on commercial aircraft.
Such journeys would be fraught with danger. Scores of interpreters are hiding in Kabul following beatings and shootings by the Taliban; punishment for their service to a foreign power.
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