Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: the Taliban take Afghanistan

21 August 2021

9:00 AM

21 August 2021

9:00 AM


Parliament was recalled after the rapid fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, returned from a foreign holiday on Sunday. Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, declared as Kabul fell: ‘We don’t want anybody bilaterally recognising the Taliban.’ But Mr Raab said that Britain recognised states, not governments. Britain sent an extra 300 soldiers to help extract British citizens and people such as interpreters now in danger. Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, wept when he said on the radio that some people for whom Britain had responsibility ‘won’t get back’ from Afghanistan. The government announced what it called a ‘bespoke’ scheme to settle 5,000 Afghans in Britain in the coming year, with another 15,000 in five years. Lily Cole apologised for posting a picture of herself on Instagram in a burka with the caption: ‘Let’s embrace diversity on every level.’

In the seven days up to the beginning of the week, 613 people had died with coronavirus, bringing the total of deaths (within 28 days of testing positive) to 130,894. (In the previous week deaths had numbered 637.) In a week, numbers remaining in hospital rose a little from 5,715 to 5,875. Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine was approved by the UK medicines regulator for use in children aged 12 to 17, joining Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine. Ultra Electronics, a supplier to the Royal Navy, agreed to a £2.6 billion takeover by Cobham (owned by an American company since 2019), which said it would ‘offer legally binding and enforceable commitments to HM Government’ on security and jobs. The number of job vacancies rose to 953,000 in the three months to July. The annual rate of inflation fell from 2.5 per cent in June to 2 per cent in July.

Jake Davison, 22, shot dead five people in Plymouth and then shot himself. He killed his mother, aged 51, indoors, then a little girl aged three passing by in the street, and her father, 43. The two others he killed were a man aged 59 and a woman aged 66. The killer left an 11-minute video as his last posting which referred to incels (involuntarily celibate men) and declared: ‘I can’t attract women at all.’ He held a shotgun certificate.


The Taliban entered Kabul and President Ashraf Ghani left Afghanistan on Sunday. American helicopters could be seen emptying its embassy. The United States set about trying to secure Kabul airport while hundreds of Afghans thronged the civilian runways and some climbed on top of airliners. Three people fell from aircraft that had taken off. The Americans said they planned up to 9,000 passengers a day leaving Kabul in their flights. ‘Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation-building,’ President Joe Biden of the United States said in a televised speech. ‘Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight.’ Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban, returned to Afghanistan with other Taliban leaders. The Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid appeared before the cameras in Kabul to say: ‘We have pardoned all those who have fought against us.’ Women would have the rights given to them by Sharia.

The total in the world reported to have died with coronavirus reached 4,363,371 by the beginning of the week. In terms of deaths per million, the United Kingdom, at 1,917, was at the same level as the United States (1,912), with about 20 countries faring worse, Peru suffering 5,892 deaths per million and Hungary 3,118. New Zealand imposed a national lockdown closing schools, offices and all businesses after a man in Auckland was found to have Covid. In Sydney a lockdown was tightened as four people died. ‘This is literally a war,’ said Gladys Berejiklian, the premier of New South Wales. A Covid infection closed a terminal at Ningbo-Zhoushan in China, cutting by about a quarter the container capacity of the world’s third-busiest cargo port.

At least 1,900 died in an earthquake in Haiti, which was then hit by a tropical storm. In Turkey dozens died in floods. More than 1.8 million people were urged to leave their homes as heavy rain swept Japan. Armed men entered the operations centre of the Great Man-Made River, which takes water across Libya, and said they would blow up the supply if Abdullah al-Senussi, Gaddafi’s former intelligence chief sentenced to death in 2015, was not freed from jail in Tripoli. Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, called a snap election for 20 September. CSH

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