Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: the chaotic evacuation from Kabul

28 August 2021

9:00 AM

28 August 2021

9:00 AM


At the virtual G7 emergency summit that he was chairing, Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, urged President Joe Biden of the United States to prolong the evacuation from Kabul of Nato forces, nationals and dependants beyond 31 August. But the Taliban said no. Britain took 8,600 people out of Afghanistan in ten days, but Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, said: ‘We won’t get them all out.’ Tony Blair, the former prime minister who had sent British forces to join in the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, said that America’s decision to withdraw had been made ‘in obedience to an imbecilic political slogan about ending “the forever wars”’. One person flown to the UK from Kabul was found to be on the British no-fly watchlist on security grounds.

In the seven days up to the beginning of the week, 697 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 613.) In a week, numbers remaining in hospital rose from 5,927 to 6,441. Protection given by the AstraZeneca vaccine was found to fall from 77 per cent to 67 per cent after five months. A new anti-Covid drug Ronapreve was approved for use in the United Kingdom. Known as Regen-Cov in America, it was one of the medicines given to President Donald Trump last year. Costing between £1,000 to £2,000 for a course of treatment, it might be given to those who do not respond to the vaccine. Charlie Watts, the drummer of the Rolling Stones, died aged 80. Peter Corby, the inventor of the electric trouser press, died aged 97.

Government borrowing for July fell below the level forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility, thanks to higher tax receipts, but total government debt reached 98.8 per cent of GDP. Lord Botham was appointed as a trade envoy to Australia. The SNP made a power-sharing agreement with the seven Scottish Greens in the Scottish parliament, which included a commitment to an independence referendum within five years. On one day, 828 migrants in small boats were intercepted crossing the Channel. Nando’s ran out of chicken in some outlets and McDonald’s out of milkshakes, because of a lack of lorry drivers.


The United States evacuated 37,000 people from Kabul airport in ten days. In the 24 hours from 3 a.m. on 23 August, 12,700 flew out on American planes and 8,900 on coalition planes. But at least 20 people died in the crush around the airport. In terrible heat, thousands blocked the way of those who had authorisation to leave. The Taliban manned roadblocks on routes to the airport. The United States warned its citizens not to travel to the airport, unless they received individual instruction, because of the danger of attacks by Islamic State terrorists. Then the Taliban forbade Afghans from going to the airport, having earlier said that extending the evacuation beyond 31 August would violate the Doha agreement made with the United States. The National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, opposed to the Taliban, said it had thousands of armed men around the Panjshir valley.

The total in the world reported to have died with coronavirus reached 4,435,620 by the beginning of the week. The United States overtook the United Kingdom in deaths per million, and 20 countries had a worse tally. In Melbourne 4,000 protestors against Covid restrictions clashed with police; in Sydney, 1,000 police contained 250 protestors. A lockdown in Sydney was extended until the end of September, with a curfew for the worst affected suburbs. New Zealand extended a lockdown in Auckland to the whole country as cases spread; fewer than 25 per cent of the population are fully vaccinated.

Greece said it had completed a 25-mile wall on its border with Turkey to keep out asylum seekers from Afghanistan. Poland said it would build a fence on its border with Belarus because migrants from the Middle East and Asia were being flown into Belarus and pushed across the border by the authorities. Two-thirds of the six million people of Lebanon faced water shortages because of a lack of power supply. In Tennessee, at least 22 people died after 17 inches of rain fell in 24 hours, causing flash floods. Don Everly, of the rock-and-roll duo the Everly Brothers, died aged 84, seven years after his brother Phil. Some Italian environmentalists complained at the spread of hazelnut monoculture to supply the makers of Nutella. CSH

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