The C.I.A. director, William J. Burns, traveled to Kabul this week for talks with the Taliban leadership, according to American officials familiar with his visit — the highest-level in-person talks between a Biden administration official and the new de facto leadership of Afghanistan.
Mr. Burns, a longtime former diplomat, met on Monday with Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban leader who led diplomatic negotiations in Qatar with the U.S. government.
A key issue for the United States is getting the Taliban leadership to allow more time for evacuation operations from the Kabul airport. The United States is conducting a large airlift of people, including Afghans, Americans and others, out of Afghanistan. President Biden has set a deadline for that operation to be concluded by Aug. 31.
The United States has sent thousands of troops to secure the airport, and the pace of evacuations has stepped up in recent days. But getting Afghans from their homes to the airport in Kabul safely is becoming more difficult and dangerous, and it is not clear whether the U.S. government can maintain the pace of evacuations.
Former officials have said that the United States will need more time, perhaps until late September, to ferry out Afghans who have applied for special visas from the United States.
Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban in Qatar, said on Monday that any extension beyond Aug. 31 would be a “clear violation” of the United States’ agreement with the group on the withdrawal of troops.
Before being named as C.I.A. director, Mr. Burns had a long diplomatic career in which he specialized in delicate, secret communications. He titled his memoir “The Back Channel” and was responsible for the initial undisclosed discussions that ultimately lead to the Iran nuclear talks in the Obama administration.
And with the fall of the American-backed government and the withdrawal of diplomats and troops from Afghanistan, the C.I.A. will bear much of the responsibility for monitoring Afghanistan going forward.
The C.I.A. and the National Security Council declined to comment. The Washington Post earlier reported Mr. Burns’ visit.
For now, the Taliban have allowed the operations to continue at the airport. Although some civilians have been harassed and beaten while trying to approach the airport, the Taliban have not overtly interfered with the American operations.
But U.S. officials worry about the prospects of attacks at the airport by the Islamic State and other groups.
American operations do not just need the passive support of the Taliban to allow the flights. They also need the group to actively stop ISIS and others from mounting attacks on Afghan civilians, including any suicide bombings outside the airport.
Despite the hard-line rhetoric, the Taliban have an incentive to cooperate. The acting government wants to secure international legitimacy and to try to avoid the isolation the group experienced in the 1990s, when it was last in power. Taliban leaders have urged international governments to maintain their embassies in Afghanistan.
Leaders of the Group of 7 nations are expected to press President Biden on Tuesday to keep U.S. troops in Kabul beyond Aug. 31 to complete a frantic evacuation of Americans, Afghan allies and others. But British officials were lowering expectations that Mr. Biden would go along with altering that deadline.
The president’s determination to end the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, coupled with a warning from the Taliban that they would not tolerate an extension, suggested that the leaders would face an uphill climb to change the timetable.
“I wish we had more time,” Britain’s defense secretary, Ben Wallace, told the BBC. “I think it is at the moment unlikely.” British troops, he added, had “literally hours to make sure everybody we can get through the gate.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair an emergency virtual meeting of G-7 leaders starting at 2:30 p.m. London time. It comes at a moment of acute strain in the trans-Atlantic alliance, with Britain and other NATO allies bruised by what they regard as the White House’s lack of consultation on the timing or tactics of the withdrawal.
Mr. Johnson spoke with Mr. Biden on Monday evening — the second time in a week — but neither the White House nor Downing Street alluded to an extension of the deadline in their accounts of the call.
“The leaders agreed to continue working together to ensure those who are eligible to leave are able to, including after the initial phase of the evacuation has ended,” said the British statement, which also cited a need for “diplomatic engagement to secure the progress made in Afghanistan and prevent a humanitarian crisis.”
While the evacuation will be the leaders’ most immediate priority, the aftermath of the withdrawal will also figure in the discussions, according to the British ambassador to Washington, Karen Pierce.
“What is the humanitarian response?” Ms. Pierce said. “What is the future engagement with Afghanistan for the West? Can we coordinate more resettlement of those Afghans who do manage to leave?” Britain, she noted, has committed to taking in 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan over the long term.
Other European officials said the meeting would be crucial to clear the air and prevent the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan from undermining other efforts in security and counterterrorism.
“The propaganda use being made of this online isn’t just in Taiwan, where China is claiming the West is untrustworthy,” said Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the British Parliament’s foreign affairs committee. “It’s across Africa and elsewhere where we have commitments and contested space.”
The United States’ evacuation of its citizens and allies in Afghanistan is nearing a dangerous new phase as time runs out to rescue people it pledged to protect from violent Taliban reprisals.
At a virtual meeting scheduled for Tuesday, leaders of the Group of 7 nations are expected to ask President Biden to extend the evacuation, which the U.S. government had said it would finish by Aug. 31. The effort has picked up speed in recent days as U.S. forces pushed past Kabul’s airport to rescue stranded people in the city.
Mr. Biden has left the door open to the possibility of having U.S. troops remain past the deadline. But the risk of violence from the Taliban intensified on Monday after the group warned that there would be “consequences” if the American presence continued longer.
“They should finish the evacuation by Aug. 31 as they have promised,” said Mohammad Naem, a Taliban spokesman in Qatar. Another Taliban spokesman in Qatar, Suhail Shaheen, said staying past the deadline would be a “clear violation” of an agreement between the two sides.
As leaders debate their strategies, conditions on the ground are growing more dangerous.
People trying to flee Afghanistan must brave Taliban checkpoints and jostle with desperate crowds outside the Kabul airport, risking injury or death. Seven Afghan civilians, including a toddler, have been trampled to death in the crowds, according to British military officials.
A hospital run by an international aid group has said it has taken in shooting victims from around the area of the airport. Many are turned away at the airport’s gates each day, leaving them to undergo the perilous journey again and risking Taliban retribution.
Other Afghans who supported the two-decade U.S. war effort, especially women, are terrified to leave their homes, scared of incurring the Taliban’s wrath at checkpoints.
The Taliban and U.S. officials have taken steps to ensure that the situation does not spiral further out of control, however. The top U.S. official in Afghanistan talks with the Taliban nearly every day, U.S. military officials have said, leading to an agreement that expanded the security perimeter outside the airport, with the goal of bringing more order to the chaos.
The Pentagon has deployed helicopters and troops into select spots in Kabul to extract stranded U.S. citizens and Afghan allies, at least twice venturing from the immediate area of the airport.
The U.S. military had helped secure the escapes of 37,000 people since Aug. 14, when Kabul fell to the Taliban, and has increased the pace recently. About 11,000 people were evacuated on Sunday, according to military officials.
But that represents a fraction of the U.S. citizens, foreign nationals and Afghan allies trying to leave the country, and the Biden administration has been unable to pinpoint how many people are in need of rescue.
Among the people turned away from the airport have been some Afghan military interpreters and other close U.S. allies, as American officials give priority to U.S. citizens and green card holders, according to a State Department official and several interviews with Afghans. The State Department denied the accounts of Afghans being turned away, saying in a statement that “our overriding priority remains to put as many people as possible on departing planes as quickly as possible.”
The farmer, surnamed Mohammad, had been making his way into Kabul. The Taliban were making their last offensive push, an advance that would result in the abrupt fall of Afghanistan’s capital on Aug. 15. Mr. Mohammad had found a ride in a minivan that was also carrying Taliban fighters.
Automatic fire suddenly rang out from an abandoned government vehicle. He felt a burning sensation in his chest. Later, he would find out that five passenger had been killed in the chaos.
“Other drivers were so afraid,” said Mr. Mohammad, who had been hit by six bullets, “they didn’t even stop to help.”
Mr. Mohammad spoke this week from his bed at a hospital run by Emergency, an international humanitarian organization running hospitals in Afghanistan, giving its personnel a firsthand look at the violence there.
In interviews, they said they had seen a shift in violence, including more casualties from the Kabul airport. But they have also seen an ebbing of violence, a potentially positive sign, as well as a shift in the types of injuries.
When the Taliban battled government forces for control of the country, the patients arriving at Emergency’s hospitals had suffered trauma caused by airstrikes, mortar rounds, rocket-propelled grenades and small explosives, said an official with the group at a Kabul-area hospital.
Now, conflict-related injuries tend to come from bullets, which he attributed to general lawlessness amid the Taliban takeover. Some people, the official said, were taking advantage of the lack of police.
Since then, the number of casualties has gone down, the official said. Now the group takes in about six people per day — generally, people suffering gunfire wounds — from armed clashes around the airport.
Another one of Emergency’s hospitals, in Lashkar Gah, in the southern province of Helmand, was receiving 50 casualties per day at the height of the siege of that city. They were forced to raise the criteria of admission. Soft tissue injuries, for example, were passed on to another government hospital.
Since last week, violence has dropped significantly, and now the hospital takes civilian trauma cases from other causes, like traffic accidents.
The Taliban are aware of their work. A man named Dr. Omar, who identified himself as a Taliban health director, had visited the Kabul hospital and told its administrators that they would be able to perform their work unbothered. Emergency has been able to send supplies to first aid outposts by road across the country.
One worker at the hospital was cautiously optimistic.
“It has been one week now,” the worker said. “The number of injured people is decreasing. We don’t hear gunshots anymore, and we don’t have concerns about suicide attacks. Even the casualties that come from the airport have been decreasing over the last three days.”
Some local workers remember what it was like when the Taliban ruled the country two decades ago, when life — particularly for women — was heavily restricted.
“Women are still walking around without a full veil,” the worker said. “But they’re afraid that when a government is announced, those policies will change.”
Still, the worker welcomed the new sense of security.
“The last three or four years, whenever I left my home, I said goodbye to my family, because I was not sure whether I would return to them,” the worker said. “But these days, to be honest, it is not a concern for me now. I hope it will last forever.”
BRUSSELS — For all of President Biden’s promises to respect and consult with the NATO allies who were so disdained by his predecessor, officials from Britain, France, Germany and Italy complain that there has been more diktat than conversation on Afghanistan.
Now that the rapid Taliban advance and rushed U.S. pullout have produced chaos and fear in Kabul for more than week, Mr. Biden is likely to hear grumbling on Tuesday in an emergency videoconference call among the Group of 7 leaders.
The crisis in Afghanistan raises once again the question that has dogged NATO virtually since the end of the Cold War: Will there be any serious shift in the way the alliance operates, with the United States leading and Europe following behind?
Whenever the United States acts without much regard for the allies’ views — in Libya and Syria, to say nothing of Iraq — it fuels new calls for European allies, in particular, to become less dependent on Washington in military and security matters. But more autonomy would mean more military spending, and there is little sign that European leaders have the political will for that.
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO’s secretary-general from 2004 to 2009, said that European criticism of Mr. Biden was accurate, but also somewhat irrelevant, because “we Europeans have become addicted to U.S. leadership.”
Some of the calls for strategic independence are more serious — and angrier — than in the past.
“Europeans are up in arms, but there are no alternative options,” said Rem Korteweg, a senior fellow at the Clingendael Institute, a Dutch research institution. “So I take this with a grain of salt.”
Two Afghan Paralympians have fled Kabul with the help of a group of Australian sports stars, according to Nikki Dryden, a former Canadian Olympian turned human rights lawyer who was involved in the effort.
She said on Tuesday that they were part of a group of more than 50 athletes — including soccer players, referees and their families — who had secured protection in Australia. The Australia Broadcasting Corporation reported that the athletes and their families had been granted humanitarian visas.
“The operation is still ongoing, but at least 50 athletes and their families are on planes or — for us it was just safely getting them into the airport, that’s when we called it a win,” Ms. Dryden told the ABC.
The two Paralympians were “safely out of Afghanistan,” she added. She did not identify them by name.
Last week, the Afghanistan Paralympic Committee said the country’s athletes would not participate in the Games because of the difficulty of leaving the country.
Ms. Dryden said the Australians had worked for days to contact the athletes over social media, to secure a commitment from the Australian government to accept them, to obtain visa sponsorship and arrange paperwork, and to guide the athletes remotely to the airport in Kabul.
The athletes spent 48 hours in line at the airport before making it inside, she said. “The only thing we could tell them was push forward, push forward push forward, stay in the line, don’t move, and they did it,” she said. “Every single one that is going to make it to Australia did it on their own.”
She said she was unsure whether the Paralympians would compete in Tokyo.
FIFPro, the international federation of soccer players, posted on Twitter that it was “encouraged by recent developments” and “grateful for the assistance of governments, military and human rights groups who are collaborating closely with us to evacuate women footballers and other athletes from Afghanistan.”
Overnight, 650 more people were evacuated from Kabul on four Australian flights and one New Zealand flight, Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia said on Tuesday.
The athletes’ escape came after members of an Afghan girls’ robotics team that captured international attention fled to Qatar.
Vice President Kamala Harris sought to fortify the United States’ image as a credible ally on Tuesday by offering a rebuke of China during an address in Southeast Asia, an effort that comes as the White House faces growing questions about its reliability amid continuing violence in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
“We know that Beijing continues to coerce, to intimidate and to make claims to the vast majority of the South China Sea,” Ms. Harris said in Singapore, adding that what she described as China’s “unlawful claims” continued “to undermine the rules-based order and threaten the sovereignty of nations.”
The White House is aiming to refocus its foreign policy strategy on competing with China’s rising economic influence rather than on continuing to fight “forever wars,” such as the two-decade long conflict in Afghanistan. The chaotic effort to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies from Kabul has overshadowed the vice president’s trip, which began on Sunday in Singapore and will also take her to Vietnam.
Ms. Harris’s overseas trip, her second as vice president, gained heightened urgency in the days before she boarded Air Force Two. The journey had been seen as a chance to bolster economic and security ties with key partners in Singapore and Vietnam, a crucial piece of President Biden’s strategy in the South China Sea. But in the wake of the haphazard withdrawal from Afghanistan, her trip became the administration’s first test of the White House efforts to reassure the world that it can still be a trusted international partner.
That pressure is likely to increase when Ms. Harris arrives in Vietnam. Her senior aides have faced questions about the historical parallel between the U.S. evacuation of American citizens in 1975 from Saigon and the situation in Kabul — replete with scenes of desperate Afghans running behind U.S. military planes, and of American citizens, Afghan allies and their relatives crowded into the Kabul airport and stuck in limbo.
Airbnb and its charitable arm, Airbnb.org, said on Tuesday that the company intended to provide free temporary housing globally for 20,000 refugees fleeing the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.
As American and European governments race to evacuate tens of thousands of people, the property rental company called the displacement and resettlement of refugees a “significant humanitarian crisis.”
The cost of the accommodations will be covered with money from Airbnb and its chief executive, Brian Chesky, as well as contributions from the Airbnb.org Refugee Fund, which was begun in June with the goal of raising $25 million. The organization is working with resettlement agencies and offered to support federal and state governments.
“The displacement and resettlement of Afghan refugees in the U.S. and elsewhere is one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our time. We feel a responsibility to step up,” Mr. Chesky said on Twitter.
“I hope this inspires other business leaders to do the same. There’s no time to waste,” he added.
Airbnb did not specify how long refugees could stay in the apartments or houses, but said its hosts were offering short- and long-term stays. The company said it had begun supporting Afghans fleeing the country last week when it gave funding to the International Rescue Committee and other organizations to provide temporary stays using the Airbnb platform for up to 1,000 refugees.
Over the weekend, Airbnb said, it placed 165 refugees in housing across the United States, including in California, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, Virginia and Washington State.
VAN, Turkey — In the days before the Taliban took Kabul, an Afghan woman was doubled over sobbing on a bench in a bus station in eastern Turkey, her children wailing at her feet.
Fourteen Turkish security and migration officials swooped down on her and other Afghan asylum seekers as our reporting team was interviewing them, part of an intensive crackdown by Turkey to apprehend Afghans crossing from Iran by the thousands and to prevent journalists from reporting on their plight.
As her husband tried to gather their belongings, the woman clutched her stomach and retched. After prolonged questioning, they were escorted to a police vehicle.
Even before the past week’s harrowing scenes of Afghans thronging the Kabul airport to escape the Taliban, many thousands had been steadily fleeing their country over land, making their way some 1,400 miles across the length of Iran to the Turkish border. Now that the Taliban are in power, there is every indication that their numbers will swell still further.
But for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, the burden of hosting so many refugees — 3.6 million Syrians and more than 300,000 Afghans, among others — has become a burning political issue, especially as the Turkish economy has worsened. And Afghans interviewed in Van said Turkey had tightened border security with an often violent police operation, turning away Afghans regardless of their requests for asylum.
Security personnel from Nepal, a landlocked country in the Himalayas that is one of the poorest in Asia, have played a little-known but crucial role in protecting officials, diplomats and companies in Afghanistan.
Hired by private contractors, the security workers — many of whom are ethnic Gurkhas who have served in the Nepali, Indian or British military — often work under conditions that have drawn protests from labor activists.
Now, Nepal is trying to get thousands of its people out of Afghanistan, and the task is daunting.
The exact number of Nepali nationals in the country is unclear, and the country does not have an embassy in Afghanistan. So the government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is urging Western nations to help rescue Nepali security guards as they evacuate their own citizens from Kabul.
“Our fellow guards should be evacuated out of Afghanistan as soon as possible,” said Amrit Rokaya Chhetri, who survived a 2016 Taliban suicide bombing in Kabul that killed 13 Nepalis. “What happens if someone is killed there in a blast or shooting because of a delayed evacuation?”
Credit: Source link