U.S., Taliban in Talks to End Airport Chaos: Afghanistan Update
(Bloomberg) -- Desperate scenes played out at Kabul’s international airport on Monday as thousands rushed to exit Afghanistan after Taliban fighters took control of the capital, with the Associated Press reporting at least seven people were killed in the melee.
With land borders now under the control of the militant group, the airport is the last remaining exit point and there are fears that option may close soon. Videos circulating on social media showed hundreds of people swarming the tarmac as countries including the U.S. seek to evacuate their diplomats and other nationals.
The panic in Afghanistan’s largest city reflects the Taliban’s rapid territorial advance, returning the fundamentalist group to power two decades after the U.S. military invaded and kicked it out.
President Joe Biden addressed Americans from the White House as criticism mounted over his handling of the crisis. Biden said the U.S. mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to be “nation building,” only protecting America from a terrorist attack.
Biden is following through on his predecessor Donald Trump’s push to withdraw the remaining U.S. troops stationed there.
Taliban leaders are seeking to portray a moderate stance. At the same time the group is talking about declaring a new “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” and there are reports it is already curtailing the rights of women. It remains unclear what if any power-sharing arrangements might follow with the remnants of the government of President Ashraf Ghani -- who has fled the country -- or if the Taliban will seek to rule in their own right.
All times are now in ET, earlier times were local Afghanistan.
U.S. holds ‘constructive’ talks with Taliban (5:08 p.m. ET)
The U.S. is in “constructive” talks with the Taliban in both Kabul and Doha, Qatar, as it seeks to restore order over Afghanistan’s main airport and reach a political settlement to the country’s decades-old conflict, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
The U.S. wants to make sure the Taliban understands that any attempt to target the U.S. will be met with a “swift and decisive response,” Price told a briefing. “We have engaged with the Taliban, we have had discussions, I would say some of those discussions have been productive.”
Price said any recognition of Afghanistan’s new leaders would depend on the Taliban’s willingness to create an inclusive government that involves women and others. -- Nick Wadhams
Biden laments Afghanistan lacks ‘will to fight’ (4:15 p.m. ET)
Biden said there’s no chance another year of heavy U.S. deployments to Afghanistan would change the situation on the ground if Afghan forces would not secure the country.
“We could not provide them with the will to fight for that future,” Biden said, adding that it would be “wrong to order American troops” to continue to deploy for the mission.
Biden says U.S. mission was to counter terrorism (4:07 p.m. ET)
Biden said the U.S. mission in Afghanistan was never “nation building” but rather was to fight terrorism.
He added the terrorist threat has “metasticized” well beyond Afghanistan. He said the U.S. will continue to fight terrorism in Afghanistan even after withdrawing.
Biden said he and his national security team are “closely monitoring the situation on the ground in Afghanistan” and are moving to execute plans for a number of contingencies, including the “rapid collapse we are seeing now.”
Blinken speaks to counterparts in China, Russia (2:10 p.m. ET)
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with counterparts in Russia and China about developments in Afghanistan, according to the State Department.
Blinken talked with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and China Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The calls included discussions of “the security situation” and efforts to evacuate U.S. citizens, “vulnerable Afghans” and Chinese citizens.
Help sought for journalists in danger at airport (1:30 p.m. ET)
Washington Post Publisher Fred Ryan urged the White House to ensure the safety of 204 journalists and others affiliated with his newspaper, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, saying they’re in danger at the Kabul airport.
Ryan sent to email to National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan asking for those associated with the newspapers to be moved from the civilian section of the airport to the military side “where they can be safe as they await evacuation flights.”
“They are currently in danger and need the U.S. government to get them to safety,” Ryan wrote in the email.
U.K. to host G-7 call on Afghanistan (1 p.m. ET)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans a virtual meeting of Group of Seven leaders in the coming days, his office said in a statement. Johnson also spoke with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and agreed to work together on the crisis.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the international community was “surprised” by the speed of the Taliban victory, suggesting the U.K. could reduce aid to Afghanistan, introduce new sanctions or keep current sanctions in place depending “on the behavior of the Taliban.” -- Kitty Donaldson
Pentagon trying to secure Kabul airport (12:57 p.m. ET)
The U.S. is still seeking to reestablish security at Kabul’s airport after flights in and out of the country were halted following a surge of people at the facility, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
He said 2,500 U.S. troops are currently at the airport, a number expected to rise to about 6,000 within days.
Two Afghans were killed by U.S. forces at the airport in an incident that took place over the past 24 hours, Kirby said, without providing more details. He said he was aware of reports that one U.S. service member was wounded, but said he couldn’t confirm that information.
The Pentagon spokesman pushed back on questions about why the U.S., after 20 years of training Afghan forces, couldn’t have foreseen their collapse, saying “you cannot buy will, you cannot purchase leadership.” -- Peter Martin
Kabul flights set to resume shortly (12:55 p.m. ET)
A U.S. official said a pause in flights out of Kabul’s airport will end soon, after portions of the facility were overwhelmed by Afghans seeking to leave. U.S. forces at one point returned gunfire after armed assailants fired into the crowd, according to the official, who asked not to be identified discussing the situation there. -- Tony Capaccio
Biden to speak as criticism mounts at home (12:40 p.m. ET)
The U.S. president will return to the White House from Camp David to address the American people about the unfolding disaster that has shaken perceptions of his leadership and his administration’s competence.
Biden will speak at 3:45 p.m. ET from the East Room of the White House, where less than a week ago he said he did not regret his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the country. -- Bill Faries
Afghanistan central bank chief says has left the country (12:30 p.m. ET)
Central banker Ajmal Ahmady took to Twitter to say he had departed Afghanistan, although he didn’t say where to. In a thread, he said the central bank was able to stabilize volatility in the currency and other indicators until last Thursday. It was then told on Friday there would be no dollar shipments and that by Saturday it had to supply less currency to markets which led to more panic. Ahmady said he tried to calm banks and traders. Ghani “had great ideas but poor execution,” he said. “If I contributed to that, I take my share of the blame.” -- Simon Kennedy
UN chief cites ‘chilling reports’ of Taliban abuse (12:25 p.m. ET)
During an emergency Security Council meeting in New York, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the Taliban and other parties in Afghanistan to exercise “utmost restraint” and protect civilians, saying he’d received “chilling reports of severe restrictions” on human rights, especially against women and girls. Afghanistan is now gripped by “chaos, unrest, uncertainty and fear,” he said.
The UN leader urged the international community to accept Afghan refugees, refrain from deportations and speak with “one voice” to uphold human rights. “The following days will be pivotal, the world will be watching,” he said. -- Peter Martin
Ghani whereabouts a mystery after Oman flight (11:43 a.m. ET)
The exact location of the now-exiled president is unclear with reports he first traveled to Tajikistan and then onto Oman. Two officials familiar with security matters say Ghani did fly to Oman but his plane has now left the country again. What’s unknown is whether Ghani went on with it and, if so, where he is headed.
An official at Oman’s foreign ministry says reports in various media that Ghani is in the country are incorrect. -- Eltaf Najafizada, Sudhi Ranjan Sen
Taliban says won’t let Afghanistan be base for hostility against others (6:45 p.m.)
The militant group is committed to basic rights of its citizens such as education, freedom of speech and work, Suhail Shaheen, a member of the Taliban negotiation team in Doha, told Turkey’s A Haber television.
“Our message to the world is that there will be a government in Afghanistan that is willing to have good relationships,” Shaheen said. The Taliban “will not allow any groups or individuals to use Afghanistan against any country of the world,” he said.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said while his country will continue to facilitate talks toward a political settlement in Afghanistan, it will not allow its soil to be misused for terrorism. Khan’s statement came as a leading Pakistan-based Islamic seminary that’s considered the spiritual fountainhead for the Taliban claimed credit for the group’s victory.
“The Taliban proved by their actions, courage and bravery, and especially political maturity, that they were truly spiritual descendants and successors of the Jamia Darul Uloom Haqqania,” the seminary, located in a northwest province, said in its statement. -- Onur Ant, Muneeza Naqvi
U.S. officials defend moves to pull troops out (4:41 p.m.)
Biden administration officials fanned out across U.S. networks Monday morning to defend the withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying the president’s worst option would be sending troops back in to fight the Taliban.
In TV interviews, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his deputy, Jon Finer, said the situation had deteriorated faster than any analyst expected, and chided the Afghan army for not slowing the Taliban advance.
Finer told MSNBC the focus of U.S. forces would be on securing Kabul’s airport, while Sullivan downplayed the impact of the withdrawal on U.S. counter terrorism efforts worldwide. Both said they expected Biden to speak publicly on the matter soon. -- Josh Wingrove
U.K. to continue evacuation flights as long as safe (4:05 p.m.)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman Max Blain said the U.K. will keep sending evacuation flights to Kabul airport for as long as it’s safe, pointing to a U.S. pledge to continue with flights also until the end of August.
Speaking in London, Blain told reporters that British ambassador Laurie Bristow remains in Kabul processing exit visas for Afghans seeking refuge. However, Blain said it was “too early” to say whether diplomatic overtures would be made to the Taliban. -- Kitty Donaldson
China vows constructive role in Afghan rebuilding (3:38 p.m.)
Beijing hopes to play a constructive part in the rebuilding of Afghanistan, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Monday, while demurring on questions about recognizing the Taliban as the new leadership of the country. China hopes Afghanistan enjoys a peaceful transition of power, Hua said at a regular briefing in Beijing.
“We respect the Afghan people’s will and choice,” she said. The Chinese embassy is operating normally; most Chinese nationals have already left with the embassy’s help and those that remain are safe, she added -- Muneeza Naqvi
Russia is hedging its bets on the new regime (3:12 p.m.)
Russia is in no rush to recognize the Taliban regime and “recognition or not will depend on the new authorities’ actions, on how responsibly they will rule the country in the nearest time,” Kremlin special envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov told Echo of Moscow radio Monday.
Russia’s diplomatic presence in Kabul will be reduced, with some embassy staff relocated or sent on vacation “just not to create too much presence” in Afghanistan, Kabulov said, adding the Taliban posted guards outside the Russian embassy to ensure security. -- Ilya Arkhipov
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