Austin Going to Gulf; Skepticism on Taliban: Afghanistan Update
(Bloomberg) -- The Taliban and other Afghan leaders have reached a “consensus” on the formation of a new government and cabinet under the leadership of the group’s top spiritual leader, and an announcement could come in a few days, an official said.
Taliban supreme commander Haibatullah Akhundzada will be the top leader of any governing council, Bilal Karimi, a member of the group’s cultural commission said. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of Akhundzada’s three deputies and the main public face of the Taliban, is likely to be in charge of the daily functioning of the government.
The European Union has floated a plan to spend 300 million euros ($355 million) to resettle about 30,000 refugees, and President Joe Biden again defended the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, rejecting criticism that it was mishandled. Pentagon leaders expressed skepticism about efforts to work with the Taliban.
Key stories and developments:
- Taliban to Unveil Government Days After U.S. Leaves
- Biden Defends Afghan Exit Timing, Saying It Saved U.S. Lives
- Taliban Call for Good Ties With U.S. After 20-Year War Ends
- Afghan Pullout May Prove Bigger Problem for Europe Than U.S.
- Biden’s Withdrawal Leaves Afghanistan in Crisis and Uncertainty
- The West’s Hard Lessons From 20 Years of War: Balance of Power
All items are in Eastern Time:
More than 31,000 Evacuated to U.S., State Department Says (4:30 p.m.)
The Biden administration evacuated more than 31,000 people from Kabul to the U.S. from Aug. 17 to Aug. 31, almost 24,000 of them Afghans at risk from the takeover by Taliban forces, State Department spokesman Ned Price said Wednesday.
It was part of the 124,000 people evacuated, most of whom are being held at bases abroad. Price said he couldn’t give a breakdown of how many of the Afghan citizens airlifted from Kabul had worked for American or coalition forces.
The U.S. believes about 100 American citizens remain in Afghanistan who want to leave but can’t say how many Green Card holders are also there, Price said.
“We will continue to do everything we can,” Price said of efforts to evacuate those who want to leave. “We’re not talking about this in the past tense because our efforts have not ended. Our efforts will endure.” -- Nick Wadhams
Austin Plans Gulf Trip, Milley Calls Taliban ‘Ruthless’ (2:05 p.m)
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he will travel to the Gulf next week as the U.S. seeks to process tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees sent to more than a dozen nations during the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Asked about the prospects for future cooperation with the Taliban, which helped provide security for evacuation efforts at Kabul’s airport, Austin told reporters at the Pentagon that the Taliban and the U.S. had cooperated on a “very narrow” set of issues. “I would not make any leaps of logic to broader issues,” he said.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said future cooperation with the Taliban against ISIS-K was “possible,” but cautioned that the Taliban remains a “ruthless group,” adding that whether it has changed its ways “remains to be seen.”
Both Austin and Milley pledged to learn lessons from America’s nearly two-decade war effort in Afghanistan, as well as from the more recent evacuation in which 13 U.S. service members were killed in a suicide attack. “As we always do, this department will look back clearly and professionally and learn every lesson that we can. That’s our way,” Austin said. --Peter Martin
Qatar Team in Kabul to Discuss Airport: Jazeera TV (11:45 a.m.)
A technical team from Qatar has arrived in Kabul to discuss operations at the airport, Qatar-based channel Al Jazeera said.
Qatar has previously said it’s willing to help run the airport after the withdrawal of U.S. troops but also has said it’s been unable to persuade the Taliban to accept the foreign security personnel who are probably needed for flights to restart. -- Dana Khraiche
U.K.’s Raab Heads to the Region for Talks (10:17 a.m.)
U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that he’s heading to the region around Afghanistan “tonight” to help coordinate efforts to get more eligible Afghans and British nationals out of the country now that the U.S. military no longer controls the international airport in Kabul. Under questioning from the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, he suggested that visit will include Pakistan.
Raab told the panel that the U.K. is deploying 15 “surge” diplomatic staff to countries neighboring Afghanistan in order to help process Afghans seeking to get to the U.K. He also said that while it’s “important not to confer a legitimacy on the Taliban,” the U.K. wants “to be in a position when the safety and security allows to have a continuity of diplomatic presence in Afghanistan.” -- Alex Morales
Blinken to Brief Members of Congress (8:47 a.m.)
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to take part in back-to-back briefings Wednesday afternoon for members of Congress on latest developments in Afghanistan.
The all-senators briefing, set for 3:30 p.m. in Washington, is to be followed by a session open to all House members. Both meetings are to be virtual. Members of Congress of both parties have been sharply critical of the U.S. withdrawal. -- Kathleen Hunter
EU Mulls 300 Million-Euro Resettlement Plan (8:36 a.m.)
The European Union has floated a plan to spend 300 million euros ($355 million) to resettle about 30,000 refugees inside the bloc, including from Afghanistan, in a bid to avert a migration crisis following the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, made the proposal to EU ambassadors at an Aug. 26 meeting, according to a diplomatic note seen by Bloomberg. The commission added that additional funds could be made available.
The EU is eager to avoid a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis caused by the Syrian war when more than a million migrants entered the bloc. -- Alberto Nardelli
Congressman Safe After Afghanistan Rescue Plan: Aide (4:15 a.m.)
Representative Markwayne Mullin “has been and is currently completely safe,” his communications director said following a Washington Post report that the Oklahoma Republican unsuccessfully sought to personally rescue five American citizens from Afghanistan.
The Post reported that Mullin on Monday asked the U.S. embassy in Tajikistan for help transporting a large sum of money into Afghanistan to aid his planned rescue attempt. Embassy staff refused, prompting “outrage” from the congressman, according to the paper.
Mullin and his office “will continue to do anything in our power to bring home all Americans from the war zone that President Biden abandoned,” Meredith Blanford, Mullin’s communications director, said in a statement. -- Kathleen Hunter
U.K. in Talks With Taliban on Human Rights (3:30 a.m.)
The U.K. is in talks with the Taliban to hold them to account for their actions in Afghanistan, a government minister said on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s envoy, Simon Gass, who is Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, has flown into Doha “to speak to senior members of the Taliban,” Home Office Minister Victoria Atkins told BBC radio. His discussions “are important,” and are centered around human rights, the prevention of terrorism, and helping secure the safe passage of people who want to leave Afghanistan, she said.
Atkins also said that “there are a few hundreds of British nationals still there” and that the U.K. is “trying as best we can in the circumstances to evacuate them when we are able to.” -- Alex Morales
Taliban Set to Unveil New Government (1:00 a.m.)
The Taliban is set to announce a new government and cabinet in a few days, an official said.
“The consultations on forming an inclusive Afghan government within the Islamic Emirate’s leaders, with the leaders from previous government and other influential leaders have officially ended,” Bilal Karimi, a member of the group’s cultural commission said. “They have reached a consensus. We’re about to announce a functioning cabinet and government in a few days, not weeks. -- Eltaf Najafizada
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