Taliban Leader Is Getting Down to Business: Afghanistan Update

Taliban onslaught. (Source:AFP/Getty Images)

Taliban Leader Is Getting Down to Business: Afghanistan Update

Senior Taliban leaders, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, arrived in Kabul on Saturday to get down to the business of forming a new government, less than a week after seizing the capital as U.S.-led troops prepared to depart. 

President Joe Biden said Friday the U.S. made “significant progress” securing the Kabul airport and evacuating U.S. citizens, Afghan allies and others amid mounting evidence the Taliban are cracking down on dissent in Afghanistan. 

Biden’s remarks came amid sustained efforts by the White House to defend the botched U.S. withdrawal and reports of the Taliban carrying out reprisals, even after their leadership promised an amnesty. 

Yet the U.S. embassy was out with a new statement on Saturday advising U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the airport if possible without “individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do so” because of “potential security threats outside the gates.” 

Key stories and developments:

  • Raab Hits Back at U.K. Criticism Over Skipped Afghan Phone Call
  • Taliban Rattles Gulf States Desperate to Keep Extremists at Bay
  • China’s Warm Welcome for Taliban Sparks Backlash at Home
  • Here Are the Shadowy Taliban Leaders Now Running Afghanistan
  • Why Taliban Triumph Revives Fear of al-Qaeda Revival: QuickTake
  • What Will the Taliban Do to a $22 Billion Economy?: Editorial

Taliban leaders arrive in Kabul to start forming new government (4 p.m. ET)  

Commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, considered the Taliban’s top political leader, is likely to delegate people to form a new government over the next few days, according to reports. 

Baradar signed the peace accord between the Islamist group and the Trump administration in Doha in February 2020. He returned this week, landing first in Kandahar in Afghanistan’s south, on a Qatari Air Force jet. 

That deal between U.S. and Taliban officials that aimed to wind down the war in Afghanistan is seen as a key point on the timeline that eventually led to the fall of President Ashraf Ghani’s government. 

Baradar is now in the Afghan capital to consult on what type of government will be in Kabul, Taliban official Zabihullah Mujahid told the Washington Post. 

Another Taliban official told AFP that Baradar would meet with jihadi leaders and politicians, aiming at an “inclusive government set-up.” 

He’s expected to meet with a range of stake-holders, including former government leaders, local militia commanders, policy makers and religious scholars.  -- Ros Krasny

Biden says U.S. helping Americans, Afghan allies, others to exit (2:01 p.m ET)

Biden said the U.S. is facilitating flights out of Kabul for Americans, Afghan allies and people from other countries who are seeking to exit.

“Any American who wants to come home -- we will get you home,” Biden said Friday at the White House. 

“There will be plenty of time to criticize and second guess,” Biden said. “I’m focused on getting this job done.”

Taliban Leader Is Getting Down to Business: Afghanistan Update

Biden said the U.S. made clear to the Taliban that any attack on U.S. forces, or disruption of operations at the airport, will be met with “swift and forceful response.” -- Justin Sink

U.S. C-17 planes carrying up to 400 per evacuation flight (1:45 p.m. ET)

U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft are flying up to 400 passengers per each evacuation flight out of Kabul, an officer at Air Mobility Command told reporters at a briefing.

The C-17 would normally carry 100 passengers per flight, but the aircraft flying in and out of Kabul are configured with no seats and passengers would sit on the floor to carry as many people as possible -- Tony Capaccio

Pressure grows to extend Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline (11:40 a.m. ET)

Pressure is growing on Biden to extend his Aug. 31 deadline to pull out troops from Afghanistan.

Some NATO allies want the U.S. to remain at the Kabul airport until as many Afghan allies as possible are able to exit the country, said North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

“The limiting factor is to get people into the airport,” Stoltenberg said, demanding that the Taliban let people pass. -- Katharina Rosskopf

Johnson to Hold Emergency Committee Meeting (8:45 a.m. ET)

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday afternoon will chair a meeting of his COBR emergency committee, to discuss the latest situation in Afghanistan, his office said in a statement.

Among issues of concern to British officials is the question of how long the evacuation process can continue, with continued operation of the airport in Kabul dependent on the U.S. presence there. -- Alex Morales

Biden to Address Crisis With Criticism at Fever Pitch (8:15 a.m. ET)

With attacks of his handling of the U.S. pullout increasing, President Joe Biden will outline efforts to airlift U.S. citizens and Afghans who’ve worked with Americans out of the country. 

White House communications director Kate Bedingfield declined to say in a Friday morning interview with MSNBC whether the president would take questions from reporters. Biden had been scheduled to be on on vacation this week. -- Kate Hunter

Raab Prioritized Airport Security Over Afghan Call (7:40 a.m. ET)

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab sought to head off mounting calls for him to quit for failing to call his Afghan counterpart last week, saying he had been focusing instead on more important work concerning security at Kabul’s airport.

The call was delegated to a junior U.K. minister, but Afghan Foreign Minister Hanif Atmar couldn’t take it due to the “the rapidly deteriorating situation” on the ground, Raab said in a statement.

Taliban Leader Is Getting Down to Business: Afghanistan Update

The work at the airport has enabled the U.K. to evacuate 1,839 British nationals and their families, Afghan staff, and citizens of other countries starting from Monday, Raab said. -- Alex Morales

German Evacuations Continued Friday (6:00 a.m. ET)

Eleven planes have so far flown out 1,600 people, German government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said in Berlin. One civilian wounded by gunfire on the way to the airport is currently being treated, and will be flown out later. Due to the deteriorating situation, Germany will send two helicopters each carrying four special troops who will try to get individuals out of the city. -- Arne Delfs

Pakistan Says It’s Pulling Out Officials (5:50 a.m. ET)

Pakistan, which is alleged to have given covert support to the Taliban in the past, said it was pulling out officials. 

It has evacuated about 1,100 people including diplomats, staff of diplomatic missions and international agencies and journalists from Kabul, according to state-run Radio Pakistan. 

Taliban Kill Afghan Journalist’s Relative (4:30 p.m. HK)

Taliban fighters on a house-to-house hunt for an Afghan Deutsche Welle journalist fatally shot a family member of the journalist and seriously wounded another, the German media organization said on its website. The journalist is currently working in Germany, it said.

“It is evident that the Taliban are already carrying out organized searches for journalists, both in Kabul and in the provinces. We are running out of time!” said Peter Limbourg, Deutsche Welle’s general director. -- Eltaf Najafizada

Some Planes Leave Part-Empty, U.K. (4:00 p.m. HK)

Some evacuation flights are leaving Kabul partially empty to keep the international flow of airplanes moving, U.K. Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said Friday. No Royal Air Force plane has departed empty, but “not all of our flights out have been completely full,” because landing and take-off slots are “at a premium,” as is space on the ground, he said.

Taliban Leader Is Getting Down to Business: Afghanistan Update

“The way that we are generating volume is by having nine aircraft flying in constant rotation between the United Arab Emirates and Kabul and when each plane is on the ground, we scoop up as many people as we can and get them out,” Heappey told ITV. “It would be selfish to keep a plane on the ground until it was absolutely full if there was an Italian or a Spanish or an American plane circling Kabul overhead waiting.” -- Alex Morales

U.S. Evacuates 3,000 on Thursday (2:28 p.m. HK)

The U.S. evacuated about 3,000 people on Thursday from the international airport in Kabul on 16, C-17 military transport flights, a White House official said, adding nearly 350 U.S. citizens were evacuated.

Since Aug. 14, the U.S. has evacuated approximately 9,000 people, the official said, adding in the last 24 hours the American military has facilitated the departure of 11 charter flights. -- Justin Sink

Spanish Evacuation Flight (2:12 p.m. HK)

A Spanish military transport plane left Kabul for Dubai on Friday morning with 110 Afghan nationals on board, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in a tweet. That’s the second evacuation flight Spain has organized. -- Ben Sills

Taliban Kill Nine Afghans, Amnesty Says (1:30 p.m. HK)

Human rights group Amnesty International said it has received witness reports that Taliban fighters in July massacred nine ethnic Hazara men in southeastern Ghazni after taking control of the province.

The group warned the killings represent a small proportion of the total death toll inflicted by the Taliban, as the group cuts mobile phone service in many areas recently captured, trying to slow or stop information from leaking out. 

“These targeted killings are proof that ethnic and religious minorities remain at particular risk under Taliban rule in Afghanistan,” Agnés Callamard, the organization’s secretary general, said in the statement. -- Eltaf Najafizada

Sullivan Pledges Evacuations (7:29 a.m.)

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan vowed the U.S. would ensure the evacuation of any American in Afghanistan who wants help, despite the “risky” nature of the effort.

“We will get any American who wants to get to the airport and who we get in contact with who says, ‘I want to get out and get on a plane.’ We will make that happen,” Sullivan said in an interview Thursday with NBC News.

Sullivan said the U.S. had established contact with the Taliban to ensure the safe passage of people to the airport, and described that process as “working” at the moment. But he said the U.S. knew it could not count on those conditions holding, and that the White House was “laser focused” on contingencies like a possible terrorist attack.

Blinken, G-7 Counterparts Discussed Taliban (5:52 a.m.)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, foreign ministers of other G-7 nations and the High Representative of the European Union agreed during a virtual meeting that the Taliban’s actions will determine its relationship with the international community, the U.S. State Department said in a statement. 

Taliban Leader Is Getting Down to Business: Afghanistan Update

The call participants also underscored the imperative of safe passage for people wishing to leave Afghanistan and the need for an inclusive political resolution protecting Afghans’ fundamental human rights, the statement added.

Moulton Knocks State Over Kabul Staffing (4:22 a.m.)

Democratic Representative Seth Moulton, a former Marine who served four tours in Iraq, called the Biden administration’s efforts to evacuate U.S. citizens and Afghan allies out of the country “absurd,” and said the State Department should drop “bureaucracy” and sort out visa issues later.

The Massachusetts lawmaker said the department urgently needs to send more consular officers to the Kabul airport to help. The State Department has said that it would double the number of officers at the airport by Friday. “This is the greatest foreign policy disaster that we’ve seen in a very long time and they’re sending 40 people to deal with it?” Moulton said. -- Daniel Flatley

Biden, Top Aides Discuss Terror Threats (1:12 a.m.)

Biden met Thursday morning with top U.S. national security officials for a briefing on evacuation efforts and potential terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan, an official familiar with the matter said.

Taliban Leader Is Getting Down to Business: Afghanistan Update

The president -- who was joined by Vice President Kamala Harris -- was told that the U.S. still maintained control over the Kabul airport where they were staging flights out of the country. -- Justin Sink

U.S. Has 5,200 Troops at Kabul Airport (11:33 p.m.)

The U.S. has 5,200 troops at the airport in Kabul and evacuated another 2,000 people in the past day, Pentagon officials said. 

Spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. has the ability to fly 5,000 to 9,000 people out per day. Additional gates have been opened around the Kabul airport to expand access, but reports continue to say that some people are being hindered from getting to the airport by the Taliban, and many are assumed to be afraid to venture out. --Travis Tritten 

Afghans Protest Taliban Rule in Several Cities (9 p.m.)

Men and women held demonstrations against the fundamentalist group in several cities, including Kabul and Jalalabad in the east, where a number of people were shot dead while they were trying to raise the previous government’s flag, local media reported, citing witnesses.

Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who declared himself caretaker president after his boss fled to the UAE, cheered the rallies on Twitter as he seeks support for his movement against the Taliban.

The early sign of resistance comes as the Taliban celebrate the 102nd anniversary of the country’s independence from British rule.  -- Eltaf Najafizada

Key House Panel to Get Afghanistan Briefing Monday (8:15 p.m.)

The House Intelligence Committee is to receive a classified briefing on Afghanistan on Monday from representatives of several intelligence agencies, according to an official familiar with the plans. Administration officials will discuss the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, how circumstances evolved in advance of Kabul’s fall and what might lie ahead, the person said. 

The Monday session will follow an unclassified briefing scheduled for Friday for all House members. Members of Congress have requested further briefings. -- Billy House

Girls Are Still Going to School, Taliban Says (7:05 p.m.)

Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem tweeted a video that he said showed girls wearing black robes and white veils going to school in Herat province, as fears mount that the fundamentalist group will roll back the rights that activists have worked so hard to secure. -- Eltaf Najafizada

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