U.S., Taliban in Talks to End Airport Chaos: Afghanistan Update
(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. is in talks with the Taliban as it seeks to restore order over Afghanistan’s main airport and help forge a political settlement after the militant group took Kabul and the country’s president fled.
The U.S. wants to make sure the Taliban understands that any attempt to target the U.S. as it evacuates will be met with a “swift and decisive response,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said told a briefing, adding that discussions are taking place both in Kabul and Doha, Qatar. “We have engaged with the Taliban, we have had discussions. I would say some of those discussions have been productive.”
Desperate scenes played out Monday at Kabul’s international airport, the only area still under U.S. control, with the Associated Press reporting that at least seven people were killed as thousands rushed to exit Afghanistan. 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. Taliban leaders, which have projected a more moderate stance in a bid to win global support, have said they want to form an inclusive government. Talks are still ongoing with other Afghan political leaders on what that would look like.
In the U.S., the events have spurred bipartisan criticism of President Joe Biden for a hasty withdrawal. Yet the U.S. leader stood by his decision on Monday.
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)
President Joe 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
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