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Taliban 'intensifying' search for Afghans who worked for US – UN report

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By Euronews with AP, AFP
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Taliban fighters stand along a road in Kabul on August 18, 2021, after the Taliban's military takeover of Afghanistan. Wakil KOHSAR / AFP
Taliban fighters stand along a road in Kabul on August 18, 2021, after the Taliban's military takeover of Afghanistan. Wakil KOHSAR / AFP   -   Copyright  Wakil KOHSAR / AFP
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The Taliban is intensifying a search for people who worked with US and NATO forces, a confidential United Nations document says, despite the militants vowing no revenge against opponents.

The report by the UN's threat-assessment consultants says the group has "priority lists" of individuals it wants to arrest.

It corroborates testimonies from dozens of Afghans inside the country, including a former employee of EUPOL, a European Union agency training Afghan police, and a former staffer at the Dutch embassy, both of whom told Euronews Taliban fighters were going door to door in Kabul to identify people who had worked for the international community.

Taliban fighters and checkpoints ringed Kabul airport on Thursday, adding to fears for Afghan nationals who previously worked for the West. This evening German broadcaster Deutsche Welle said the Taliban had shot and killed one of its reporters' family members.

The militant group has promised safe passage to Kabul Airport to foreigners. But Afghan nationals eligible for evacuation have reported difficulties and violence.

Planeloads of EU citizens and Afghan refugees have been landing in Europe throughout Thursday. But chaos at the airport continues, while the Taliban opened fire on an Independence Day protest in Kabul and a fledgling resistance movement continues to assert its presence in the northeast.

Follow the live updates in our live blog below:

08.19.2021
09:30

Key developments

  • A UN report warns the Taliban is 'intensifying' its search for Afghans who worked for the United States
  • Joe Biden says US forces could retain control over Kabul airport beyond August 31 if evacuations need to continue
  • The Taliban has shot dead the relative of a Deutsche Welle reporter, the German broadcaster said
  • The IMF says Afghanistan has lost access to its resources as access is based on international recognition
  • The UN's food agency warns Afghanistan is on the brink of "humanitarian catastrophe" due to conflict, COVID-19 and a severe drought
  • Some anti-Taliban demonstrations to mark Independence Day were violently suppressed
  • The first 106 Afghan employees of the EU mission in Afghanistan have been evacuated to Madrid, top diplomat Josep Borrell confirmed
08.19.2021
21:33

Erdogan on refugees: Europe cannot 'stay out of the problem'

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on Europeans to shoulder the responsibility for Afghans fleeing the Taliban.

In a televised address after a cabinet meeting on Thursday, Erdogan said: “We need to remind our European friends of this fact: Europe, which has become the centre of attraction for millions of people, cannot stay out of the problem by harshly sealing its borders. Turkey has no duty, responsibility or obligation to be Europe’s refugee warehouse."

He said his government would “if necessary” engage in talks with a government formed by the Taliban "for the stability and security of this country.”

Erdogan said his country is home to 5 million foreign nationals, including 3.6 million Syrians and 300,000 Afghans. Around 1.1 million have residence permits, he said.

08.19.2021
21:04

Afghan police chief and family rescued by US and British allies from Kabul 

A former commander with the Afghan National Police has been airlifted to safety by the US military together with his family of five in a frantic, one-off mission dubbed 'Operation Promise Kept'.
Mohammad Khalid Wardak, known as Khalid, an ex-police chief in Helmand province, went into hiding in Kabul with his family after the Taliban takeover. 
American soldiers raised the alarm over the safety of a man they regarded as their brother-in-arms, who had partnered with the US for years - especially as he was well known to the Taliban and had appeared on TV challenging its combatants to a fight.

During the fighting last week they lost contact with Khalid for several days and feared he was dead. Since Sunday partners on the ground had tried at least four times to get Khalid, his wife and their four sons aged three to 12, to a rendezvous point where they could be rescued.

 Robert McCreary, a former White House official under US President George W. Bush, said on Thursday that the family finally reached a place on Wednesday where they could be whisked away by helicopter. He added that multiple allies including British troops had helped.

The family is now in an undisclosed location under the protection of the US. US Army Special Forces Sgt. Major Chris Green, who worked with Khalid in Afghanistan, said today he was "elated" by news of the family's escape.

08.19.2021
20:33

Relative of Deutsche Welle journalist shot dead by Taliban

German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle has said the Taliban shot and killed a family member of one of its reporters in Afghanistan, severely injuring another.

In a statement on Thursday evening DW said the man was being "hunted" by the Taliban and added: "Other relatives were able to escape at the last moment and are now on the run."

The report adds credence to the widespread belief that contrary to official Taliban claims, individual members are still targeting ex-government employees, journalists and activists in parts of the country in apparent acts of reprisal.

DW's director-general Peter Limbourg said: "The killing of a close relative of one of our editors by the Taliban in Herat yesterday is inconceivably tragic, and testifies to the acute danger in which all our employees and their families in Afghanistan find themselves.

"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."

The channel says Taliban members have already raided the homes of at least three of its journalists. Elsewhere Nematullah Hemat of the TV station Ghargasht is believed to have been kidnapped, and Toofan Omar, head of the Paktia Ghag Radio station, was shot dead by Taliban fighters.

08.19.2021
19:55

US aircraft in Kabul have capacity for thousands a day

The US military now has enough aircraft to get 5,000 to 9,000 people out of Afghanistan a day, Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor said on Thursday.
Taylor told a Pentagon briefing that 7,000 civilians had been evacuated by the US since August 14 and 12 C-17 aircraft had left over the past 24 hours, carrying 2,000 people between them.
There are now more than 5,200 American troops at Kabul Airport, which has been plunged into chaos since the Taliban control of Kabul on Sunday, with hundreds of desperate civilians trying to get out of the country.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said there had been no Taliban violence directed toward US service personnel and the US "hadn't seen" the group obstructing any American citizens trying to leave. There have been widespread reports of the Taliban targeting Afghans on their way to the airport. 
Two days ago on Tuesday, Kirby admitted that the Pentagon had no exact figures on how many US citizens were in the country but its "best guess" was 5,000 to 10,000.
Meanwhile, a State Department official said on Monday authorities were dealing with 80,000 visa applications from Afghans who had either worked with US forces or were thought to be at risk.
08.19.2021
19:42

Seehofer: Don't put election-day considerations before protecting Afghans

Germany's interior minister Horst Seehofer says the West "has failed" in Afghanistan.
Talking to reporters in Berlin on Thursday, he added pointedly: "If Western community and the European Union, which I would like to mention here in particular, also fails in dealing with the consequences, we'll have a huge trust problem in our community of values."
Seehofer said Afghans who worked with coalition forces in the country must be brought to safety in Europe - "and if other Europeans do not participate, to Germany. I say that bluntly and clearly, without any hidden agenda or consideration for an election day. That is part of honesty."
In an op-ed for Euronews earlier this week, German MEP Sven Giegold also said the Taliban's takeover marked "a historic failure of the West, NATO, the US and Europe", calling disputes between the European Commission and the EU over responsibility for local forces "pathetic".
08.19.2021
19:26

Embattled UK foreign secretary affirms G7 call for safe passage

The G7 foreign ministers have issued a fresh call for the Taliban to guarantee the safety of all foreigners and Afghans wanting to leave the country.
British foreign secretary Dominic Raab chaired a virtual meeting of the G7, which encompasses Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, on Thursday.
In a statement released after the talks, he said: "The G7 ministers underlined the importance of the Taliban holding to their commitments to ensure the protection of civilians and are deeply concerned by reports of violent reprisals in parts of Afghanistan.
"The G7 are continuing efforts to do everything possible to evacuate vulnerable persons from Kabul Airport... and called for the Taliban to guarantee safe passage to foreign nationals and Afghans wanting to leave."
Earlier on Thursday Raab came under pressure to resign from opposition Labour party MPs after it emerged he had declined to place an urgent phone call to the Afghan foreign minister last Friday.
Two days before Kabul fell, the call - to push for the evacuation of Afghan interpreters who had worked with British troops - was delegated to a junior UK minister while Raab was on holiday in Crete. This delayed the discussion by at least a day because Afghan officials would not speak to someone more junior.
08.19.2021
18:48

Ex-EU staffer: Taliban may kill us for working with 'infidels'

More now related to the UN report (see previous post) on evidence the Taliban had been intensifying door-to-door searches for Afghans who worked with the US.
Here's Euronews' interview from Wednesday with a former Afghan employee of the European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan (EUPOL).
She told us she was in hiding, fearing for her life, as "[the] Taliban are searching home by home to find evidence of people who worked with [the] international community".
08.19.2021
18:31

UN report: Taliban 'intensifying' search for Afghans who worked for United States

The Taliban is intensifying a search for people who worked with US and NATO forces, a confidential United Nations document says, despite the militants having vowed no revenge against opponents.

The report - produced by the UN's threat-assessment consultants and seen by AFP - says the group has "priority lists" of individuals it wants to arrest.

Most at risk are people who had central roles in the Afghan military, police and intelligence units, according to the report.

Taliban fighters have been conducting "targeted door-to-door visits" of individuals they want to apprehend and their family members, the report says.

It adds that militants are screening individuals on the way to Kabul airport and have set up checkpoints in major cities, including the capital and Jalalabad.

The document, dated Wednesday, was written by the Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, an organization that provides intelligence to UN agencies.

"They are targeting the families of those who refuse to give themselves up, and prosecuting and punishing their families 'according to Sharia law,'" Christian Nellemann, the group's executive director, told AFP.

"We expect both individuals previously working with NATO/US forces and their allies, alongside with their family members to be exposed to torture and executions.

"This will further jeopardize western intelligence services, their networks, methods and ability to counter both the Taliban, ISIS and other terrorist threats ahead."

The report also says the militants are "rapidly recruiting" local informants to collaborate with the Taliban and expanding their lists of targets by contacting mosques and currency exchanges.

The Taliban has launched a public relations blitz since sweeping back into power on Sunday, including promising full amnesty for those who worked with the elected Afghan government and foreign powers.

But Afghans and observers have not forgotten the ultra-conservative Islamic regime of 1996 to 2001 when brutal punishments, such as stoning to death for adultery, were imposed.

08.19.2021
18:06

New government must be inclusive, Afghan politicians warn

A delegation of Afghan leaders and officials told reporters in Pakistan that the Taliban won't survive for long if it fails to uphold citizens' rights.

The group, led by speaker of parliament Mir Rehman Rehmani, have been in Islamabad since Monday, meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and other political and military officials.

In a press conference on Thursday, former Afghan vice president Mohammad Younis Qanooni, said “the future government in Afghanistan should be inclusive, with participation from all ethnic groups. We oppose rule by one party or group."

Khalid Noor, a prominent politician, said the Taliban could not rule by force in Afghanistan and would have to respect people's rights to ensure longevity. 

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The U.S.-based International Refugee Assistance Programme has said about 100,000 Afghans seeking evacuation through a US visa programme have so far applied. The State Department had put the figure at 80,000 on Monday.

Other western countries including France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK are also evacuating their citizens and locals who worked for them.

US President Joe Biden stressed on Wednesday that Washington, whose forces control the airport in Kabul, would do "everything in our power" to evacuate Americans and US allies.

Pressed repeatedly on how the administration would help those left in the country after that date, Biden said: "if there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay till we get them all out.”

'Actions, rather than words'

The Taliban, which is seeking to establish what it terms an 'inclusive' government, met with former Afghan president Hamid Karzai on Wednesday.

Karzai was joined by the former government's main peace envoy, Abdullah Abdullah, in the first sign of engagement between the Taliban and the ousted government since the fall of Kabul last Sunday.

The preliminary meeting was intended to facilitate eventual negotiations with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the top Taliban political leader, a spokesperson for Karzai said.

The group has also sought to appease the international community since the takeover, declaring a "general amnesty" and stressing there would be "many differences" in the way they administered the country compared to their previous period in power.

The Taliban has said, for instance, that women will not be obliged to wear the burqa, the Islamic full-body covering, and may be allowed to work - within the bounds of its reading of Islamic law.

This is unlikely to appease other countries. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged foreign countries on Wednesday not to recognise a Taliban regime "prematurely or bilaterally", calling instead for them to "work together towards new conditions" for the new regime to respect.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian issued a similar call, writing on Twitter: "I have asked that the Taliban demonstrate by their actions that they have changed as they claim. It is up to them to prove it."

Afghanistan loses access to IMF resources

Failure to be recognised by the international community would lead to further economic strain for Afghanistan — already one of the poorest countries in the world.

Gerry Rice, the spokesperson for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), revealed on Wednesday evening that Afghanistan had lost access to Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) or other IMF resources.

"The IMF is guided by the views of the international community. There is currently a lack of clarity within the international community regarding recognition of a government in Afghanistan," he explained.

The Taliban have also urged foreign countries not to cut financial assistance and said production of opium — from which they derived a large chunk of their revenues over the past two decades — will be brought back to "zero".

Both the EU and Germany have already announced that they are suspending development aid to the country until further notice.

It came as the head of the UN's food agency said that Afghanistan was "on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe" due to the conflict, the nation's second severe drought in three years, and the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mary Ellen McGroarty, the World Food Programme’s country director, told UN correspondents from Kabul that more than 40 per cent of crops had been lost, and hundreds of thousands displaced, ahead of the approaching winter. "The race is on to get food where it’s most needed," she said.